Microsoft announced it would be acquiring Activision Blizzard Inc. for $68.7 billion on Jan. 18. The Federal Trade Commission will evaluate the acquisition to ensure the purchase won’t cause a monopoly in the video game industry.
Microsoft will acquire a variety of well-known game franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Candy Crush and World of Warcraft. The purchase will also make them the third-largest gaming company by revenue, according to a press release.
But it’s a curious choice, especially considering the controversy Activision Blizzard is currently facing.
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In late July of last year, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a civil suit against Activision Blizzard and its subset Blizzard, claiming violation of the state’s Equal Pay Act and Fair Employment and Housing Act.
The details of the company’s actions are horrifying. One of the most disturbing were the office’s alleged “cube crawls,” where male employees would get drunk, go through the office and engage in misconduct toward female coworkers.
If Microsoft is able to deal with these issues, it could mark a transformation for Activision. Microsoft has dealt with a massive culture shift in its own company since current CEO Satya Nadella took the lead in February 2014.
Before his promotion, the company was divided into warring factions, but Nadella created a community in the organization. Microsoft has become a place that told employees to “embrace a ‘learn-it-all’ curiosity,” according to Fortune in 2021.
However, these changes failed to consider gender and sex-related issues in the organization.
In 2019 and 2020, Microsoft’s board investigated co-founder Bill Gates due to claims that he had tried to have an intimate relationship with an employee in 2000. Gates also reportedly pursued employees at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to The New York Times.
Months into the investigation, The Washington Post reported Gates had left his position on the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway.
The problem was not just about Gates. Between 2010 and 2016, 238 complaints were filed with the company’s human resources department — 119 of them related to gender discrimination. The rest included complaints about sexual harassment, retaliation and pregnancy discrimination.
Microsoft considered only one of the gender discrimination to be valid, according to The Seattle Times. The class-action complaint related to the situation was not given class certification, even with more than 8,000 women who would tell their stories.
In 2019, more than 90 pages of emails detailed a series of sexual harassment and discrimination incidents, some of which were reported but not investigated by the company’s HR department.
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Then in January, Microsoft’s shareholders voted to have the board review policies related to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Shareholders are requesting the company become more accountable, transparent and protect their employees.
The results are yet to be released and are reported to be coming out in the spring.
By buying Activision Blizzard, Microsoft is expanding its empire in video games. But it is also taking on an added burden and responsibility of resolving the company’s civil suit and changing its culture while dealing with internal investigations.