CEO Spotlight: Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick Reflects on Leadership During Pandemic Crisis
Bobby Kotick has been leading Activision Blizzard, the Southern California-based video game developer and publisher, as the CEO since the merger of Activision with Vivendi Games in 2008. The past few years have proven to be especially challenging for the business leader as the COVID-19 pandemic affected every aspect of every industry. During an appearance on “Leadership Live With David Rubinstein,” Kotick discussed how the dedicated teams at Activision Blizzard adjusted to the strange new world of social distancing and working from home while reflecting on the challenges he faced as CEO.
One might assume the initial lockdowns in 2020 were great for the video game industry, since everyone was staying home to stay safe. While Kotick noted “that wasn’t a good time for anyone,” he explained that Activision did receive a noticeable increase in game play. “We saw it across all demographics; that increase in play is what I think helped keep people more safely at home,” said Kotick. “We saw a lot of new players, too. People who probably hadn’t been passionate game players before found a lot of joy and satisfaction from gaming.”
Over the years, gaming has expanded to become a very social experience. The metaverse and virtual reality are shaping up to be the modern equivalent of the arcade. “And so what you’re seeing is people have headsets and microphones and video, and they are playing games against people around the world and competing against each other across the globe,” said Bobby Kotick. “So it isn’t just a traditional form of gaming; it’s now even more of a social experience.”
Activision CEO Bobby Kotick on Running the Video Game Company From Home
Activision Blizzard has six business units and is headquartered in Santa Monica, California. Kotick recalled that in early January 2020, the company started to see an increase in illness in its offices in China. “We had an early indication of what might happen, and with our partners, like Tencent and NetEase. So, we had a pretty good sense of how they were going to shift to work from home. And we were in a pretty good position to provide equipment and technology to all of our employees,” Bobby Kotick explained. “We also collaborate across the world since we have studios in Sweden, in Spain, in the U.K., and in places like Albany, New York, and Madison, Wisconsin. And so, those studios had already been collaborating with each other in those remote locations.” Under his guidance, the video game holding company adjusted to working from home with minimal issues.
Activision Blizzard was minimally inconvenienced by global shipping and supply chain disruptions, since 90% of the business is direct digital to the consumer, while approximately 10% is physical products. According to Bobby Kotick, “You can download a game if you want to, but you can also buy it in a store. And so, I can’t say that has been an especially difficult challenge for us.”
Activision Blizzard’s Collaborative Effort Approach to Game Development and Production
As Activision CEO, Bobby Kotick oversees some of the largest franchises in the video game industry, such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Diablo. ”The franchises are a very good road map for a long-term future,” said Kotick. He added that over 100 million people play Candy Crush on a monthly active user basis. “And we’re constantly delivering new content to those players, which is why there are probably 600 or 700 people on the development team of a game like Candy Crush.”
New content is always in the works, and Kotick shared that there are “hundreds or thousands of people working on a franchise.” While it might seem wild that 700 people work on the popular mobile game Candy Crush, that’s on the low end. According to Kotick, when it comes to its Call of Duty franchise, there are 1,600 people across six studios worldwide regularly creating fresh content.
Kotick is actively involved in the process of determining what new ideas the company will pursue. “But remember, our company was founded in 1980. And so we have hundreds of franchises in the library, and it’s very easy for us to go back in our library and look at new ideas,” he said. In addition to drawing on that rich library of content, “every year, we are creating new from the ground up potential franchises as well,” added Kotick.
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