Microsoft is watching Activision Blizzard to ensure 'the right people' are in charge when it takes over

A logo marking the edge of the Microsoft corporate campus in Redmond, Washington.
(Image credit: Photo by Toby Scott/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

There's a lot of work left to be done before Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard (opens in new tab) is complete. The terms of the deal are in place, but the whole thing has to be approved by a number of regulatory bodies, foremost among them the US Federal Trade Commission (opens in new tab), before the green light is given. The general consensus is that it's likely to go through (we asked a lawyer (opens in new tab)), and Microsoft is doing its best to grease those wheels by promising "a principled approach to app stores" and, more specifically, to keep Call of Duty games on the PlayStation (opens in new tab).

In a recent interview on CNBC (opens in new tab), Microsoft president Brad Smith took on a potentially even trickier question: How will Microsoft address the toxicity in Activision Blizzard's workplace culture (opens in new tab) that came to light last year? In response, Smith said that making meaningful changes to culture "requires a combination of commitment and humility," which for now remains the responsibility of Activision Blizzard management.

"We're looking to the leadership team at Activision Blizzard today to make culture and workplace safety a top priority every single day until the day when this deal hopefully closes," Smith said. "And then we'll take over, and we need to make it that same commitment."

Smith also warned, gently but unmistakably, that Activision Blizzard leadership is calling the shots, but Microsoft is watching the shots being called.

"What we've said is that there will be some aspects [of Activision Blizzard management] that will change, but it will all be one new team that will work together," he continued. "Most importantly, we want to see the culture evolve, and we'll see how people perform between now and the day this closes, assuming it's approved. And then we'll have the opportunity to make sure that we have the right people in the right positions."

Asked specifically whether his comments mean Activision Blizzard management will be "under scrutiny" until the deal closes, he said, "I think we all should live in a world where we're under scrutiny. The world is changing, I think mostly in a positive way. It's just one more example of where we're going to serve our employees the best if we embrace the opportunity to change."

It's all talk until it happens, of course, and the issue of unionization (opens in new tab) looms large, but it's encouraging regardless. It's also likely unavoidable, from Microsoft's perspective: Microsoft may be scrutinizing Activision Blizzard management, but the extent of the publicity surrounding the revelation of workplace abuses at the company means its acquisition of Activision Blizzard is also being carefully watched by the public in ways that game industry takeovers generally are not.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.