Staff at the game publisher Activision-Blizzard are preparing for big layoffs, waiting to see who will be one of potentially hundreds of employees who could lose their jobs on Tuesday.
Update: Activision-Blizzard has begun informing employees of redundancies, which will start in the United States before decisions about layoffs are made at Blizzard's regional offices.
There’s been no official news from the publisher yet, but we first heard word of upcoming layoffs late last year. At the time, Activision and Blizzard staff told me they expected the axe to fall in February, and I started hearing more and more rumours earlier last week, with whispers suggesting that the layoffs would happen ahead of the publisher’s quarterly earnings call, which is on Tuesday, February 12.
Employees across all of Activision’s offices have been kept in the dark as they wait to see what will happen. Some say they’re pretty sure they’re safe; others say they fear they will no longer have jobs.
Last week, Bloomberg reported that the layoffs would take place on Tuesday US time and number in the hundreds.
When contacted earlier by Kotaku about the upcoming layoffs, a spokesperson for Activision did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Blizzard declined to comment (twice).
This news comes after a tumultuous year for the publisher, which consists of two entities, Activision and Blizzard. Both Activision and Blizzard operate autonomously but are governed by the same C-suite of executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick (whose salary in 2017 was roughly $US28.6 ($40) million).
At Blizzard, 2018 was a year full of cost-cutting, under chief operating officer Armin Zerza, whose mandate has been to reduce spending and produce more games. (Other than expansions and remasters, Blizzard has not released a new game since Overwatch in May 2016.)
Employees all across Blizzard have been told to cut their budgets and spend less money, and there’s general concern about Activision’s creeping influence as the company looks to make more financially-driven decisions.
In October, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime stepped down, to be replaced by Blizzard veteran J. Allen Brack—not as CEO, but, notably, as president. In December, Blizzard abruptly killed the Heroes of the Storm esports program and cut down the development team for that game, its least successful.
People who work or have worked at Blizzard told me that they expect Tuesday’s layoffs to be primarily in non-game-development departments, such as publishing, marketing, and sales. Some of those jobs and roles may then fall to Activision proper, further reducing Blizzard’s autonomy.
Activision, meanwhile, has also been struggling. Last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was successful, one of 2018's best-selling games according to NPD data, but the publisher lost one of its major franchises after Destiny 2's Forsaken expansion failed to meet Activision’s lofty expectations.
In January, developer Bungie announced that it was parting ways with Activision and ending its development contract early, putting the bow on a long-doomed relationship. Bungie would hang onto the Destiny franchise as a result.
The business angle is that Activision is now missing one of its biggest tentpoles, but the human angle is that the split leaves people in danger of losing their jobs. Activision employed an entire team full of Destiny support staff—PR, marketing, social media, business, and so on—who now have no work.
Two people close to the company told me that there have been a few opportunities for those former Destiny staff to move to other teams, but those opportunities are limited, and members of that department are perhaps the most worried about their job security.
The layoffs will likely happen on Monday and Tuesday. For now, those who might be affected can do nothing but wait.