As always with these topics, this piece has opinions. It has some news too.
I’ve been quite vocal in my opposition to Activision Blizzard recently. I’ve spoken about the closure of two studios in Europe during a worldwide pandemic when the company is seeing more revenue and profits than ever before. This, of course, came only a year after the laying-off of roughly 800 people which was the culmination of an earlier record year for the company.
It should be noted that Activision Blizzard also announced that they need to hire 2000 people to meet production demands. These people, of course, being on the lower end of the wages due to just starting at the company and generally less experienced than some of those that have been let go. I was all ready to jump in with a similar sort of piece until later information was released and I’m somewhat more tempered, but I still think the move is a bad one, or at least the timing is.
The original news, as reported by MCV, was that Activision Blizzard is set to lay off 100 staff with offices set to close. These layoffs would come with office closures, and the areas affected would be marketing, PR, publishing, customer care, and localisation. The reason given by the source was that Activision Blizzard is moving “non-development” roles into an outsourcing setup, something they have allegedly been doing for ‘some time now’.
A later response from Activision Blizzard has revealed that they are to lay off “closer to 30 staff” and make a particular note that, contrary to the original news, localisation and customer support staff will not be impacted. In addition, a statement from Activision Blizzard reads as follows:
We’ve been exploring how we might best integrate our capabilities across the business and be efficient as we evolve to meet growth opportunities and stay competitive in Asia Pacific. To that end, we have begun conversations with employees regarding a plan to centralize some roles across the region in our Sydney office. Decisions of this nature are never easy and supporting our employees through this process is our number one priority.
One of my recent complaints has been with this attempt to sway public opinion with the tag of “non-development” for certain staff. It’s unsurprising to me that, with my earlier posts on this subject being known within Activision Blizzard, they mention that localisation and customer support staff aren’t impacted. I’ve made the argument several times that while English speakers may not see these as essential staff, nor even as development staff, they are essential. Localisation specifically adds to the development of a game and customer support is essential for those facing issues with games that are almost universally online, can face issues, and require some support.
I understand fully that businesses are there to make money. Activision Blizzard has been doing this fantastically, making more money than ever before. If this move had been made even one year ago, I also wouldn’t have an issue with the centralising of certain roles. However, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to centralise roles around one office as we see a large move to working from home in the current pandemic.
Then comes my major issue. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Globally, people are worried. You can tout the support of your staff all you like, but for a company that is making far more money than they’d hoped for this year, even one laying-off for financial reasons is too many. It’s all fine saying you support your staff, but actions speak much louder than words, though the words aren’t much better. To “meet growth opportunities” means to make more money, it’s no secret. Whether that means laying off staff for outsourcing or to pile even more work on the remaining staff, the result is the same—one less wage to pay, adding to the bonuses of those higher up.
Maybe you think this is capitalism just doing what it should, continuing the trickle-up economics, and that companies being more successful than ever should lay people off in arguably one of if not the most uncertain times in modern history. I think that it’s a bad move, though I think that’s clear by now.