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

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There’s a lot of work left to be done before Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard 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, before the green light is given. The general consensus is that it’s likely to go through (we asked a lawyer), 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.

In a recent interview on CNBC, Microsoft president Brad Smith took on a potentially even trickier question: How will Microsoft address the toxicity in Activision Blizzard’s workplace culture 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 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.

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