Frances Townsend transitioned from her roles as Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer and executive vice president for corporate affairs but will continue on with the company as a senior adviser to CEO Bobby Kotick and the executive board. According to The Wall Street Journal, the 60-year-old Townsend’s last day was Friday, Sept. 30.
In an email sent to all of the staff, Bobby Kotick stated, “She tirelessly and successfully navigated a challenging time for the company with leadership, conviction, and grace.” During Frances Townsend’s tenure at the company, she assisted Activision Blizzard through state and federal probes into unsavory allegations.
Frances Townsend: Executive Changes at Bobby Kotick’s Activision Blizzard
Bobby Kotick founded Activision in 1990 and was heavily involved in its merger with Blizzard Entertainment in 2008. That event created one of the world’s largest video game companies, which was responsible for developing and publishing a lengthy library of beloved games, including Crash Bandicoot, Call of Duty, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. “Our mission is connecting and engaging the world through epic entertainment. It’s a very social experience,” Kotick said.
Fran Townsend joined Activision Blizzard in March 2021. Prior to her time at the video game holding company, Townsend worked as an assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism for President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Since departing from her executive roles at the end of September, Frances Townsend’s deputies were slated to fill the positions. On Oct. 1, Jennifer Brewer, the senior VP of ethics and compliance, became the chief of ethics and compliance officer. At that time, Luci Altman was also promoted to corporate secretary. Altman brings with her three decades of legal affairs experience.
Activision Blizzard Aims To Build a Better Work Environment
In the past year, Activision Blizzard, under the leadership of CEO Bobby Kotick, has made significant changes to make the company a better workplace. In 2021, the video game company’s board of directors established the Workplace Responsibility Committee for the express purpose of improving the corporate culture.
Kotick is eligible for over $22 million in stock bonuses if the Workplace Responsibility Committee rules that the company’s workplace conditions have “significantly improved” once a potential merger with Microsoft is finalized.
“I have known Bobby for over a decade and believe in him as a transformational leader,” Townsend stated in a March 2021 press release. “Activision Blizzard has grown at a remarkable rate over the years, and I want to be a part of the continuation of this incredible journey to connect the world through our amazing franchises.”
According to Activision Blizzard’s new policies, the goals of the gaming giant include increasing the amount of nonbinary-identifying individuals and women in the workforce. In order to accomplish that, it has invested $250 million to precipitate new, expanded opportunities for diverse talent. In addition, it’s established a zero-tolerance harassment policy.
Through the Workplace Responsibility Committee, the Diablo publisher has increased visibility on pay equity and abdicated arbitration of individual harassment claims. It also debuted the Level Up U training program. This is its first major initiative funded through the $250 million investment it announced in October 2021 to increase opportunities in gaming and technology for underrepresented communities. Veteran educator and game developer Tad Leckman is the dean of the Level Up U program.
Level Up U’s inaugural class was indeed diverse. It comprised 45% women and nonbinary participants, while another 40% of the class came from underrepresented ethnic groups. Participants who successfully completed the program, which ran from July through September, have been coached and mentored by employees since being hired at Activision Blizzard.
Adding more women to the board at Activision Blizzard is another step in the right direction for the company. During an appearance on CBS This Morning, Frances Townsend said, “Women’s willingness to collaborate — to share authority, to share ideas, and then to share credit for the outcome — is not the same sort of competitiveness that often I’ve seen among male colleagues.” What did she learn over her decades of experience in government and as an executive? “You need to learn to delegate and share responsibilities the whole way. And it gets easier the more senior you get,” Townsend stated on the morning program.
Kotick said, “From time to time, people lodge criticisms against entertainment industries like ours, but generally speaking, I think gaming is a business that provides lots of opportunities and tremendous economic growth. In addition, it employs people in a way that is good for the environment.”
What Are the Benefits of Gaming?
Video games have always been a social experience. In the ’70s, arcades were all the rage, and in the ’80s, teens gathered to play The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. on gaming consoles in basements and bedrooms across the United States.
Today, Activision Blizzard is keeping that sense of community alive with massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and first-person shooter games like Call of Duty. “It is a very social experience. You are playing against people; you could be playing against people around the world,” explained Kotick. “Through the games, people develop social relationships and social connections. It is in the service of joy. However, there is also a competitive dynamic, and esports has become a very big way to accomplish success in video gaming. And there are professional teams with players making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year.”
Gaming has evolved to include esports leagues, and adept players can make a decent living from their video game prowess. “So I might advocate for a kid who is proficient in gaming. There could be a great career for them as an esports athlete,” said Kotick. “There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people capable of playing professional video games. So when you think about the requirements and the qualifications to get that same thrill, the same sense of accomplishment, meaning, and purpose, but also have a career, it is a real growth opportunity for people. And we’re seeing an explosion of interest in the spectator component of it.”
Bobby Kotick added, “For what you get from a cognitive perspective, there is no question that interacting with video games has the ability to meaningfully improve your cognition. It has the ability to improve your spatial relationships with three dimensions. So there’s only benefit.”
He continued, “We are building social connections with hundreds of millions of people around the world. We have the chance to create heroes from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities with our games. There is an enormous opportunity to build tolerance and understanding through video games.”