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Activision Blizzard quietly hits reset button

The Santa Monica video game giant shuffles its senior management team, divides itself into four units and lays off about 15 workers.

March 31, 2010|By Ben Fritz

The nation's largest video game publisher has shuffled its senior management team and realigned its internal structure without telling investors or the public.

As outlined in internal memos obtained by The Times, Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard Inc. has divided itself into four units, with one focused on the military video game Call of Duty, another handling other company-owned titles such as Guitar Hero and the Tony Hawk skateboarding games, and a third handling licensed properties. Blizzard Entertainment, maker of the successful online game World of Warcraft, remains an independent unit.

Mike Griffith, who formerly oversaw all of Activision's business except Blizzard, has been named vice chairman and will serve as advisor to Chief Executive Bobby Kotick. Thomas Tippl, formerly chief financial officer and chief corporate officer, has been named to the new position of chief operating officer. He is now the only executive reporting directly to Kotick and oversees Blizzard President Mike Morhaime and the head of Activision publishing, a role he has also been filling on an interim basis.

The company also laid off about 15 employees as part of the shake-up.

The changes come as Activision Blizzard is coming off the blockbuster success of November's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which has generated more than $1 billion in sales, though sales of its music franchise Guitar Hero have plummeted.

It's the first major shake-up for the company since Activision merged with Vivendi Games in 2008 to create Activision Blizzard.

The management change was announced in e-mails sent to employees last week, but has, for the most part, not been publicly announced. Tippl's promotion was noted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday. The company's website for investors still lists the management team in their previous roles.

"We realigned our structure to better reflect our slate and marketing opportunities and direct our resources against the largest, most profitable business segments," said Activision spokeswoman Maryanne Lataif.

Tippl has been Activision's chief financial officer since 2005 and chief corporate officer since last year. He previously was head of investor relations and finance director for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble.

Griffith, another former Procter & Gamble executive who joined Activision at about the same time as Tippl, takes over the vice chairman's role that had been empty since Bruce Hack left the company last year.

"This is an important change as it will allow me, with Thomas, to become more deeply involved in areas of the business where I believe we can capture great potential and opportunity," Kotick said in the memo to employees.

Activision had already announced the new unit dedicated to Call of Duty games soon after Jason West and Vince Zampella, heads of the studio that created the series, left this month amid a dispute with the publisher that led to a $36-million lawsuit.

The new unit that will oversee all licensed games is being led by Dave Oxford, head of the company's Minneapolis office that previously oversaw low-budget "value" titles. Though Activision recently ended a deal to make games based on DreamWorks Animation movies, it still has licenses to several top Marvel characters such as Spider-Man and the X-Men, as well as Transformers.

Maria Stipp, executive vice president of owned properties, is now overseeing all internally owned titles besides Call of Duty and Blizzard games. In addition to managing existing properties that have seen sales decline recently, she will be charged with fostering new brands that Activision hopes will drive its growth in the future, such as the upcoming racing title Blur.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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