Activision Blizzard promotes three execs after two CFOs depart company [Update]

Activision Publishing has finally filled the role vacated by Eric Hirshberg in March 2018.

Update (1/10/2019): More information has come to light about Dennis Durkin's appointment as Activision Blizzard's CFO and the departure of former CFO Spencer Neumann. According to a Bloomberg News story from January 4, 2019, Neumann was fired for violating his contract. Specifically, his deal with Activision Blizzard prohibited him from entertaining offers from other employers.

As Durkin stepped back into the role he once held, he was awarded a significant incentive package. This includes $11.3 million of restricted stock awards connected with operating income and earnings per share performance. He also received a $3.75 million signing bonus. According to Bloomberg, Durkin was making $900,000 prior to yesterday's executive shake-ups and had a $1.35 million performance bonus.

Original Story:

After a week of executive departures amid concerns about dwindling usership, Activision Blizzard has promoted three people to new positions. The announcements impact Activision Publishing and King Digital Entertainment, maker of Candy Crush.

Activision Blizzard started 2019 with a pair of high profile departures. The company’s CFO, Spencer Neumann departed for the same role at Netflix (and was fired by Activision in the process). Long-time executive Amrita Ahuja, who most recently served as Blizzard CFO, is now heading up finance for mobile payment platform Square.

Neumann’s ouster was tempered by former Activision Blizzard CFO Dennis Durkin stepping back into the role. Durkin had been serving as chief corporate officer. As of today, he’ll be doubling up duties with his financial responsibilities. He’ll also have the title of president of emerging businesses. With so much of publishing tied up in new technologies, business models, and revenue streams, this is an understandable synergy.

Activision Blizzard has also announced a replacement for Eric Hirshberg, who left his role as president of Activision Publishing in March 2018. The publisher has promoted Call of Duty executive vice president and general manager, Rob Kostich, to the post. Kostich has been with Activision Blizzard since May 2004, according to his LinkedIn profile. He also leads the Call of Duty Endowment, which serves veterans by providing job training and assisting with career placement.

King Digital has a new leadership structure with this morning’s announcement. Humam Sakhnini has been promoted to president of the mobile publisher best known for Candy Crush. He will work alongside founder and CEO Riccardo Zacconi. King has suffered the biggest losses in Activision Blizzard monthly active users, down more than 20 percent from first quarter 2017.

Blizzard has also gone through its share of challenges, with significant consumer backlash after the announcement of the next Diablo game. Diablo Immortal, a mobile title developed in partnership with NetEase, was announced at Blizzcon in November 2018 to an audience hoping for news of the next core game in the franchise. Blizzard does have additional Diablo titles in the works, but that wasn’t enough to satiate an angry crowd.

The World of Warcraft publisher also suddenly dialed back support for its hero brawler, Heroes of the Storm. The company pulled the plug on its esports initiatives, including collegiate-focused Heroes of the Dorm.

Despite reports that Activision is taking a more hands-on approach with Blizzard, leading to changes in company culture, the publisher took the opportunity in today’s announcement to reaffirm support for new CEO J. Allen Brack. Brack has been with Blizzard for 12 years and led development on World of Warcraft.

“Rob, Humam, Dennis and J. exemplify our deep bench of operational and commercial leadership. These capable and seasoned executives have shown unwavering commitment to our company, our employees, and our beloved community of fans around the world,” said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. “With these proven, principled leaders at the helm, we will continue to invest in the strategic growth drivers of our business; our talented people, and creating the world’s best videogames, live services, mobile experiences, and new and growing franchise engagement models.”

For more on Blizzard, you can read GameDaily’s interview with senior vice president Allen Adham and an in-depth look at diversity and inclusivity initiatives at the company.

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Michael Futter is the author of The GameDev Business Handbook, a guide for creating and sustaining an independent video game studio, and The GameDev Budgeting Handbook. He is also the former news editor of Game Informer and has written about business and legal issues and video game industry trends for eight years.