A Handful of Games Industry CEOs Make Entirely Too Much Money

All of the money, none of the talent.

In 2020, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick received over $154 million in compensation. For comparison, the median Activision employee compensation package was $99,100, so Kotick’s making their salary in just a little over an hour. Those figures, plus financial details from other industry giants like Electronic Arts and Zynga, are now available thanks to a new report from market intelligence firm Games One.

That data includes a mixture of figures pulled from stock, benefits, bonuses, and CEO salaries at publicly-traded companies, placing Kotick at the number two spot on the list for highest-paid CEO. The gap between Kotick’s $154,613,318 and the $99,100 median puts Activision Blizzard at a 1 to 1,560 ratio, and the timeline gets a little messy, but this is all for 2020 only. That’s the year after Activision Blizzard put almost 800 people out of work, but the year before it laid off even more in its esports division, Kotick’s 2020 financial compensation report also pre-dates the filing for the Activision Blizzard gender discrimination lawsuit, but not his shitty behavior.

Considering 2020 marked a year of growth for video games stemming from pandemic spending, it’s a bleak feeling to look at the numbers besides Game One’s top ten list and compare it to some of those employee earnings. If you’re curious, the firm’s full report lists over 40 CEOs making a combined $842 million in compensation, but the top few are some of the most egregious:

  1. Robert Antokol, Playtika CEO ($372,008,176)
  2. Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard CEO ($154,613,318)
  3. Andrew Paradise, Skillz CEO ($103,321,052)
  4. Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts CEO ($34,715,802)
  5. Frank Gibeau, Zynga CEO ($32,003,768)

So while $842 million seems like an ungodly sum for any forty-something odd people combined to make, the top five account for most of it, but just Kotick and Playtika CEO Robert Antokol account for more than half of that total.

The list’s top earner from Playtika didn’t report a pay gap ratio, but there were notable discrepancies from companies like GameStop. In 2019, the retailer laid off hundreds of store employees and Game Informer staff, only to turn around in 2020 and argue its stores were “essential retail,” and that made it okay to put employees in dangerous, public-facing situations where they could expose themselves to a deadly virus. GameStop lost that battle, though that didn’t prevent leadership from floating around other dystopian ideas; like that time, they considered holding a contest for labor hours over one Black Friday.  The CEO at GameStop at the time, George Sherman, wasn’t there for very long (2019-2021), but he did get to experience all of those highlights, netting him just over $7.5 million in compensation.

At the bottom of those figures, Games One explains how the board votes to elect these people, placing them in these positions of power and rewarding them with these huge sums of money. The report calls the list, “democracy in action,” and ends with a prediction that, “executive compensation will continue to rise.”

It’s weird how that works—all of the money, none of the talent. GameStop’s wage gap ratio has it at 1 to 650, and there’s not anyone doing any amount of work that justifies some of these divides. It grows more frustrating when you look down the list, recognize that the gap is not quite so severe in all cases, and understand no one is contributing that much value to a company.

I don’t have a specific cut-off number for you, but I can tell you there is no one contributing tens of millions of dollars worth of talent to these places and that there comes a certain point when your compensation is no longer ethical.