Activision Blizzard Suing Netflix Over Poached Exec

the activitision blizzard and netflix logos
Illustration: Activision Blizzard / Netflix / Kotaku

For those of you who love corporate beef, here’s a whopper: Activision Blizzard is suing Netflix. As reported by Deadline, Netflix poached a top Activision exec, chief financial officer Spencer Neumann, before his contract expired. In response, Activision filed suit in the Superior Court of California earlier today.

Advertisement

According to Activision’s lawyers, Neumann started working at the Call of Duty factory in May 2017, with his contract set to lapse in April of this year. (The game publisher retained the right to extend that by one further year, too.) Netflix wooed him in late 2018. A job lasting merely a year-and-a-half job might be a corporate faux pas—and might be an eyebrow-raiser on a LinkedIn page—but it’s the contract violation that serves as the bedrock of today’s complaint.

Activision is asking for a permanent injunction—basically, a court order that says, “You can’t do this anymore”—against Netflix, barring the streaming service from hiring Activision employees who may have “fixed-term employment agreements.” Activision is also asking for punitive damages, or “punies,” which is lawyer-speak for “$$$$.”

Activision isn’t just apparently pissed about Neumann, though. Scroll through the complaint—which you can read here in full courtesy of Deadline—and you’ll see some language complete with thinly veiled irritation that Netflix is making apparent inroads into the video game space, following Neumann’s 2018 onboarding. Activision’s lawyers stress that Netflix attended E3 in 2019, and hosted a panel called “Bringing Your Favorite Shows to Life: Developing Netflix Originals Into Video Games.” I’m not so sure about the panel’s name. To date, I have yet to pout and then fail to protect a British VIP in a game based on The Bodyguard.

I also haven’t seen an Emily in Paris game that lets me become the expat mid-level marketing guru I’ve always known has existed deep in my bones.

The complaint points out that a game based on Stranger Things—the popular horror series that bears no resemblance to Super 8, nope, none at all—came out last year for multiple platforms. The suits also mention a video game based on The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. (Presumably, they’re talking about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, which came out in February.)

Activision, of course, is now famous for publishing the Call of Duty franchise. According to the NPD Group, it’s the best-selling video game franchise in U.S. history.

Advertisement

Read the whole report on Deadline.

More at the nexus of Netflix and games:

Advertisement

Staff Writer, Kotaku

DISCUSSION

Love this corporate dig they went for here, you can really just feel the smug coming off some lawyer writing it:

  • 13. ... Activision employs more than 9,000 of the industry’s most talented individuals in various countries around the world and its games have more than twice as many players as Netflix has subscribers. 

But it seems to counteract their own argument from these lines:

  • 14. Netflix is a subscription-based entertainment content service that offers online streaming of a library of films and television programs, including content produced in-house and interactive content, and which competes with Activision in producing and distributing such content.
  • 15. ... As Netflix expands its video game-related products, including bringing video game properties to its streaming service and creating video games based on its shows, Netflix increases its competition with Activision.

Their core argument seems to be to align Netflix as a direct competitor so their corporate poaching seems as malicious as possible but their corporate dig really doesn’t make Netflix out to be that big of a competitor at all. I get their argument is leaning towards Netflix WANTS to get into games and poached Neumann to work towards that goal but some tie-in games don’t really form a convincing argument for that. I can definitely see some judge rolling his eyes at this.

I get Activision basically HAS to file a suit here to protect their worker contracts and all that, but boy do these things really start getting extra. Shout out to my favorite quote:

  • 44. Netflix’s unlawful and unfair business practices present a continuing threat to Activision, which, in the absence of equitable or injunctive relief, will continue to suffer from future illegal raids on its workforce.

Really just brings to mind a viking longboat pulling up to some Activision Corporate parking lot and some hipstery dressed vikings hopping out, screaming and waving around nerf axes as they slowly navigate a spinning door, sprint past the lobby into the elevator, and proceed to absolutely RAID the upper floors carrying out hogtied executives and some danishes they got on the 3rd floor cafe.