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Activision quietly restructures senior management and internal organization [Updated]

March 30, 2010 | 11:32 am

BobbyKotick The nation's largest video game publisher has restructured its senior management team and internal organization 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 internally owned properties 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 Activison's publishing business outside of Blizzard, has been named vice chairman, a role in which he serves as advisor to company Chief Executive Bobby Kotick. Thomas Tippl, formerly chief financial officer and chief corporate officer, has been named to the newly created role 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 is also filling on an interim basis.

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, but has seen sales of its music franchise Guitar Hero plummet. It's the first major shakeup for the company since Activision merged with Vivendi Games in 2008 to create Activision Blizzard.

The internal shakeup 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 last Friday. The company's website for investors still lists the previous management roles.

Spokespersons for Activision did not respond to requests for comment.

Tippl has been Activision's CFO since 2005 and chief corporate officer since last year. He previously served as head of investor relations and finance director for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. Griffith, another P&G alumnus who joined Activision at about the same time as Tippl, is shifting to the vice chairman role that has 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 already announced the new unit dedicated to Call of Duty games in early March, soon after Jason West and Vince Zampella, heads of the studio that created the series, left amid a dispute with the publisher that led to a $36-million lawsuit.

A 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 the license to several top Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Transformers.

Maria Stipp, executive vice president of owned properties, is now overseeing all internally owned titles besides Call of Duty and the ones made by Blizzard. In addition to managing Guitar Hero, Tony Hawk skateboarding games, and other 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.

[Update, 11:43 a.m.: An Activision spokeswoman confirmed the changes and said there were also about 15 layoffs last week.

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

12:27 a.m, March 31.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Stipp would oversee Call of Duty games.]

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. Credit: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

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