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Activision Blizzard to Shut French Office Rooted in Its Past

(Bloomberg) -- Video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. informed employees in its Versailles, France, office Tuesday that the location will be closed, putting an end to the U.S. company’s history in the country.

The Versailles office employed about 400 people as of early 2019 and handled marketing, customer support, localizing games to different languages and other functions for the titles Activision Blizzard publishes in Europe.

The company originally planned to relocate half of the office to London, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. However, the twin factors of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have inhibited that process, leading to the decision to shutter the site about an hour’s drive outside Paris. Activision Blizzard’s shares fell 2.1 to $78.30 in New York. They’ve gained 32% this year.

It’s not yet clear how many people will lose their jobs or how many will be given the opportunity to relocate to other offices, but French labor laws force companies to negotiate significant compensation packages for employees caught up in mass layoffs.

Staff members were told that they will learn more next week. A spokesperson for Santa Monica, California-based Activision Blizzard confirmed that management has informed its employee representatives of a plan to reorganize its activities. “Over the past year we have been exploring how we might best integrate our capabilities across the business, enabling us to better leverage talent, expertise and scale as we adapt to the needs of a fast-paced, highly-competitive, digitally focused industry,” the spokesperson said.

France has played a pivotal role in Blizzard’s history. Founded in Irvine, California, in 1991, Blizzard wound up in the hands of French conglomerate Vivendi SA in 1998. Under Vivendi, Blizzard released a string of popular games including StarCraft, Diablo II and the mega-sensation online role-playing game World of Warcraft, which has grossed billions of dollars from millions of monthly subscribers. In 2008, Vivendi’s games division merged with Activision to form Activision Blizzard, which was divested from Vivendi in 2013.

The closing of the Versailles office, which was once solely an operation of Blizzard, will put an end to two years of turbulence there. A recent restructuring placed some of the Blizzard staff under the wider Activision umbrella. Blizzard has traditionally remained autonomous within the broader Activision organization, but in recent years Activision has taken a larger role in Blizzard’s operations.

Last year, as part of job cuts across Activision Blizzard, the publisher told Versailles staff that it was eliminating 134 of 400 positions. Staff were left in limbo for months as Activision Blizzard negotiated with the government over severance, and by the beginning of this year, those employees had taken a compensation package to leave. The company also quietly shut a Blizzard office in The Hague earlier this year. A spokeswoman said some of the roles were relocated to other offices.

In August, Bloomberg reported that U.S. Blizzard employees were sharing their salary figures and organizing in company Slack chats to seek pay increases and better treatment.

(Updates with closing of office in The Hague in penultimate paragraph.)

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