Activision Blizzard: Influencers Rethinking Partnerships Amid Lawsuit

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Business Insider 23 July, 2021 - 03:04pm 65 views

Why is Activision getting sued?

California Sues Gaming Giant Activision Blizzard Over Unequal Pay, Sexual Harassment. A lawsuit filed by the state of California on Wednesday alleges sexual harassment, gender discrimination and violations of the state's equal pay law at the video game giant Activision Blizzard. NPRSuit Claims Sexual Harassment, Discrimination At Game Studio Activision Blizzard

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Blizzard was founded in 1991 and has created some of the most popular franchises in video game lore, like "Warcraft," "Starcraft," and "Diablo." The company and its work have attained legendary status in the video game world.

But Tuesday's lawsuit alleged that the company engaged in unfair workplace practices, discriminated against female employees, and failed to take proper disciplinary action against bad actors. 

Even more shocking were claims that a former member of senior management would "hit on female employees" in a room dubbed the "Cosby room" after alleged rapist Bill Cosby, and the claim that a female employee "committed suicide while on a company trip due to a sexual relationship she had been having with her male supervisor." 

Four influencers spoke to Insider about how the lawsuit has impacted them.  

Blizzard has a fan base unlike many other major gaming companies, who have dedicated their entire fandoms and bits of their personalities to the games they play. "World of Warcraft" (WoW), the company's massively multiplayer title, has over 4.4 million players daily and their shooter "Overwatch" generated over $1 billion since its 2016 release, according to SuperData. The company's yearly BlizzCon convention has drawn in tens of thousands of attendees since its launch in 2015.  

Additionally, a world of influencers that dedicate themselves and their communities to Blizzard's titles has quickly grown on YouTube, Twitch , Facebook, and other platforms. Some are having to come to terms with choosing between their livelihood and content in the wake of the lawsuit news. 

Twitch streamer Asmongold, who has 2.3 million followers, commented in a Twitter video that many Blizzard streamers specialize in a single video game. "They go to another game, their stream is going to be f---- dead." 

"Blizzard will take a hit for this," Twitch streamer Halie Atisuto told Insider. "Hopefully they learn, grow, and build something better from what's left. But they aren't looking so hot right now."

Atisuto paints on her Twitch channel with over 100,000 followers and has collaborated with Blizzard on projects in 2018 and 2019, painting characters from the "Overwatch" franchise at the company's headquarters, with plans to collaborate again once the game's sequel is released.

Now, Atisuto says, those plans are on shaky ground.

"Not only as a person who is firm with morals, but someone who has experienced similar treatment with people equally desensitized to my problems, I don't see it happening as it feels wrong," Suto said. 

Anthony Travino, who streams Blizzard's card game "Hearthstone" as Ant to his 22,000 Twitch followers, says he's done working with the company. Travino has been playing professionally and streaming the title since 2016 and told Insider he wouldn't work with Blizzard again until "something is done." He claims to have experienced the company's "frat boy culture," a characterization used in the lawsuit firsthand. Travino said he had his first sip of alcohol at a 2017 event in Shanghai and that "most of the times that I've been drunk in my adult life were at Blizzard events." 

"It's appalling and honestly not surprising," Travino said about the claims in the lawsuit. "I'm not exactly very well off so I would have to choose between my morals or paying the bills, I can't imagine what women who work at Blizzard have to go through." 

Brian Kibler, one of the most popular content creators focusing on Blizzard's "Hearthstone" title has over 470,000 followers on Twitch and has been outspoken in the past about Blizzard's controversies. 

"I wish I could say I was surprised to hear the stories of some of the women who have been brave enough to speak up, but I understand that this kind of culture has long been pervasive not just at Blizzard, or in the gaming industry, but wherever groups of men have largely unchecked authority," Kibler told Insider. 

He told Insider he has "taken a hiatus" from playing Blizzard titles but he "expects to come back."

Another personality, Malik Forte, had been working with the company on multiple events since 2014, including hosting the Overwatch League and BlizzCon All Access stream show. Forte, who is black, cut ties with the company in 2020 and told Insider that he had "run-ins with racist rhetoric often" but "the amount of times I found myself coming to bat for women co-workers when men would display sexist behavior towards them was exponentially more." 

While hosting the 2018 Overwatch League season, Twitch chatters would spam the "Trihard" emote of a black man whenever he was on screen, causing Forte to publicly call out the action as "racially insensitive." 

"It was traumatic reading those court documents, yet not surprising," Forte said. "I've definitely heard accounts from many women that match the claims." 

Though the Anaheim-based developer is receiving a lion's share of the current internet discourse and criticism, it isn't unique in the video game industry. Claims of sexism in the field are endemic. 

Certain game developers have received some of the reckoning. In 2018, Kotaku published a groundbreaking investigation revealing claims of misogyny and sexism at Riot Games. In February 2021, CEO of Riot Games Nicolò Laurent was investigated by his own company after a lawsuit from a former executive assistant claimed she was subject to sexual harassment. The company later cleared him of wrongdoing.

In 2020, Bloomberg and French newspaper Liberation reported that Ubisoft executives would host business meetings in strip clubs and that women employees were told by their managers to "smile more" and made inappropriate comments about their bodies. It also claimed that reports to HR were commonly ignored. After the stories were released, three executives including the head of HR stepped down from their roles in the company. 

Blizzard did not return a request for comment but they called some allegations "distorted" in a lengthy statement to other journalists. 

Read full article at Business Insider

"We Will Not Tolerate It" Says Destiny Developers Bungie Regarding Activision Allegations

TheGamer 23 July, 2021 - 10:01pm

The statement was released on Bungie's official Twitter page, where it discussed the culture of harassment in the workplace for women, and how Bungie is trying to do better, and be better.

To start with, Bungie said, "Bungie is built on empowering our people no matter who they are, where they are from, or how they identify. We have a responsibility to acknowledge, reflect, and do what we can to push back on a persistent culture of harassment, abuse, and inequality that exists in our industry."

It continued, "It's our responsibility to ensure this type of behaviour is not tolerated at Bungie at any level, and that we never excuse it or sweep it under the rug. While the accounts in this week’s news are difficult to read, we hope they will lead to justice, awareness, and accountability. We have a zero-tolerance policy at Bungie for environments that support this toxic culture, and we are committed to rooting them out to defend those who are at risk."

The statement concludes by saying, "We don’t pretend that Bungie is perfect and that no one has experienced harassment while working here, but we will not tolerate it and will confront it head-on. And we will continue to do the work every day to be better. Our goal is to continue to improve the experience for everyone working at Bungie and do our part to make the gaming industry as a whole to be more welcoming and inclusive."

Bungie's statement is especially notable as it previously worked with Activision for the original release of both Destiny titles, before splitting and becoming an independent studio. There aren't any reports of a major falling out between the two studios, but it's clear that the relationship wasn't great, something Bungie likely wants to distance itself from even further.

George is a news editor for TheGamer and a part of the all-mighty weekend crew.

Bungie says it won't tolerate harassment in its workplace

PC Games Insider 23 July, 2021 - 10:01pm

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Destiny developer Bungie has said it will confront harassment "head on" and won't tolerate that kind of behaviour at the studio.

In a thread on Twitter, the studio said that it had a responsibility to ensure that this kind of misconduct had no place in its workplace, while vowing to never vow this behaviour or "sweep it under the rug." Bungie also admitted that it isn't perfect and that instances of harassment have occurred on its watch.

This comes in the wake of a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard which alleges the company has a toxic working culture and details numerous accusations of sexual harassment and other general shitty behaviour. Activision Blizzard has claimed that the examples California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing are "distorted and in many cases false."

Bungie, of course, worked with Activision on the Destiny IP until the two parted ways in 2019

"It's our responsibility to ensure this type of behaviour is not tolerated at Bungie at any level, and that we never excuse it or sweep it under the rug," Bungie wrote.

"While the accounts in this week’s news are difficult to read, we hope they will lead to justice, awareness, and accountability.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy at Bungie for environments that support this toxic culture, and we are committed to rooting them out to defend those who are at risk.

"Women, POC, and underrepresented communities have nothing to gain by reliving their trauma. We believe them when they come forward with reports of abuse or harassment.

"We don’t pretend that Bungie is perfect and that no one has experienced harassment while working here, but we will not tolerate it and will confront it head on. And we will continue to do the work every day to be better.

"Our goal is to continue to improve the experience for everyone working at Bungie and do our part to make the gaming industry as a whole to be more welcoming and inclusive."

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site PCGamesInsider.biz. In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for GamesIndustry.biz, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.

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Activision Blizzard executives can't decide whether allegations of abuse are 'disturbing' or 'meritless'

PC Gamer 23 July, 2021 - 02:47pm

Internal company memos and public statements paint a confusing picture of Activision Blizzard's stance.

While neither email corroborates the allegations from the lawsuit, both condemn the behavior it describes and reaffirm Activision and Blizzard's commitment to employee health and safety. Both sympathize with the hurt felt by employees and make a commitment to find a way forward.

As anecdotal evidence, Townsend then relates her own experience joining Activision Blizzard. "I was certain that I was joining a company where I would be valued, treated with respect, and provided opportunities equal to those afforded to the men of the company," she wrote. "For me, this has been true during my time."

Townsend, who has only been at the company for four months, then talks about Activision Blizzard's various diversity and inclusion initiatives and commitment to equal treatment of employees before tearing back into the lawsuit: "We cannot let the egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees."

Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYFJuly 23, 2021

Townsend's email suggests Activision Blizzard's record of equal treatment and safety of employees is being grossly misrepresented by the lawsuit. That's a major contrast to the tone of Brack and Kostich's emails, which offer sympathetic promises to listen and improve. 

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Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Shows an Industry in Need of Reform

TechRaptor 23 July, 2021 - 10:00am

In its early days, the gaming industry was once viewed as a fledgling business, one that exists only to churn out high-tech distractions for young boys. Fortunately, such stereotypes were overcome, and it is now a powerhouse of the entertainment industry where dreams can be turned into reality. And yet, for all the decades of progress that were made in dispelling the idea that games are a boy's club of violence and sex, every once in a while something happens that reminds us that there's still some aspects of the gaming industry that need to be eradicated. One such cancer, brought to light by a lawsuit filed by the state of California, revealed that Activision Blizzard had been subjecting its workers to horrible conditions, with multiple allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and unfair pay. 

The damning report by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing states that a "frat boy" culture was present at Activision Blizzard's offices, leading to a "breeding ground of harassment and discrimination against women." Women were subjected to lower pay and fewer promotions, groping, and what is effectively rape, for lack of a better word. Complaints were routinely disregarded by HR, and perpetrators were effectively given free reign to continue their disgusting behavior without consequences. Conditions were so bad that one female worker committed suicide. There are quite a few more allegations to be found in the report, though they mostly serve to reinforce the claims that sexual harassment was rampant throughout the company.

Those who are most responsible for the success of our beloved hobby are being exploited and literally killed by their work.

Needless to say, the report should disgust any moral and decent person. One should hope that the lawsuit leads to a crippling punishment for Activision Blizzard and fair and swift compensation for the injured parties, but whether this actually happens remains to be seen. Regardless of the outcome of this particular lawsuit, it has become abundantly clear that the gaming industry as a whole needs to be reformed. This is not the first time that a major gaming company was caught fostering an environment of sexual harassment. In fact, Ubisoft was exposed for doing what is essentially the same thing, with as many as one in four employees stating that they were either victims of or witnesses to workplace misconduct. From Bethesda to EA to Naughty Dog and beyond, sexual harassment cases in the gaming industry are apparently so common that it's probably easier to just assume that every AAA-sized publisher or developer has had at least one credible and or public case of sexual harassment. 

Even if you put aside the claims of sexual harassment, the gaming industry is evidently rife with corruption and unethical working conditions. CD Projekt Red for example overworked their employees to the point that at least one worker compared it to being on a death march. Rockstar relies so heavily on crunch that workers sleep at the office and laundry services had to be hired during extended periods of crunch. Stories where workers at Epic Games were worked until they "broke down in tears" aren't hard to find. Activision Blizzard (again) famously fired some 800 workers, or about eight percent of its workforce, in 2019 in spite of the fact that the previous year "achieved record results." Another 100 or so were let go in late 2020.

At this point, there's really no way to sugarcoat the working conditions in the gaming industry. Non-isolated instances of abuse, reported by countless individuals from every part of the world and backed up by a state lawsuit, makes the situation abundantly clear: Those who are most responsible for the success of our beloved hobby are being exploited and literally killed by their work. But what is to be done? One could simply say that any guilty companies should be dissolved and control should be handed over to the workers. Worker cooperatives in the gaming industry aren't exactly unheard of (see also Pixel Pushers Union 512 and Tonight We Riot). This is a rather extreme option though, and not exactly realistic all things considered.

The most obvious and practical answer is that there needs to be some form of game developer's union, plain and simple. Organized labor has historically been the working class's greatest weapon against abuse, and there's plenty of abuse going on right now. In addition, it is high time for many prolific villains of the gaming industry to go. The recent Activision Blizzard lawsuit report states that Bobby Kotick, the CEO, had a salary of almost $1.5 million in 2020. Other executive officers are living the good life on the surplus value of their workers with salaries ranging from $650,000 to $1 million. To say that these people deserve such salaries given the quality (or lack thereof) of recent Activision Blizzard games is laughable. That crimes are going unpunished (perhaps literally) under their noses points to either incompetence or willful ignorance and ought to be considered criminal. Keep in mind that this isn't just an issue exclusive to Activision Blizzard. If the video-game industry is to be purged of corruption, it must start from those who have the most power and are most capable of enabling the sexism, racism, and worker abuse that happens in their own office. 

Either way, unless things change, we might very well be looking at the slow but unmistakable implosion of major parts of the gaming industry. Between crunch, widespread sexual harassment, and incompetent management that focus purely on revenue, you will almost certainly see talented developers leave. Logically, more inexperienced developers will try take their place and fail through no real fault of their own, resulting in lower-quality products. The cycle can (kind of) be seen with the recent release of Cyberpunk 2077 and the largely uninspired route that many major franchises have taken, especially those handled by EA, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Rockstar. Hopefully, working conditions for developers will improve soon as there is still a place for AAA blockbuster titles, but if not, then it is a self-inflicted death that is well deserved.

Hi everybody! I've been playing all kinds of games for decades now, from FPSes to city builders to the occasional platformer, and if nothing else, it's taught me that games are the ultimate form of art. 

TechRaptor is your source for high quality gaming news, reviews, and articles.

Blizzard President Calls Toxic Workplace Allegations "Extremely Troubling"

TheGamer 23 July, 2021 - 05:49am

Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier, who first reported on the Activision Blizzard case, Tweeted J. Allen Brack's email to staff, which has him calling allegations "extremely troubling" and encouraging people to "talk to any manager, any HR partner, any member of the legal team".

In the email, J. Allen Brack opens by saying, "I personally have a lot of emotions coming out of yesterday, and I know you do too. The allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling. I know many of you would like to receive more clarity. While I can't comment on the specifics of the case as it's an open investigation, what I can say is the behaviour detailed in the allegations is completely unacceptable."

Further on in the email, J. Allen Brack claims that "when I talked with Bobby about taking this job, one of the first things I mentioned was a revered saint of the Brack household - Gloria Steinem... I disdain "bro culture", and have spent my career fighting against it".

J. Allen Brack tells Blizzard employees that they should talk to members of staff if they have any problems within the company. He said, "The leadership team and I will be meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we can move forward. In the meantime, I want you to know that you can talk to any manager, any HR partner, any member of the legal team, or to anyone on the executive team".

The statement from J. Allen Brack is the first time that Activision Blizzard has talked about the workplace allegations since its statement to the public yesterday claiming that they were false, although this email is an internal one and seemingly wasn't meant to be shared outside of the company. It's likely that we'll hear more from Activision Blizzard over the next few days.

George is a news editor for TheGamer and a part of the all-mighty weekend crew.

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