Blizzard employees publicly criticise corporate response to abuse allegations

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Rock Paper Shotgun 24 July, 2021 - 12:00pm 58 views

Why is Activision getting sued?

Video game company Activision Blizzard sued over 'frat boy culture' allegations. The video game company behind World of Warcraft and Candy Crush is being sued over allegations of its “frat boy culture” and treatment toward its female employees. The GuardianVideo game company Activision Blizzard sued over ‘frat boy culture’ allegations

Several Activision Blizzard employees have criticised the company on social media for its response to allegations of harassment and discrimination. Earlier this week, the State Of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard which alleged the company has a "frat boy" culture that has created "a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women".

In a statement, Activision Blizzard called the Department Of Fair Employment And Housing which brought the suit "unaccountable State bureaucrats", and said the allegations were "distorted, and in many cases false." Some Activision Blizzard employees, including senior developers on World Of Warcraft, are reportedly "fuming" at the response.

Yesterday, emails from Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and executive Fran Townsend were sent to staff, and shared with Bloomberg journalist Jason Schreier.

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/BxGeMTuRYF

Brack's email calls the allegations "extremely troubling", but Townsend's rejects them completely, outlining the company's "hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments" and calling the lawsuit "truly meritless and irresponsible."

"I'm unhappy with the corporate response up to this point," wrote one Blizzard game designer on Twitter. "I don't feel it represents me or what I believe in."

"I stand with the AB victims & believe their stories," wrote another employee. "To claim that these stories are 'factually incorrect' or 'untrue' is a slap in the face to current & former employees, & does not represent my core values."

"Really hope that Blizzard puts out a statement on this situation that I actually agree with and can support, and not more legal defense posturing," wrote another. "Because the stuff said so far is unacceptable and doesn't represent me. And I know I'm not alone in feeling that way here."

Several other employees criticised the corporate dismissal of the allegations, while pledging to support their colleagues and those speaking out.

Blizzard co-founder and former president Mike Morhaime, who stepped down in 2018, also released a statement via TwitLonger. "To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you," it read in part. "I realize that these are just words, but I wanted to acknowledge the women who had awful experiences. I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down."

World Of Warcraft players, too, have been organising in solidarity. One group organised a sit-in protest and at the time of writing have raised over $11k for Black Girls Code.

Graham used to be to blame for all this.

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California sues Activision Blizzard over 'frat boy' culture

CNBC Television 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

Activision Responds to Toxic Workplace Lawsuit

TheGamer 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

Opinion: World of Warcraft is tainted. Let it be - let it put you off playing it, let it act as a reminder of Activision Blizzard's abhorrent behaviour. If that's what it's going to take to start eliminating sexual harassment from this industry, then so be it

Esports News UK 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

“This IP will carry his stain on it. Everything in the current lore and setting derives from Alex. Everything is tainted.”

I’m reading through the WoW forums, through tweets, through blog posts and news stories following the news this morning. I don’t know what I’m looking for – I’m trying to digest this awful story I guess.

I search for Alex Afrasiabi on Google, I stumble upon this particular forum thread about him departing Activision Blizzard suddenly, quietly, this time last year.

Others have done the same as me. A few new posts at the bottom of the thread by Warcraft players say what I’m thinking.

“So they definitely knew what was up. Tried to scrub it away. Wow.

Another says: “Everything in the current lore and setting derives from Alex. Everything is tainted.”

Alex was a quest designer for WoW before becoming creative director for the Warlords of Draenor and Battle for Azeroth expansions. He has NPCs named after him, like Field Marshal Afrasiabi, and items, such as Fras Siabi’s Cigar Cutter axe. He designed the legendary Thunderfury questline.

If you step foot in Azeroth it’s almost impossible to ignore his influence.

Alex was also one of the harassers named in the lawsuit.

Stephanie Krutsick, one of the victims of harassment who was previously working at Activision Blizzard, wrote an important Twitter thread about her experience.

She said: “Most of my coworkers were wonderful, talented people who cared about quality games. And some weren’t. The problem was the lack of accountability.”

In the lawsuit, it’s alleged that J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, had multiple conversations with Alex Afrasiabi about his behaviour towards female employees at company events, “but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e verbal counselling) in response to these incidents”.

“Subsequently, Afrasiabi continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees, including grabbing a female employee’s hand and inviting her to his hotel room and groping another women.”

This is obviously not okay. Stephanie is right – we don’t have enough accountability in this industry.

So yes. WoW is tainted. It’s arguably been tainted for a while now following Activision Blizzard’s other despicable actions – the poor pay conditions that saw some workers skipping lunch because they couldn’t afford it, the CEO’s absurd bonuses, the huge job layoffs, the sudden culling of the HotS esports scene, the list goes on – and now today’s news.

I stupidly booted it up again last night before the news broke, and logged into a dead Classic WoW server. I don’t even know why. Nostalgia probably. Today I’ve cancelled my subscription again – that was probably the stupidest way I’ve thrown away £10.

WoW for me was one of the most magical game experiences when I played it religiously as a student back in 2005-2007. And I’ve played it on and off over the years. But I’m not sure I can play it again.

The game just reminds me of the behaviour of Activision Blizzard. And this problem is of course not exclusive to them. Ubisoft, Riot Games and others have been accused of similar behaviour, with those publishers producing the likes of Rainbow Six Siege and League of Legends respectively.

As a journalist I still need to cover the esports developments in these games (it’s been a struggle covering the Sanctum of Domination Race to World First after this story broke), but I don’t forget the actions of the publishers, I don’t forget wrongdoing, and I will continue to address it. I hope you do the same.

So let Warcraft act as a reminder of Blizzard’s actions. Let it put you off playing it. Let it remind future game developers and others in this industry that there is no place for sexual harassment. Let it prompt publishers to change their workplace practices and bring greater accountability in the future. That’s the least their victims deserve.

Just another sad reminder that the gaming community isn't safe for women.

This appalling passage from the Activision Blizzard lawsuit details how sexual harassment allegedally played a significant part in a worker's suicide. As usual it's those who claim the right to lecture others on how to behave are only doing so to hide their own foulness. pic.twitter.com/bHiiMp4noK

‘It’s the way it is’ or ‘it’ll never change’ or ‘that’s how he is’ are NOT words we should be saying in 2021 when talking about a work culture and environment. We NEED to change to evolve our industry and make it a safe and welcoming environment for both new and existing women.

Little warning signs for women in the workplace https://t.co/0lgiFFJsAA

Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.

A keen League of Legends and World of Warcraft player, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.

You can follow Esports News UK on Twitter, Facebook, Discord and YouTube, and get the latest updates from the Esports News UK RSS feed.

Activision exec tells team that lawsuit is actually what's hurting company

Gamasutra 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

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An internal e-mail to Activision Blizzard employees today from Activision executive Fran Townsend (who joined the company after working in the U.S Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration) blames the State of California’s lawsuit for damaging the company culture, rather than alleged incidents of sexual harassment.

Axios’ Megan Farokhmanesh and Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier have both obtained the email, which runs directly counter to the internal; email that Blizzard J. Allen Brack sent to employees yesterday but seems more closely aligned with Activision Blizzard's public statement on the lawsuit.

“Everyone,” the letter starts, “As the Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network and our Chief Compliance Officer, I wanted to reach out to you. I know this has been difficult for many of us. A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago.”

The letter goes on to laud Activision’s efforts to improve diversity and provide equal opportunities to all employees regardless of background. In the close of the email, Townsend does slam the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing one more time, claiming that the lawsuit is “truly meritless and irresponsible,” and that Blizzard employees cannot let it “damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees.”

Schreier claims that the Blizzard employees he has spoken with are “fuming” over this letter. We’ve reached out to an Activision Blizzard representative to ask about the decision behind sending these dueling internal emails.

For full context, you find see Schreier’s Tweet sharing the full letter below:

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/BxGeMTuRYF

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Chief Compliance Officer Frances Townsend Responds To California’s Lawsuit In Email To Staff

TheGamer 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

On July 21, the state of California brought a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard over an alleged “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.” Activision Blizzard has since responded to those allegations and its chief compliance officer Frances F. Townsend added her own voice to that response this morning via an email sent to Activision staff.

Yesterday, Activision Blizzard responded to California’s lawsuit, calling those reports “false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Blizzard’s president, J. Allen Brack, also sent out his own email following the report and called the accounts “extremely troubling” and noting that he would be meeting with employees to discuss how to move on going forward.

Today’s email from Townsend states, “As the Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network and our Chief Compliance Officer, I wanted to reach out to you. I know this has been difficult for many of us. A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually inaccurate, old, and out of context stories - some from more than a decade ago.

The Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values. When I joined the Executive Leadership Team, 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. For me, this has been true during my time. As a leader, I am committed to making sure that the experience I have is the same as the rest of the organization. We have a leadership team that is committed to these principles in every way.

We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness. Rest assured that leadership is committed to continuing to maintain a safe, fair, and inclusive workplace. We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees. We aspire in our company to do great things: in our games, in our impact on society, and in our work environment. We continue to hold firm to our principles and invest, as we have in the past, the sources to ensure quality opportunities for all employees. We remain committed as a leadership team to doing what is right.”

The allegations Townsend refers to includes numerous reports from women that they have been sexually harassed, denied equal opportunities, and faced racism and sexism from male coworkers. In one instance, a woman also took her life during a trip with the company. California’s lawsuit also includes police statements that reinforce some of these accounts. This email contradicts the earlier email from Brack, who did not go as far as to deny the allegations.

Townsend is also new to Blizzard, having only been hired back in March of this year. If her name is familiar, that’s because she’s a former Bush-era United States Homeland Security Advisor. And as Kotaku outlined, Townsend was among those defending the administration and its use of waterboarding.

According to Politico, following the firing of James Comey, Townsend was also on Trump’s shortlist to replace him as FBI director. Her hiring at Activision Blizzard marks her departure from politics, and she’s spoken fondly of her ten-year relationship with CEO Bobby Kotick in the past.

Andrea Shearon is a news editor at TheGamer who loves RPGs, mobile games, and anything horror related. Find her on Twitter via @Maajora.

Activision Blizzard employees denounce corporate statements: 'We are here, angry, and not so easily silenced'

PC Gamer 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

Over 20 current employees, including lead World of Warcraft devs, are speaking out against their company.

The suit, filed by a California government agency, alleges that women at the company have faced "constant sexual harassment" and discrimination, especially women of color. The response from Activision Blizzard executives has been inconsistent. In its first statement to press, the company called the suit "distorted, and in many cases false" and characterized the agency behind it as a group of "unaccountable bureaucrats." In an internal email, chief compliance officer Fran Townsend also said that the suit "presented a distorted and untrue picture" of Activision Blizzard, and criticized it for "including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories."

Internal emails from Blizzard president J Allen Brack and Activision president Rob Kostich struck a different tone, calling the behavior alleged in the lawsuit "unacceptable" and "disturbing," although neither affirmed that such behavior has occurred at the company.

On social media, dozens of former employees expressed support for the stories told in the lawsuit and, in some cases, corroborated details. Now over 20 current Activision Blizzard employees have expressed public disapproval of Activision Blizzard's response to the suit, with dozens more showing support by retweeting their coworker's statements. 

Many of us will not be working today in solidarity with the women that came forward. The statements made by ABK do not represent us. We believe women, and we will continue to strive to do better and hold others accountable. Actions speak louder than words.July 23, 2021

"Many of us will not be working today in solidarity with the women that came forward," wrote lead game designer Jeremy Feasel. "The statements made by [Activision Blizzard] do not represent us. We believe women, and we will continue to strive to do better and hold others accountable. Actions speak louder than words."

The World of Warcraft team has been "going through a mix of outrage and sorrow and hurt," said narrative designer Steve Danuser, who went on to say that he's interested in fixing the company and industry, not "corporate bullshit statements."

Like many of you, our team's been going through a mix of outrage and sorrow and hurt. Been listening to one another, looking after our friends, and finding ways to support and care for each other.Now we gotta roll up our sleeves and fix this shit. As a company. As an industry.July 23, 2021

Many more employees expressed similar feelings:

"I'm unhappy with the corporate response up to this point," said game designer Brian Holinka. "I don't feel it represents me or what I believe in. Many of us have said this internally. It feels worth saying publicly."

"These past few days have made me furious at the COMPANY I work for, but so proud of the PEOPLE I work with," tweeted a user named Burk, who works at Blizzard as an associate producer. "Everyone is rallying together, listening, speaking out against the atrocious responses, and demanding action. We are here, angry, and not so easily silenced."

These past few days have made me furious at the COMPANY I work for, but so proud of the PEOPLE I work with.Everyone is rallying together, listening, speaking out against the atrocious responses, and demanding action. We are here, angry, and not so easily silenced.July 23, 2021

"I stand with the [Activision Blizzard] victims & believe their stories," tweeted Blizzard UX researcher Nikki Crenshaw. "To claim that these stories are 'factually incorrect' or 'untrue' is a slap in the face to current & former employees, & does not represent my core values."

"Really hope that Blizzard puts out a statement on this situation that I actually agree with and can support, and not more legal defense posturing," wrote Kyle Hartline, a server and live ops producer on World of Warcraft. "Because the stuff said so far is unacceptable and doesn't represent me. And I know I'm not alone in feeling that way here."

"I've heard horror stories all of which I know are true and shouldn't be dismissed," tweeted Elsbeth Larkin, a tools software engineer for World of Warcraft. "The fact that [Activision Blizzard] dismissed it not once but twice is appalling."

In addition to personal statements, many developers are also tweeting statements that read: "This tweet is my own and does not represent the views of my company. I do not support any attempt by AB to diminish the very real damage done to victims of harassment at Blizzard. We absolutely must hear and support the women at our company, both current and past."

At the time of writing, Activision Blizzard has not responded publicly to these expressions of distrust and frustration from employees. We've asked for comment from the company, and will have more as the story develops throughout the next week and beyond.

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Activision Blizzard Devs Speak Out Against Company's Response to Lawsuit

GameRant 24 July, 2021 - 04:30pm

The DFEH's case presents a long list of charges against Activision Blizzard, with the workplace being described as fostering a "pervasive frat boy culture," in which women were subjected to various forms of sexual harassment, including fending off "unwanted sexual comments and advances" by male employees, being groped by male employees as they drunkenly embark on "cube crawls" across the office (moving between various cubicles in the office while inebriated), and being subject to jokes about rape and comments regarding male employee's sexual partners.

The lawsuit is also centered upon an overarching attitude of discrimination at the company, with female employees being "overwhelmingly assigned into lower grades/levels" and women being offered less "lucrative job assignments" from hire and less pay and opportunities at the executive level. This is part of what the DFEH's suit against Activision Blizzard indicates is a pattern of discriminatory behavior that is perpetuated by the company's higher ups, and cemented by an HR department that treated complaints with a "perfunctory and dismissive" attitude.

Valentine Powell, User Interface Senior Software Engineer for World of Warcraft, started off a chain reaction of Tweets from their fellow Blizzard employees by posting that they did not "support any attempt by AB to diminish the very real damage done to victims of harassment at Blizzard," and that "We absolutely must hear and support the women at our company, both current and past." Other employees used the same words to voice their concurrence with Valentine's, including Senior Product Manager Ryan Davidson, Senior Concept Artist Janet Chu, and UI Designer Daniel Peterson. World of Warcraft players have also been protesting in-game in order to put forward their displeasure with the company's handling of the situation.

The tweets come after Activision Blizzard's statement on the lawsuit sparked further controversy for the company, with their claim being that the DFEH "includes distorted, and in many case false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." Activision Blizzard go on to suggest in the statement that the company has been "extremely cooperative with the DFEH," and that the DFEH's behavior is an example of how "unaccountable State bureaucrats" are "driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California." Many were baffled by the response, which made no mention of attempts to rectify the behavior of AB's employees and instead went entirely on the offensive.

Current and former employees have been stepping forward to corroborate the DFEH's claims, with Cher Scarlett, an ex software engineer at Blizzard, stating that she would be "hard-pressed to find someone that wasn't witness to sex in the game lounges, coke in the bathrooms during a cube crawl, or a woman who wasn't sexually harassed at least once." The allegations against Blizzard are, unfortunately, part of a what appears to be a larger problem in the industry, with a similar lawsuit brought by Solidaires Informatique against fellow gaming giant Ubisoft earlier in the month.

For Blizzard, the suit also comes at a time where the Overwatch League is being investigated by US Department of Justice for its potentially unlawful soft salary caps, and perhaps during a period of general disenfranchisement with the company by its fans, after the failed Warcraft 3 Reforged launch last year, controversy over the company's pro-China stance with regards to Hong Kong sovereignty, and issues with World of Warcraft Classic's overpriced content. The news of Activision Blizzard's internal attitude towards women, and the general pattern of inequity in the gaming industry, is sadly something that is not entirely unexpected. What has been unexpected, is Activision Blizzard's failure to listen to the women in its employ, past and present, and the company's refusal to make amends; especially when a plaque outside of Blizzard's headquarters reads "Every voice matters."

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