Why is Activision being 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
In a new report from Bloomberg, sources claim that Blizzard chose to release Reforged – which launched to widespread fan complaints about low quality and false advertising – because it had already accepted pre-orders, and didn't want to risk those sales by delaying.
Bloomberg also reports that it has seen an internal Blizzard postmortem document saying, "We took pre-orders when we knew the game wasn't ready yet" and that the company should, in future, "resist the urge to ship an unfinished product because of financial pressure."
The project was allegedly hamstrung by a low budget, and was apparently seen as a low priority by parent company Activision because of its unlikeliness to become a 'billion-dollar product'. The report says that the game was then rescoped, leading to it launching without features present in the original Warcraft 3, and without reworked cutscenes announced before launch. Altered scripts and re-recordings of dialogue were allegedly also ditched.
Have you played Warcraft III: Reforged?
Several sources pin the blame on leadership in both the Reforged team, and within the wider Blizzard organisation. The postmortem reportedly adds: "Senior voices in the department warned leadership about the impending disaster of Warcraft on several occasions over the last year or so, but were ignored."
Blizzard subsequently changed its refund policy to allow for more returns of the game, but some missing features have not yet materialised, more than a year after release. A Blizzard spokesperson told Bloomberg that despite the closure of the Classic Games team that made it, a new team is, "dedicated to updating Warcraft III: Reforged with improvements. In these efforts, we realize our work and actions will speak louder than our words."
Earlier this year, we published a special report on the exodus of talent from Blizzard. Yesterday, Activision Blizzard as a whole was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for an alleged "frat boy" culture in which female employees are allegedly subjected to unequal pay and sexual harassment.
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24 July, 2021 - 02:40am
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Bungie has made a statement, emphasising its zero tolerance policy on harassment and abuse, as its former publisher Activision Blizzard faces a lawsuit over its treatment of women.
The studio behind Destiny does not appear to have been mentioned in the lawsuit, but the Twitter thread it posted last night suggests the company is keen to distance itself from its former partner.
Activision Blizzard served as the publisher for Bungie's Destiny series until 2019 when the two parties ended the partnership. The companies began working with each other in 2010.
"Bungie is built on empowering our people no matter who they are, where they are from, or how they identify," the company wrote via Twitter. "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'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. Women, PC 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."
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for "violations of the state's civil rights and equal pay laws." It follows a two-year investigation into the company, which found it to be a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."
Activision Blizzard has denied all accusations.
Bungie's statement also follows an exposé into the toxic culture at Ubisoft Singapore -- the latest studio owned by the Assassin's Creed publisher to be at the centre of such a report.
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The publisher says its narrative ambitions and the complications of COVID-19 have necessitated a change in schedule
Destiny studio also doubling size of Bellevue HQ, adding two board members, planning multiple teams and new IP
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24 July, 2021 - 02:40am
The news first broke Wednesday afternoon and began reverberating throughout social media late into the evening. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher for alleged widespread gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and myriad harm stemming from a longstanding “frat boy” workplace culture.
The allegations were based on a two-year investigation that uncovered a number of incidents of alleged abuse ranging from the damning to the chiling. Activision Blizzard, which denied the accusations in a statement and claimed they were mostly “based on descriptions of Blizzard’s past,” nevertheless continued trending on Twitter into the next morning.
It’s also empowered more people to continue speaking up about their own experiences at the Diablo and Overwatch maker. According to one former developer at Blizzard who spoke to Kotaku under the condition of anonymity, the systemic injustices begin from the moment women are hired at the company.
“Women are generally brought in at a lower rate of pay than their male counterparts with the same experience levels,” they wrote. “Often this is because the men that join Blizzard have friends on the inside pulling [for] them. It also happens because women coming in are usually paid less at their previous job and will accept lower offers without knowing the pay band they are being brought in on.”
Part of the problem, they say, is that many details surrounding compensation at the company—including perks like stock options—are shrouded in secrecy. Even if you become aware that there’s an imbalance, there’s not a defined pathway to correct it. Really, more often than not, actively trying to do something about any given issue only leads to more problems, current and former employees are saying on social media.
“As someone who was harassed, violated, retaliated against, had a false report filed AGAINST me that was ACTED ON BY MY ONE OF MY HARASSERS, & watched one of my best friends be traumatized over and over again by the men in power at this company, I can’t express the relief I feel,” former Blizzard employee Cher Scarlett wrote on Twitter after news broke. Scarlett went on to describe a previously reported incident involving revenge porn that, to her, illuminated the degree to which Blizzard does not properly take care of its women. It’s an issue that follows women even if they spend years at Blizzard, according to our anonymous source.
“When a female employee gets a new manager, she has to prove her worth over and over again,” they wrote. “Competence and talent in her area of expertise are never assumed, in my experience. Male employees on the other hand are often given the benefit of the doubt and given opportunities to rise in situations where opportunities open up. When this cycle happens over and over, with a new manager every year or so, the female employee gets left behind, under promoted and not given opportunities to develop her skills and prove herself.”
Another former employee, Shaynuh Chanel, wrote on Twitter today, “I’ve been openly discussing the discrimination I received during my employment at Blizzard for a few years now. Even in coming out about the harassment (that was met with HR leads telling me ‘it was a privilege to work here’) I, we—never had a voice. Now—we have a voice.”
Chanel went on to detail accounts of women being demoted for pregnancies and female-health concerns, lower pay raises than male counterparts, management making crude remarks about female colleagues’ apparences, and management offering drugs at off-site parties.
Another aspect that allows problems to fester is that, even if a woman has the courage to speak up for herself or report it to human resources, those entities largely exist to protect the interests of the company.
“When HR has to get involved, it is never good for the victim,” our source said. “She is subjected to humiliating questioning, asked how much of the harasser’s behavior was her fault, and told to be a ‘team player’ and make things easier for the harasser to work with her. Going to HR labels her a troublemaker in the department, and retaliation has followed in almost every case I’ve witnessed or experienced.”
The video game industry has grappled with these issues since its inception as an insular tech industry spin-off dominated by cishet white men, but in increasingly visible ways in recent years. A culture of sexism at League of Legends maker Riot Games, first outed in an investigation by Kotaku in 2018, eventually led to some changes at the company and a landmark cash settlement for victims that California regulators are still fighting in court to increase. Last summer, a wave of sexual misconduct allegations swept through Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft, leading to several high-profile resignations and a lawsuit in French court.
Other conversations taking place online have grappled with the moral quandary of asking women to join an industry that is so actively hostile to them. Many women game devs right now are challenging the efficacy of grassroots movements, and the usual calls to improve that happen when these stories break out, when the reality is that the industry needs top-down structural changes. Some people have called for unionization, which usually involves ratifying a contract that outlines a wide variety of rules that try to ensure everyone is treated and paid fairly. And, failing that, unions can also try to ensure that everyone has an equal voice, ideally allowing women to have avenues to speak out without fear of retaliation.
Others are calling for men—who make up the overwhelming majority of most studios—to hold themselves accountable for creating safer spaces.
“Gamedev dudes, the thing NOT to do this week is turn to the women in your company to reassure you that no, actually, you’re one of the good ones,” wrote Insomniac Games writer Mary Kenney. “Self-reflect on what you’ve done to help marginalized voices in your org. If the answer is nothing? Well, it’s a good day to start.”
“Men in games, dedicate some brain space today thinking about the following: what would you do if a man said something sexist about a colleague? What would you do if he was your buddy? What would you do if he was your boss? How do these circumstances augment your response?” wrote Leena van Deventer, game developer and board member of the Victorian Women’s Trust femenist group.
“Making the games industry safe for women has been women’s business for too long. It feels Sisyphean. I see a lot of horrified men on my timeline. What are you going to do with this rage? What are you going to build?”
The video game industry is great at papering over its problems. Activision Blizzard claims it’s all in the past, while Ubisoft announces time and again that it’s made big strides in making its workplaces diverse, inclusive, and equal—despite voices on the inside repeatedly challenging those narratives. The men who predominantly run these companies can be quick to try and turn the page as well.
When the boy’s club at Riot was exposed back in 2018, it sparked meetings at Blizzard on the issue that were seen by some as little more than preemptive damage control for a similar story coming out there, another source told Kotaku. During Ubisoft’s reckoning last year, multiple sources told Kotaku that some men tried to rewrite their own pasts in meetings about the issues, adopting the stance of allies while challenging little about their own behavior or the company structures that had enabled a toxic environment to flourish in the first place.
“Don’t let this be a moment that passes us by,” our source warned. “Start by throwing out the harassers and abusers. Make moves to elevate the voices that will hold strong and make systemic changes. Hire female and POC leadership and not just to clean up the messes made in the past, but with the full support, guidance and funding their predecessors were given as well.”
“I hope these stories can reach and empower other women to do the same and share their experiences working for this company,” Chanel wrote. “I felt alone and minimized my pain for a long time, I hope nobody else has to do that anymore. This is our time to speak.”
24 July, 2021 - 02:40am
In an internal email obtained by Bloomberg's Jason Schreier, Brack describes the allegations as "extremely troubling," going on to state that management is in the process of meeting with the affected parties. This follows a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, claiming that female employees at Blizzard Entertainment are subjected to a "frat boy" work culture.
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sent out an email to staff last night addressing the allegations from this week's explosive lawsuit, calling them "extremely troubling" and saying that he'd be "meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we can move forward." pic.twitter.com/NsMV6CNdTE
"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," reads Brack's email. "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 that the behavior detailed in the allegations is completely unacceptable."
Brack continues on to say, "Growing up, the value of women as equals, understanding the work that had been done for equal treatment, and the fact that there was still much to do, were common themes." Brack elaborates by stating, "I disdain 'bro culture,' and have spent my career fighting against it."
The lawsuit filed by the DFEH lists several cases of discrimination and sexual harassment against female employees, the severity of one such incident resulting in one employee taking her own life. The lawsuit states that women are often paid less than male employees of the same position, consistently made to work harder and longer for promotions are often offered less lucrative job assignments.
The lawsuit states, "Numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation were made to Defendants' human resources personnel and executives, including to Blizzard Entertainment's President J. Allen Brack. But Defendants failed to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints."
Schreier later shared an internal email sent out by Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who joined the company in March. "I know this has been difficult for many of us," reads the email. "A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories - som from more than a decade ago." According to Schreier, the email has "some Blizzard employees fuming."
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
"We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness," continues Townsend. "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."
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is currently seeking an injunction that would see Activision Blizzard comply with established workplace protections and deliver on pay adjustments, back pay, lost benefits and unpaid wages.