It’s been 126 days since Activision Blizzard employees published their demands for change, and management hasn’t acknowledged them
In July, a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing accused Activision Blizzard of having a “frat boy” culture where its female employees were regularly harassed, mistreated, and abused. It’s not exactly news that women and minorities are often treated as second class citizens in the male-dominated gaming industry, but the details are particularly egregious and horrifying. It’s a symptom of an industry-wide problem where workers are subjected to low pay, long hours, and poor treatment, and I think all of us in the industry and the community has finally had enough.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Activision Blizzard employees banded together to present management with an open letter outlining things that had to change at the company. (And Ubisoft employees have also banded together to demand similar changes at their own company.) Shareholders have filed their own lawsuit and written their own open letter over the company’s poor handling of the situation, and the SEC has started slamming down their own subpoenas in an attempt to investigate whether the company was negligent in not informing their shareholders sooner. The state of California has come down on the company with even more allegations, claiming Activision Blizzard is destroying evidence and otherwise trying to stymie the investigation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has also reached a rather paltry $18 million settlement with the company, which has caused its own controversy. The Communications Workers of America have objected to the settlement, calling the amount “mere pennies” and saying Activision Blizzard has yet to address worker concerns. The DFEH have also objected, because the settlement might hurt its case by requiring affected employees to drop further claims against Activision Blizzard — which could a big hurdle to California’s court case. But the EEOC now claims DFEH attorneys have a conflict of interest and the entire agency shouldn’t be able to file anything with regards to the case… which could completely upend California’s prosecution. And Activision Blizzard, of course, thinks this is reason to dismiss the suit entirely, but the legal battle continues.
With legal problems piling up, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has been accused of knowing more about the scandal than he admitted, and the Wall Street Journal says he directly protected managers accused of sexual misconduct. Kotick claims that the article “paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership,” and that his critics don’t “really appreciate how important this is to me.” But so far both the company as a whole and Kotick personally have been all talk and no action.
Members of the community have called on Kotick to resign since the beginning of this mess, and these calls have only grown louder with this each new, disturbing revelation. Even Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo — all major industry partners — have expressed concern over the company’s handling of the situation, though none of them have taken action against it.
Activision Blizzard is up against a mountain of legal trouble and a growing PR backlash, which should be weighing on the company… shouldn’t it?
But 126 days later and Activision Blizzard still hasn’t directly addressed employee concerns or made substantive changes. Kotick has promised to make changes including ending forced arbitration under certain circumstances, but those changes don’t match up to employees’ demands — and he’s neither acknowledged nor directly responded to the open letter. Blizzard has also been cleaning house: J. Allen Brack, Luis Barriga, Jesse McCree, and Jonathan LeCraft have all left the company in the wake of the lawsuit, and Blizzard claims more firings have happened since then, but we don’t know who’s been fired or why. Most recently, Activision Blizzard has launched a Workplace Responsibility Committee to oversee improvements to corporate policy and procedure, starting by “develop[ing] key performance indicators and/or other means to measure progress and ensure accountability.”
Any progress the company have made seems to be a lot of paperwork and promises, without any clear sign of improvement. Former Blizzard Co-Leader Jen Oneal — who was promoted to the role in August — announced her resignation in November, and while her public statement about the departure was positive, saying “I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts,” the Wall Street Journal reports that things weren’t so rosy. Oneal was reportedly paid less than her male counterpart Mike Ybarra and believed she was “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.” In an internal email, Oneal reportedly wrote “It was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.”
It’s not a good sign for future changes, and with an attitude like that it’s not surprising that months later, Activision Blizzard still hasn’t responded to worker concerns outlined in their open letter.
More than 3,000 employees signed on to the open letter, which you can read in full below:
To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,
We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as “distorted, and in many cases false” creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization.
Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.
We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward.
We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.
It’s past time for change at Activision Blizzard. It’s past time for Bobby Kotick and other abusive and ineffective management to be thrown out. At Blizzard Watch, we stand with the employees of Activision Blizzard in demanding action. No one does their best work when they’re abused, harassed, mistreated, discriminated against, and underpaid. Every worker at Activision Blizzard, past and present, deserves better.
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