Employees from Activision Blizzard joined a walkout Wednesday, rallying at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, California, to protest the company’s response to a recent discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit.
The suit, filed by the state of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Activision Blizzard on July 20 in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges multiple instances of gender-based discrimination, inequality and harassment throughout Activision Blizzard’s network of companies.
At the rally, attended by approximately 200 people, according to Vice, one sign read: “Unaccountable corporate bureaucrats are driving the best employees out of Activision Blizzard.” Another read “Nerf Male Privilege,” using a game development term for weakening or tuning down an in-game mechanic.
Social media users also urged gamers to avoid crossing “the virtual picket line” by playing games published by Activision Blizzard, including Overwatch, World of Warcraft and any Call of Duty title.
The issues cited by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard have been raised about a number of other video game publishing companies over the years. Employees of Ubisoft, another major video game publisher based in Paris that recently ousted several executives following reports of workplace harassment and toxicity, authored an open letter in solidarity with Activision Blizzard employees, sending it to the company’s CEO, Yves Guillemot.
“It is clear, from the frequency of these reports, that there is a widespread and deeply ingrained culture of abusive behaviour within the industry,” reads the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “It should no longer be a surprise to anyone: employees, executives, journalists, or fans that these heinous acts are going on.”
The letter goes on to call for employees at Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard and other industry-leading publishers and developers to work together and “agree to a set of rules and processes for handling reports of these offences.”
Blizzard employees announced Tuesday they would halt work, citing the company’s statements on the lawsuit and an internal email from Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer Frances Townsend, which had called the lawsuit claims “a distorted and untrue picture of our company.”
The same day, Sabrina Brogan, a Blizzard employee, informed the Activision-Blizzard-King Women’s Network on Tuesday that she’s decided to step down as the network’s Europe, Middle East and Africa lead after seeing Townsend’s email. The notice from Brogan was shared with other employees via an internal messaging system and shared with The Post. Townsend is the executive sponsor for the Women’s Network, a post she was asked to resign in Monday’s open letter.
In part, Brogan’s message read: “I am ashamed I am working for this company.”
Tuesday afternoon, Blizzard leadership told staff via email that the company would extend paid time off to all who attended the walkout. That same evening, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick called initial management responses to the lawsuit “tone deaf” in an email to employees. He said that the company had hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of Activision Blizzard’s policies and hear from employees about uncomfortable or inappropriate experiences in the workplace. His message was shared on the company’s investor relations website.
Kotick added that any leaders who “impeded the integrity of our process” when resolving complaints would be terminated. The company would also add additional staff and allocate resources toward investigating claims and checking that hiring managers are considering diverse candidates for open positions. Kotick also said that in-game content deemed inappropriate in light of the recent allegations would be removed.
The walkout comes after more than 2,600 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter sent Monday to the company’s leadership. The letter described management’s response to the lawsuit as “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.”
The employees made four specific demands of the executive leadership team, including: the adoption of policies that would improve diversity and representation; transparency around employee compensation by gender and ethnicity; and a third-party audit of the company’s reporting structure, human resources and executive staff. The employees are also seeking to end the inclusion of mandatory arbitration clauses in current and future employee contracts. Such clauses send complaints made by employees against the company to a private arbitrator, rather than a lawsuit in a civil court.
In addition to those attending the rally Wednesday, employees at Activision Blizzard and throughout the video game industry supported the protest via social media, using the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout.