In case you’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer number of updates in the Activision Blizzard sex discrimation story, this will help you keep track of the latest developments.
July 21. Lawsuit filed by DFEH alleging sex discrimination
On July 21, California’s civil rights agency called Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sued Activision Blizzard for systemic discrimination against its female employees, who make up around 20% of the company’s entire workfore. According to the complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, women at Activision Blizzard are subjected to a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.” That culture allegedly manifests itself in sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation. The company immediately responded by saying that saying that “the picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” More on that here.
July 23. Execs issue statements. Gaming outlets boycott Activision and Blizzard titles
Following the allegations, various executives, both current and former, made statements about the situation. The statements vary greatly in how apologetic or defensive they are.
On July 23, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack sent out an email to employees. In the letter, Brack says he would be meeting members of staff personally to discuss the situation and ways to improve, thus admitting the alleged violations. Here’s the letter in its entirety.
On the same day, Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend sent out a very different kind of email to employees. In it, she denied the allegations made in the “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit.” Basically, Townsend reiterated the company’s public statement that DFHE’s lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company” and featured “factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories.”
On the same day, a number of gaming outlets have sided with the affected women of Activision Blizzard by refusing to cover the company’s titles. However, they are still going to cover the ongoing news around the allegations and actions the company might take to address them. Among those outlets are TheGamer, Switch Player Mag, Cinelinx, Lock-On, Ninty Fresh, GameXplain, and Prima Games.
July 24. Ex-CEO Morhaime admits he “failed”
On July 24, co-founder and ex-CEO of Blizzard Entertainment Mike Morhaime, made a statement acknowledging that he, in his own words, “failed” the women of Blizzard.
July 25. Metzen apologizes. Work on World of Warcraft suspended
On July 25, Chris Metzen, who was senior vice president of story and franchise development at Blizzard until his departure in 2016, also apologized to the company’s devs who have been hurt and admitted “the yawning disconnect between my perception from the top and the crushing reality many of you experienced fills me with profound shame.” More on the statements from Morhaime and Metzen here.
On the same day, Senior System Designer for World Of Warcraft, Jeff Hamilton, along with other devs expressed his frustration with Activision’s corporate response, which he called “wholly unacceptable.” “It is evil to usurp a victim’s story into a rhetorical bludgeon, and it is abhorrent to reply to these accusations with anything other than a well-thought-out plan to correct these abuses,” he added. Moreover, he said that the development of World of Warcraft has stopped “right now while this obscenity plays out.”
July 26. Activision Blizzard sign letter to management. More reactions from leadership team
On July 26, around 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter that calls the corporate response to the sexual harassment allegations “abhorrent and insulting.” The letter now has over 3,800 signatures. Here’s the letter in its entirety.
On the same day, Activision Blizzard held a Zoom call which should have been company-wide but was only attended by 500 employees due a scheduling error. During tha call, Activision chief operating officer Joshua Taub reportedly claimed that neither him nor Bobby Kotick had ever seen the alleged misconduct taking place, although he did admit that “does not mean this behavior does not happen.” Taub admitted that “the note from Fran [Frances Townsend] wasn’t the right communication.” However, he insisted on strictly internal investigation into the claims made by DFEH. “We don’t publicize all of these claims, we work with the employee and the person who is accused and try to work on a resolution,” Taub allegedly said. When one of the employees brought up unionization as a way to address the company’s culture, Taub reiterated these issues should be handled internally. “The best way for protection is reaching out to your supervisors, hotline and avenues.” More on that here.
July 27. Walkout announced. Kotick releases statement. Company’s shares dip
On July 27, Activision Blizzard employees announced they are planning a walkout to protest the way the company is handling the recent sex discrimination allegations. The aim of the walkout is to “improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.” The walkout is to take place on July 28. According to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Blizzard said it will offer paid time off to those who participate in the walkout scheduled for tomorrow. Read the full list of the protesters’ demands here.
On the same day, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick apologized for the “tone deaf” corporate response: “I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.” Kotick also pledged his “unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.” In the letter, Kotick announced several measures, such as bringing in the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of the company’s policies and investigating (again, internally, it seems) “each and every claim.” As for the demands for the removal of mandatory arbitration clauses and the publication of compensation data, Kotick chose to ignore them in his statement.
It should also be noted that law firm WilmerHale is known for working with Amazon and preventing its employees from unionizing. It led to the company’s workers in Alabama voting against creating a union. This raises concernes about the outcome of its partnership with Activision Blizzard.
The company’s stock price dropped 6.76 percent, as spotted by Daniel Ahmad.
Shareholder rights law firm Robbins LLP anounced it is “investigating Activision Blizzard to determine whether certain Activision officers and directors violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and breached their fiduciary duties to the company.” The law firm is calling on shareholders to get in touch to explore “legal options against the сompany’s officers and directors.”
July 28. WoW devs remove “inappropriate” content. Ubisoft employees speak out. AB workers stage walkout. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot issues statement
On July 28, the World of Warcraft developers took to Twitter to announce they are working to “remove references that are not appropriate for our world. This work has been underway, and you will be seeing several such changes to both Shadowlands and WoW Classic in the coming days.” While the team never mentioned anything specific, they seem to mean editing out any references to the Activision Blizzard members named in the DFEH lawsuit. For example, NPC “Field Marshal Afrasiabi” (reference to former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who is mentioned in the lawsuit a lot) is probably being removed right now.
On the same day, around 500 Ubisoft employees (the number later increased to around 1,000), both current and former, signed an open letter ahead of the Activision Blizzard walkout. The signatories expressed their support for their fellow devs at Activision Blizzard and criticized how Ubisoft handled its own workplace culture abuses.
The employees acknowledged that the Ubisoft executive team has fired the most public offenders within Ubisoft since “the ﬁrst revelations of systemic discrimination, harassment and bullying” at the company. However, the letter claims that the management team “let the rest either resign or worse, promoted them, moved them from studio to studio, team to team, giving them second chance after second chance with no repercussions.”
The Ubisoft devs are now calling for the removal of all known offenders from the company “along with those who were complicit in or willfully ignorant of the actions of others.” The signatories also demand “real, fundamental changes, within Ubisoft, within ActivisionBlizzard, and across the industry.” More on that here.
Later that day, hundreds of Blizzard employees gathered outside the company’s main campus in Irvine, California to protest the company’s response to sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.
Prior to the walkout, the protesters released a statement in response to the message from Bobby Kotick. They criticized Kotick’s message as failing “to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns.” Specifically, the management ignored the following demands:
- The end of forced arbitration for all employees.
- Worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies.
- The need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality.
- Employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.
Until these demands are met, the protesters said, they “will not return to silence.”
“We will be the change,” the statement concludes. More on that here.
Later that day, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot made a statement in response to the open letter now signed by about 1,000 Ubisoft employees, both current and former. Guillemot’s email reiterated commitment to “building a better Ubisoft,” but failed to address the specific demands made by the employees. No departures from the company were announced. Instead, Guillemot cited 300 listening sessions, company-wide survey and global audit. Read the letter in its entirety here.
On the same day, Activision Blizzard confirmed that it had fired former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who was directly named in the lawsuit, following an investigation last year. The company “terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.” More on that here.
July 30. Ubisoft employees react to the company’s statement
People behind the letter to Ubisoft top management responded to Yves Guillemot’s official comments. Employees said that the “majority of our demands were sidelined and few of our points seem to have been addressed.” They think that Ubisoft still protects and promotes offenders, while avoiding the issues of harassment and misconduct in the workplace. More on that here.
August 03. J. Allen Brack stepping down as Blizzard Entertainment president. Blizzard HR head Jesse Meschuk fired. ABK Workers Alliance speaks against law firm WilmerHale. Class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of investors
On August 3, Blizzard Entertainment announced that J. Allen Brack is stepping down as the leader of the studio. After his departure, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will co-lead the company. They will share responsibilities over game development and company operations.
Jesse Meschuk, Blizzard’s senior vice president of HR, also left (and took his Twitter account with him). Under Meschuk, Blizzard’s HR department “undermined and discounted victims’ experiences, and did not protect their identities.” Moreover, it actively worked to “shield” offenders from any consequences.
A group of over 500 Activision, Blizzard and King employees calling itself the ABK Workers Alliance wrote a letter criticizing the company’s choice of law firm WilmerHale to conduct an internal review. According to the letter, “WilmerHale has a history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action.”
On the same day, ahead of the company’s Q2 earnings call, a firm called Rosen Law filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of investors who traded in Activision Blizzard securities between August 4th, 2016 and July 27th, 2021.
During Activision Blizzard’s quarterly earnings call, Kotick reiterated a “commitment to a safe working environment” and promised to take “swift action to ensure a safe and welcoming work environment for all employees.” We are yet to see how this works out, but installing new leadership at Blizzard, with Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal appointed as co-leaders, probably means Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick will extend its control over Blizzard.