In response to the situation surrounding the explosive California state lawsuit alleging systemic sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision-Blizzard, former president Mike Morhaime posted a letter to the industry and specifically to his former Blizzard colleagues overnight. In sharp contrast to the combative, deflective memo issued in private at Activision and the Gloria-Steinem-namedrop memo leaked from J. Allen Brack, this letter is an actual apology that expresses shame and regret for what Morhaime characterizes quite specifically as his own failure as the former leader of the company.
“I have read the full complaint against Activision Blizzard and many of the other stories. It is all very disturbing and difficult to read. I am ashamed. It feels like everything I thought I stood for has been washed away. What’s worse but even more important, real people have been harmed, and some women had terrible experiences.
“I was at Blizzard for 28 years. During that time, I tried very hard to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for people of all genders and backgrounds. I knew that it was not perfect, but clearly we were far from that goal. The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down. In addition, we did not succeed in making it feel safe for people to tell their truth. It is no consolation that other companies have faced similar challenges. I wanted us to be different, better.
“Harassment and discrimination exist. They are prevalent in our industry. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep all employees feeling safe, supported, and treated equitably, regardless of gender and background. It is the responsibility of leadership to stamp out toxicity and harassment in any form, across all levels of the company. To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you.
“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. I want to hear your stories, if you are willing to share them. As a leader in our industry, I can and will use my influence to help drive positive change and to combat misogyny, discrimination, and harassment wherever I can. I believe we can do better, and I believe the gaming industry can be a place where women and minorities are welcomed, included, supported, recognized, rewarded, and ultimately unimpeded from the opportunity to make the types of contributions that all of us join this industry to make. I want the mark I leave on this industry to be something that we can all be proud of.”
Morhaime announced his departure from Blizzard in 2018 but technically stayed on in an advisory role into 2019; a year ago, he founded Dreamhaven, which has been attracting plenty of Blizzard talent. He is not explicitly named in the lawsuit, but since even the Activision memo acknowledges incidents older than a decade, he was certainly in charge for the vast majority of the time period at issue here and presided over the formation of the toxic culture and staff who generated the abuse. We’ll certainly be watching to see how exactly he uses his influence, as he says, to drive that positive change when it comes to the culture and hiring at Dreamhaven. The women of Blizzard and our industry deserve more than words.
As for current Acti-Blizz staffers, PC Gamer has compiled messages from some current Blizzard employees who are standing in support of their colleagues and against the companies and corporate memos – and some of whom are boycotting work in solidarity with victims. Perhaps most notable to MMORPG players is Steve Danuser, the former SOE dev who moved to Blizzard to head up World of Warcraft’s narrative team a few years ago.
“Now we gotta roll up our sleeves and fix this shit,” he says. “As a company. As an industry. I’m not talking about platitudes and corporate bullshit statements. I’m talking about friends and colleagues working together to pull evil out by its roots. […] Don’t speak up for companies. Speak up for people. And our team has amazing, wonderful people who need support right now. That’s what I’m going to focus on today.”
“‘If I’d known this was happening I would have stopped it’ says the man who was told repeatedly that it was happening and did nothing to stop it. I’ve refrained from giving my own comments on the situation at Actiblizz because frankly, there are more important people you should be listening to right now. But that statement from a certain former leader was 100% bullshit and I’m furious about it. He knew. He did nothing. Don’t get me wrong, current leadership is fucking up hard right now too. But please don’t believe for a second that the culture that allowed all of this to happen for the last couple decades was somehow built by the guy who’s been in charge for 3 years.”
To drive it home, one former staffer released a letter she’d written to Morhaime about the very serious culture problems within the company while he was still there. “Women will continue to be a smaller portion of Blizzard’s audience will men, it means fewer women will work at Blizzard, and it means, over time, Blizzard will be added to the list of Companies That Are Bad For Women,” she wrote in 2018, urging Morhaime to act. “I truly believe men who behave like [a specific unnamed predator] will cost the company money and its good reputation.”
— Kristin 💙 (@Kristin_wrote) July 23, 2021
“Taking responsibility and apologizing for your role in this is paramount, Mike, and I really appreciate it. When things got really bad in bnet – many of us felt abandoned by you, and what’s worse, when I was threatened with physical harm and panic cc’d you about it, I was later reprimanded for doing that, completely ignoring how terrified I was that my trying to save someone’s life had somehow put my job in jeopardy, and that I was going to be assaulted at a work event because of it. It felt like I was never given any grace, despite so many men in leadership being repeatedly excused for their behavior, and often being made to feel that the sexual harassment was totally normal and ‘not that bad’, and even a compliment because of how normalized it was in bnet and wow. When I think back specifically to how many women Afrasiabi harassed and assaulted, myself included, and how many people were traumatized by Bridenbecker, the toxic environment that Pearce’s EA’s had for so many years… it’s hard for me to think that you couldn’t have enabled it.”
In a second thread, she clarifies more about her run-in with Morhaime.
“Mike was directly responsible for the chain reaction of events that got me nearly fired for cc’ing him about Tia Zimmerman threatening me with violence for contacting emergency dispatch when she threatened suicide. While he didn’t tell anyone to do it, he was the leader of the company and made comments about how was causing problems for the company and that ‘things need to be taken care of immediately’ which was interpreted as ‘fire Cher.’ My immediate supervisor put his job on the line – for me, and as a result, the compromise was to label me as a low performer and cut my bonus and my pay. Don’t tell me you wanted us to come to you. I came to you. And you destroyed my self worth.”
Former Blizzard Senior Systems Engineer Terra Field also replied to Morhaime, pointing out that the investigation into former Blizzard CTO Ben Kilgore began in at least 2016, long before Morhaime left, and was well known to internal company organizations, meaning it defies belief that Morhaime was unaware and in fact promoted him after the allegations were made. Kilgore is not mentioned by name in the suit; for some reason, the allegations against him are attributed to his title rather than his name: “Defendants’ former Chief Technology Officer was observed by employees groping inebriated female employees at company events and was known for making hiring decisions based on female applicants’ looks.”
Ben Kilgore was being investigated for inappropriate conduct with female employees as early as 2016, yet in May 2017 he was promoted from Chief Technology Officer to Chief Development Officer. How was that situation allowed to occur? The Women’s council knew about the allegations https://t.co/k7rSPzKkEA
— Terra Field, soft-looking organic life-form (@RainofTerra) July 24, 2021
Many thanks to the readers who keep sending us these so we can keep compiling.
“During my time at Blizzard, I experienced sexual harassment from multiple male leads. Explicit descriptions of sex acts they wanted to perform on me, propositioning my wife and I for sex, back rubs. It goes on. This often occurred in front of my other coworkers, who said nothing. Going to HR wasn’t an option. You only went to HR if you wanted your story immediately shared throughout the entire studio. On the handful of occasions when I tried to talk to someone about this, I was never taken seriously. ‘Boys will be boys’ they’d say. ‘I’m sure they’re just joking.’ Sexual harassment isn’t funny. I just wanted to make great games. So, I sucked it up, let it continue, and just tried to ignore it the best I could. “This wasn’t worth risking my career over”, I’d tell myself. This remains one of my biggest regrets. I knew the more I put up with it, the more I enabled them to act this way towards others. I’m sure more people were hurt because of my inaction. I’m struggling with whether now is the right time to share this story. The last thing I want to do is divert attention away from the women in this industry whose voices are rightly being amplified right now. But the culture at Blizzard was toxic and it impacted many, many people. We need to do better.”
Readers will recall that male harassment by male leads was a problem in the Riot Games scandal (and treated as inadequately). Crusco is one of the several developers who left Blizzard for Second Dinner, the Ben Brode-led studio.