Perhaps having seen how badly Mike Morhaime’s apology to the women of Blizzard backfired, Chris Metzen took the better part of an extra day to issue his own letter to the industry in response to the situation surrounding the explosive California state lawsuit alleging systemic sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision-Blizzard. He begins by offering his “deepest apologize for the part [he] played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference.”
“There is no excuse. We failed too many people when they needed us because we have the privilege of not noticing, not engaging, not creating necessary space for the colleagues who needed us as leaders. I wish my apology could make any kind of difference. It can’t.”
Describing his “shock, disgust, and anger” over the stories, he says he’s “having trouble reconciling the place [he] knew, loved, and worked in for so long with the hard reality that has been presented over the last few days.”
“It’s like staring at two totally different worlds. But it’s not. It’s just the one world, and the yawning disconnect between my perception from the top and the crushing reality many of you experienced fills me with profound shame. Words are cheap. Not sure what grand, sweeping promises really do either. Accountability starts with people. Not corporations, or platitudes, or ‘values’ cast in iron around a statue.”
He addresses men specifically, calling on them to model better behavior and “walk in far greater awareness, compassion, and empathy for the women around us.”
This is later than it should have been. Here’s my response. pic.twitter.com/0h8iF6a1JR
— Chris Metzen (@ChrisMetzen) July 24, 2021
He also specifically addresses his relationship with former Blizzard dev Alex “Furor” Afrasiabi, who is specifically named in the lawsuit as a serial harasser and has been openly accused of sexually assaulting multiple women.
“As for Alex. I loved working with him and jamming in story meetings. He was someone I thought very highly of on the job, but we never interacted outside of story jams and such. I was never his boss. We never really interacted outside of doing the work or taking smoke breaks. We haven’t worked closely together [since] WotLK. I never heard a peep about him other than that he could be tough on his team or an asshole from time to time. So learning all this the past week has been just utterly shocking. Just reprehensible shit.”
Last week, the state of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a brutal lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard following a two-year investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and sexual discrimination that apparently led to (among many other things) the suicide of one Blizzard worker. Activision-Blizzard issued a sharp denial and attacked the DFEH conducting the investigation – the same one that investigated and pursued Riot Games over similar allegations. Privately, Blizzard’s J. Allen Brack issued a memo that bizarrely named Gloria Steinem and insisted he opposed “bro culture,” while Activision itself remained on the offensive, with its own leaked memo. Extremely politically controversial Activision Chief Compliance Officer Fran Townsend, who has been with the company only since March and presumably working from home during that period, blasts the lawsuit as factually incorrect and distorted, which provoked current employees to declare that the statement didn’t represent them.
Former Blizzard president Mike Morhaime posted his apology yesterday; while he is not named in the lawsuit and indeed left Blizzard in 2019, he presided over the company for more than two decades and during quite a bit of the period referred to in the lawsuit. Indeed, dozens of current and former workers have since come forward with stories and offered themselves as witnesses, some of them explicitly calling out Morhaime for having known about the problems and done nothing to solve them during his tenure. For example, one staffer had a letter she’d written to Morhaime back in 2018, warning that predators inside Blizzard would eventually “cost the company money and its good reputation.” Another pointed to a specific incident when speaking up earned her retaliation apparently directed by Morhaime himself. Even a male developer chronicled being sexually harassed at the hands of “multiple male leads,” further amplifying the dozens of stories now making clear that the HR department did little to help.
Other Blizzard men have been named by staffers as offenders, including former Robert Bridenbecker, Frank Pearce, and Ben Kilgore. Kilgore is referred to in the suit as the former CTO rather than by name; he was accused in the suit of “groping inebriated female employees” and “making hiring decisions based on female applicants’ looks.” Kilgore’s inclusion is likewise notable as he was being investigated by the company as early as 2016 and yet was promoted in 2017 anyway, and it’s a hard sell that Blizzard’s senior staff were unaware of that investigation when regular staff were.
“OK. I’m still hopeful my team will make a statement, but Activision’s statement was terrible, so here’s what I believe. I know many of my colleagues believe this as well: I believe all allegations of sexual harassment deserve to be taken seriously and in good faith, and any perpetrators of sexual harassment deserve both removal from the company and criminal investigation. I believe strongly in equal treatment and equal protection. Regardless of gender or race, everyone deserves a safe and supportive environment in which to work and live. Our society at large is often not equal, and people with less systemic power due to marginalization need more systemic protection to ensure their fair treatment. It is clear that Human Resources has failed at this systemic protection. I am viscerally disgusted by the horrible trauma that has been inflicted upon my coworkers, friends, and colleagues. I find Activision’s corporate response wholly unacceptable. I don’t stand by it, any of it. 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. I don’t know what to do. I don’t have all the answers. I can tell you, almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out. And that benefits nobody – not the players, not the developers, not the shareholders. Activision’s response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they’re rendered unable to keep making a great game. I deeply love my team. I believe in my coworkers. I have recommended this place as a beacon to people I care deeply about, and in my personal experience, it has been that beacon. But – it is DAMNINGLY OBVIOUS that that experience has not been universal. The people who were harmed by abuse – they deserved that experience too.”
Former Blizzard senior dev Stina has an absolutely eye-popping thread about her experiences in the company, describing everything from a make developer promoted after repeatedly “pranking” women by undoing their bras at work to the absolutely insane figure that she was “one of only two senior women designers or artists in a company of ~4000 people” and that “there were no female leads in creative roles” during her tenure. She also describes her excessively low pay compared to male developers and the “caste system” designed to keep QA and CS in their place and away from the developer royalty. At the same time, she has kind words for Mike Morhaime, calling him a “genuinely […] good person who filled a company with many amazing humans” and suggesting that “his error lay in empowering and trusting some bad people as his delegates, and not cleaning house when it was urgently needed.” “I believe Mike when he says he’s sorry & can do better,” she concludes. “He and Amy [Morhaime] are some of the few execs I would work with again. […] That list includes [Chris] Sigaty, [Dustin] Browder, & [Jason] Chayes.”