Chris Metzen offers apology for Blizzard’s culture of ‘harassment, inequality, and indifference’

    
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WoW

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.”

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.

Metzen is also not named in the suit. He left the company in 2016 as a VP, having worked there for more than two decades. He since founded Warchief, which authors D&D campaigns.

Further reading:

Source: Twitter. Cheers Bruno.
Update
World of Warcraft Senior Systems Designer Jeff Hamilton posted a powerful letter of his own, significantly more impassioned than what former execs who bear actual responsibility have penned.

“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.”

Cheers, Ken.

Update
MOP reader Tammy reminded us of Chris Metzen’s comment at BlizzCon in 2013 when he explained Aggra’s sudden disappearance from the story and the male-dominated cast going into Warlords of Draenor by telling players, “That honeymoon is over; it’s more of a boy’s trip.”
Update
Kat Metzen, a former Blizzard staffer who is also married to Chris Metzen, chimed in on his Twitter thread, suggesting she too was a victim of Blizzard’s abuse culture and calling for Fran Townsend’s removal: “I do not support any attempt by AB to diminish the very real damage done to victims of harassment at Blizzard. We absolutely must hear and support the women at our company, both current and past. I just came back from a legoland trip to this pile of mud and spent last night reading everyone’s posts. My blood is boiling. You are not alone. I left Blizzard with PTSD as did many women. Oh and can we agree Fran needs to go?”
Update
Just as with Mike Morhaime, Chris Metzen’s account has been directly contradicted by developers. “This statement makes me sick with the hypocrisy of it,” former Blizzard dev Connie Griffith wrote. “You probably don’t even remember this but you are the one who told me I should stick to what I’m good at, which was apparently taking notes and organizing meetings. Way to mentor jr female talent.”

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.”

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Eugeniu INFO

I have the impression that people confuse the business side with the creative one. For instance, I am against any harassment. It is illegal and it should be either prevented, or punished. At the same time, I am a fan of Azeroth and a player hungry for more Warcraft lore. This keeps me playing, despite of anything happening on the business/back side. We have law enforcement agencies responsible for taking care of crimes. If someone does not care much about the Blizzard products, it’s ok to stop buying them after such news. For someone invested in their lore and products, I think it is not immoral to continue using their products.

P.S. I am sorry if I offended anyone with my previous comment. It was not what I intended. The point I tried to make was that imho there are still no better mmorpg games out there (though FFXIV is close).

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taugrim

The point I tried to make was that imho there are still no better mmorpg games out there (though FFXIV is close)

Elder Scrolls Online is phenomenal.

I started playing a year ago and regret not giving it a 2nd chance (after I promptly quit the Beta due to hating the UI and combat feel).

For someone invested in their lore and products, I think it is not immoral to continue using their products.

IOW, you are not willing to hold the developer accountable, so long as you like their product.

As a point of comparison, I stopped using Uber entirely once news broke about the toxic work environment and treatment of female employees. I’ve only used Lyft since that point. It turns out Lyft offers a better product, but even if that weren’t the case, Uber won’t see another dime from me.

I work in the tech sector, and unless consumers actually vote with their feet, tech companies including game devs won’t learn consequences.

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Eugeniu INFO

The ESO part sounds interesting. I’m curious, did you switch to it from WOW or from a different mmorpg? I’m trying to get your background, as I’m curious whether ESO would appeal to me. I remember I gave it a try when it launched, but then the lack of levels with each expansion kind of turns me away from it. Is there any real feel of progression after the level cap?

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Utakata

I can least say thank you for clarifying your position.

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Drunk3nShaman

A person lost their life to this buffoonery, Activation blizzard will never see another dime from me.
(it’s been years already but this solidifies it.)

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Loyal Patron
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Sashaa

the “caste system” designed to keep QA and CS in their place and away from the developer royalty.

QFE.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

The one thing I have noticed over the years, the bigger a company is, the more the HR department is there to protect the company’s interests and the less it is an employee advocate. It’s not surprising in the least that HR did nothing for these victims.

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Ardra Diva

Was about to post that exact same thing. Glad I looked down first :)

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rawhunger

Have they never heard the term “shut up and lawyer up”?

Lighthope
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Lighthope

So, is this stuff still going on? Or was this happening by people who are long gone?

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Utakata

It seems like a bit of both from what I gather.

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Rav3na3l

This is utterly disappointing. I was hoping for something like Morhaime leaving because Activision wouldn’t let him clean house. Something like all the senior staff leaving because they didn’t morally agree with Activision not letting them handle stuff.

But there is more testimony now that people knew and that’s disappointing. It truly feels like the death of an era. Blizzard was a massively influential gaming company and to see it rife with this is disturbing.

2 things that I take away from this.

1. Mentioning about the industry. Between this and the stuff at Ubisoft, this is utterly damning not for the MMO sphere but the industry as a whole. There may be massive investigations across the board now and I’m simultaneously curious but terrified of what’ll come out if it happens.

2. Kat Metzen was a victim. If the wife of a prominent lead of Blizzard was a victim, what the hell was happening to those that didn’t have the protection of a high ranking member? There’s way more behind the walls of Blizzard then that isn’t being said or hasn’t been uncovered yet.

This is going to get legally bloody and very messy in the coming months.

Lighthope
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Lighthope

I don’t really understand Blizzard’s hierarchy, so maybe someone can educate me.

But, if Mike Morhaime is responsible because “he presided over the company for more than two decades”, then how does Metzen escape, since he was a VP, “having worked there for more than two decades”?

Clearly Metzen was there when all this was going on.

I’m not really sure Metzen’s statement was all that different from Morhaime’s.

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Eugeniu INFO

Still gonna play their games. Nothing better is out there.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

Out of sheer curiosity, what in your opinion could they do for you to be like, “Wow, that’s awful. I can’t in good conscience give them my money or play their existing games anymore?”

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Utakata

If they wear it on their sleeves proudly Chick-fil-A style? I know that will make me light up my account with a flame thrower in an heart beat and a pigtail.

I suspect other readers’ line threshold is a lot lower than that. And I certainly don’t blame them for it…this is after all, Acti/Blizz’s own doing, even when it most likely contravened their own stated rules for engagement.

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Sarah Cushaway

Sounds like a “you” problem.

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Utakata

You know, what this poster didn’t say is that he endorsed this behavior. Or then again, he might be just trolling for the shits and giggles…hard to say. But my question is why say this here at all? It’s a strange comment to make without tangible context.

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Bruno Brito

But my question is why say this here at all? It’s a strange comment to make without tangible context.

Guess why.

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Utakata

My bets are on the shits and giggles.

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Bruno Brito

Yep. You’re a smart person. They said it only to invoke insatisfaction and outrage because clearly someone dying isn’t enough for them to stop being absolute boils upon this good earth.

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Philip Armstrong

I don’t understand the need to make public apologies. Private apologies to affected parties and an appropriate act of contrition. The public was not the victim here. All a public apology does is signal to the uninvolved that “look I want attention too” and usually backfires. There is nothing Metzen could have said that would have made the situation better.

Don’t throw rocks when you live in a grass house, and only if you are your self with out sin.

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Nathan Aldana

Oh its very simple.

Both Morhaime and Chris founded new companies that very much rely on is believing we can have the good ol days of blizzard again by buying their shit.

so they panicked and tried to cover their asses

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Philip Armstrong

Yes but the very act of writing and posting a statement is going to cause people with issues with to come out and add more fuel to the fire.

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Alberto

They also have a responsibility to their Shareholders and Current employees to do everything possible to Cover their Asses. Business IS Business.

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Bruno Brito

I mean, their responsability was to protect their employees before and not let them get predated upon.