Blizzard’s sexism scandal continues, 2500 devs sign letter condemning Acti-Blizz response

Plus: Devs ask players to help change the culture rather than boycott it

You think you're so smart.

It’s now been a week since California filed a brutal discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard following a two-year investigation. Last week and over the weekend, we covered both the “leaked” memos from within Blizzard and Activision as well as the formal statements from former Blizzard leaders like Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen, which were then countered by dozens of Blizzard staffers who contradicted the sincerity of the apologies. Just since our last piece yesterday morning, more have come forward.

Former Blizzard developer Joy Fields penned a long piece detailing harassment at the hands of multiple male developers at the studio, including one incident where she named the Blizzard developer – Jeff Donais – and another where she describes Blizzard staffers in the office sharing photos of her from her days as a model.

“I believe this culture was fostered by Blizzard’s hiring practices. Hires happened based on a ‘culture fit’ more than anything else, and as we can see, the culture is toxic and one of sexual harassment and assault. For my own part, I’m not sure if my transfer into CDev was based on merit alone, as I was told multiple times by those around me that I was only hired because of my body and for the opportunity of sex. Imagine being told you’re a trophy hire all the time, only to be laid off when Blizzard thinks it’s time to cut the budget.”

Former Hearthstone boss Ben Brode, who left Blizzard in 2018 (to found a new company and not, he says, because he was “running away” from toxicity), always seemed to be one of the more wholesome dudes over there. He posted on Twitter that his past experiences at Blizzard – specifically, as a top developer reporting harassers and getting them fired – influenced his perspective, but that he recognized his privilege and understood why not every woman could come forward.

“One moment I often revisit from years ago is when a colleague confided in me about sexual harassment she experienced. I asked if I could report it to HR and she told me no, that it would be a breach of trust. She was too afraid and didn’t want to go through the process. I tried to warn her that silence meant that others could become victims. I wanted to breach trust and just report this fucker. But I didn’t. I still don’t know if I did the right thing. But I know how incredibly courageous you have to be to come forward with these stories. And over the years of reflection, I also understand her and other folks who don’t. What a terrifying thing to venture into the unknown and say something about people and companies that so many people love. We are sometimes not kind to these people. There is strength in numbers, though. There’s a reason why we never heard about Bill Cosby and then 60 women came forward at once after so many years. Same for Weinstein, Lasseter, #MeToo. So anyway just huge fucking ups to you, the people who embolden us all by sharing your stories. And to the people who don’t: I see you and I know the baggage you carry. I understand why you can’t.”

Former Blizzard staffer Steph Paddock/Shaver and current World of Warcraft Lead Cinematic Narrative Designer Terran Gregory have told two contrasting tales of how Blizzard treated men and women in crisis, suggesting the sexism was pervasive even there. While Paddock/Shaver says Blizzard effectively “cut [her] down and [left her] for dead” and “more or less encouraged to leave the company for good” when she suffered from a mental health incident, Terran Gregory was “nurtured.” Gregory concurs. He says his incident kept him out of work for four weeks on disability: “As far as I can tell, this event did not affect my performance reviews or my opportunities in the future – and perhaps above all this is the example that should be set. This is possible, and I’m privileged to have experienced it, and I want everyone to have the same dignity.”

Over the weekend, World of Warcraft Senior Systems Designer Jeff Hamilton posted in support of his female colleagues and noted that “almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out,” which jibes with the lack of posting on the company’s many social media accounts as well. However, Blizzard continued to host the WoW Classic Arena Tournament. Icy-Veins noticed that WoW Classic lead producer Holly Longdale hopped on Venruki’s stream of the tourney to note that the WoW Classic phase 2 Overlords of Outland patch will apparently be hitting the PTR this week, though we’ll see if that happens and whether exactly Blizzard will be trying to get back to business as usual.

In the meantime, multiple former developers, including Cher Scarlett, who is spearheading the collection of additional witnesses for the lawsuit, have told players not to quit Blizzard’s games or cancel their subs or stop watching streams.

“Over the weekend I received a lot of DM’s from men in the community telling me they cancelled their WoW subs and asking what they could do to help. Don’t quit the games. Keep watching streams. This culture is not just at the studios. It’s in the community. Stop accepting it. Every single woman I know in the gaming community has been sexually harassed or assaulted. Every single one. We had to invest a significant amount of time trying to figure out which men were ‘rapey’ to decide whether or not we could hang out with them at esports events. And this isn’t just random men – I’m talking about esports athletes and streamers, too. Does he just ‘want to hang out’ and ‘give me a place to stay’ or does he expect me to come back to the room and have sex with him? What if I say no? Will he force me to? When you see a man standing up for a woman, or simply being NICE TO HER, what do you see afterward? ‘White knight’ ‘Simp’ ‘She’s not going to fuck you.’ This kind of thing is so rampant that it happens right in front of our eyes and no one does anything.”

We haven’t yet heard a formal statement from J. Allen Brack or Bobby Kotick, we note, only the leaked memos from Brack and Fran Townsend to staff and the combative, unsigned press statement from last week.

Further reading:

Another woman has come forward with an allegation against Alex Afrasiabi. Anne Armstrong describes the 2012 Blizzard holiday party at which she was harassed and groped by a drunken Afrasiabi, some of which transpired in the presence of multiple top Blizzard executives.
While we were recording this week’s podcast, MOP reader Danny tipped us off to the leak of part of an Activision-Blizzard meeting today. UpperCutCrit’s source says that CEO Bobby Kotick and Vice President of WW Supply Chain Joshua Taub apparently told workers that while they haven’t seen the behavior being described, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, but that workers aren’t made privy to the details of the cases it does deal with. It also sounds as if they’ve acknowledged that the Fran Townsend memo “wasn’t the right communication” (that was the combative memo send privately last week and openly denounced by many staffers). However, the takeaway from the meeting is that the company still plans to fight the state’s suit.
Former Blizzard dev Greg “Ghostcrawler” Street has commented on the BlizzCon video that people have been reposting as a demonstration of top Blizzard devs’ longstanding contempt for women.

“There’s a 10 year old Blizzcon video going around of players doing a Q&A with a panel of devs of which I was a member. Look, it was a shitty answer at the time and it certainly hasn’t aged well. I wish I had said something better then. You can’t really see the people asking the questions well from the stage, and I feel terrible now seeing the look on her face. I have more experience now answering questions live, but no doubt that won’t be my last shitty answer. I apologize for those as well as for this one.”

He followed up a day later to clarify that he wasn’t adopting “some kind of blasé attitude about the situation of women in the gaming industry” but rather saying that people do screw up when talking to players but they need to apologize and keep talking to them.

“I wasn’t trying to call whatever happened at Blizzard an accident. I hope I didn’t contribute to that and I even hope I made the culture a little better. I’m not trying to speak for Blizzard and I’m certainly not trying to speak for the women or POCs at Blizzard. I do believe men in leadership roles have a responsibility, a duty, to make sure women and other marginalized folks feel welcome, happy, and successful at our studios. I mean really all men at a studio do, but especially the leaders of the studio. I take that very seriously at Riot, and we have worked very hard to make our company a better place to work. As I have said, I think we are doing well, but it’s a long journey, and it won’t be me but the women of Riot who ultimately decide if succeeded or not. I find the video embarrassing and I apologize to the player who asked the question and all others who were disappointed with our ‘answer.’ I think there are more important voices that we need to hear right now. But the video can be a reminder that we can be better. GC out.”

The video, once again.

Kotaku has published a letter sent to Activision-Blizzard and signed by over 800 employees, specifically denouncing the actions and statements of the company.

“To the Leaders of Activision Blizzard,

“We, the undersigned, agree that the statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for. To put it clearly and unequivocally, our values as employees are not accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.

“We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry. Categorizing the claims that have been made as ‘distorted, and in many cases false’ creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first. Immediate corrections are needed from the highest level of our organization.

“Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action — and the troubling official responses that followed — we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.

“We call for official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault. We call on Frances Townsend to stand by her word to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network as a result of the damaging nature of her statement. We call on the executive leadership team to work with us on new and meaningful efforts that ensure employees — as well as our community — have a safe place to speak out and come forward.

“We stand with all our friends, teammates, and colleagues, as well as the members of our dedicated community, who have experienced mistreatment or harassment of any kind. We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again. We will be the change.”

The number of staff signatories to the open letter has now risen to 2500.

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