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

    
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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:

Update
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.
Update
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.

Update
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.”

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

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Mott Palmer

Leave it to me to be late for everything.. Sorry to see all this trouble for Blizzard. Btw. I don’t neccesarily like Activison, so there is that. I feel for all the victims, mostly and for everyone involved. Like I said, just finding out about how long this problem has been brewing. Besides my concern for all those involved, I do not understand destroying a company and its games will help. Granted this needed to come to light, and seems it has. So can everybody get their justice and just desserts, without destroying the world, ..well Blizzard and its games?? Let’s get the gaming back to gaming and see what can be accomplished. The bad stuff will handle it’s own in the courts. Please.for the love of god, I just want to play my favorite blizzard games without some tweaked moron saying more stupid stuff. Yes I know this all goes with the territory.
…standing way outside looking in.. This should not be changing all that is that, in the blizzard in-game world. I hope it doesn’t anyway..
saddened by all of this…

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Sabrina Martinez

Cher Scarlett is right: it is not the company but the culture of gaming itself that is the problem. The consumers of videos are the very same people who go on to produce games.
It is still very much a man’s world in the video game industry. As far as I can tell from Blizzard’s statements, they would rather sweep these incidents under the rug rather than do anything concrete. One such example is changing Overwatch‘s McCree’s name– changing the name is a statement, but not enough to protect the woman under your company.
While Rome was not built in a day, Blizzard could be the spark that lights the flame. That being said, Blizzard is notorious for things such as banning player blitzchung for their political views (leading to speculation that the trailer for Overwatch 2 was released to distract from that fact).

Supporting the game is still supporting the women working on the games you love. Continue playing while consuming it mindfully.

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Narficus

It has been fascinating watching this ripple across the social media space.

I’ve seen a lot of pubs/devs condemn behavior, company culture, and uncaring management.
Some pubs/devs have been chugging along and doing business as normal.
Some have strangely gone completely silent on social media shortly after this news broke.

Fear of being looked at in the same context with #ActiBlizzWalkout trending in the next Twitter column, so quietly letting Acti-Blizz hog the bedshitting spotlight for a while?

They probably know what’s coming, because of previous trends – the abused are no longer cowed into submission by the studio culture and are now able to speak out.

When not even ActiBlizz is exempt, what other companies need a housecleaning?

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Hamblepants

The topic of Devil’s Advocatess is coming up a bunch here so I just want to take a few paragraphs and comment on it. I assume lots of people already have the knowledge that’s here, but I haven’t seen it spelled out (I haven’t read all the threads).

There’s a couple goals of the Devil’s Advocates (Gonna call em Blups for short).

A) Blups want to emotionally exhaust people who know right from wrong in the situation and are fighting against evil (gonna call the people fighting against evil the Goods).

B) Blups want to put out enough content disagreeing with the Goods so that to undecided observers, it seems like there’s a real honest disagreement going on, so it appears to those observers that they’re witnessing one side that thinks it’s right vs. another side that thinks it’s right.

There’s not much I have to say about A) other than it’s an effective tactic done in the service of evil. It gets results it wants.

About B), B) is also effective. But I’ve a bit more to say about it.

Our society is set up so that men, as a group hold undeserved power over women. Individually, there’s variation, and an individual woman might have power over one or several men in her life, but we’re not talking individual, we’re talking group level.

This means that everyone’s been exposed, at least a fair amount, maybe a ton, to messages that men are, INHERENTLY/PERMANENTLY, better/more trustworthy/more valuable/more worthy/more skilled than women, as an entire group. These messages are lies – but the lies and the way they’re shared are effective, and many people believe them consciously and/or subconsciously.

So that’s in all of our brains, either the subconscious only, or conscious and subconscious. But that set of ideas is there. And it’s strong.

So all the advocates need to do is convince the undecided observers that there’s no clear winner in this argument, so the undecided people go back to their daily lives and shift their conscious focus away, so that the unconscious brain can go back to work. And once the observer’s unconscious brain is the one trying to figure out the argument, THEN the infrastructure-of-thought of our society, with all its years of billboards, childrens books, tv shows, books, radio shows, interviews, interactions at the bus stop, classroom moments, signs in doctor’s offices, research studies, etc., all of these with a lie-based bias that women are worse and less deserving, will influence us. It will influence how we make conclusions/knowledge/decisions.

The Blups know that women-hating bias, that’s woven throughout every part of our society, will shift the undecided observer toward ignoring the problem or agreeing with the people who have done evil and continue to do evil.

Now, people have conscious minds too, and can, if they’re interested, read the details and with great focus, try to figure out who’s right in a given situation. But there’s so much information right now, that most people, very reasonably, just glance quickly and go back to their lives.

To summarize that: advocates are sharing a specific make/model of bullshit that’s designed to exhaust opponents and to steer observers away from agreeing immediately with truth-tellers/the Goods. And once an undecided observer doesn’t immediately agree, we’ll put it out of our conscious mind and let our subconscious mind, where all the subtle lies we’ve been taught can work to push us toward accepting evil. Cause accepting evil is all we need to do for it to flourish.

So, this is all what’s happening, but by it’s nature it’s negative.

So, what’s some good things we can do about this?

I’d say one valuable good thing we can do is make and share more quick “shorthands” for showing that a Blup is lying to you.

It’s like a public education campaign of sharing info with people we know.

That info is this: knowledge about how Devil’s Advocates use subtle lying in the above ways, and how to spot that, and how to test if it’s what you think it is. And then we share that with more people and build knowledge of it.

I don’t have a list of signs of this offhand, but I think people discussing this could come up with lists and easily shareable stuff.

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Alatar

We are asked to believe the “few bad apples” narrative (again!). Seems like that keeps happening over and over and over. I’m not willing to believe that any longer. If nine out of ten of these male employees are decent, then why haven’t they confronted and dealt with the one who isn’t? Because he’s the boss? He won’t be the boss for long if the entire male population of the office rises up against him.

That’s why the coach gets fired, because you can’t replace the players all at once.

I’m tired of it. It’s only a FEW bad that are causing the problem. Nah. The problem is caused because it’s a LOT of weak that stand around and watch the problem without saying something.

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Estranged

Wow, the video captures it all in a nutshell. If they would talk to her like that in public, what went on behind closed doors?

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NeoWolf

It is hard to know what as a man not attached to any of this or those involved can say to all this that would in any way have any meaning to those affected by these sorts of actions.

And a lot of it irrespective of original intent and outcome just damages us all not just as men and women, or colleagues and friends but it hurts the trust between us all that boundaries will be respected and lines will not be crossed. And more importantly that if the appalling happens, our Employers have our backs, those affected will be believed and the situation be treated seriously, not ignored, covered up, or refuse to even acknowledge it.

We should all be able to feel safe at work.

And clearly there are people at Blizzard for whom the notion of consent means nothing and that is not okay.

But when all is said and done, and putting aside the clearly MANY people who have been affected, harmed or abused over the period of time by those individuals, someone is dead as a result of it. DEAD.

That’s unacceptable, all of this is unacceptable. We all need to do better, we must.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

To be perfectly blunt, this is us as a species. We like to think we’re evolved, but clearly, we really haven’t changed all that much over the millennia. Things like this, the reaction to the pandemic, and our inability to want to understand how we are negatively impacting the earth and environment makes us our own worst enemy. We have a long, long way to go if we ever want to really be considered an advanced civilization, let alone an enlightened one.

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Brinto Sfj

I am glad that they are finally saying it, majority of the playerbase are responsible too. Whenever we criticize blizzard, some people always come out in force with shit like: “You aren’t entitled to anything!” or “You are only paying them for the privilege of playing their game and they don’t owe you anything!” etc. To those people: you have enabled this! You are part of the problem! Because of people like you, game companies and developers are completely out of control! They have zero sense of responsibility, zero sense of accountability. They sexually harass their female co-workers abusing the privilege you have allowed them to have. Congratulations! You have enabled sexual harassment! I am sure you feel proud of yourselves now!

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Do not read Twitter just before bedtime. What an idiot I am.

Every time some Blizzard suit says “this is not reflective/representative of our culture” I want to shout “Dude, this literally IS your culture.”

Imagine how infuriating this must be for those who work there.

Okay, going to listen to some peaceful music so I can sleep.

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Bruno Brito

Storytelling softspoken ASMR, that’s my personal favourite.

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Narficus

This would have been a great time to speak up about it.

Or this time.

But I am not here to blame, I am saying that this isn’t the first time, and will not be the last unless the Acti-Blizz brand can escape this problem by finally shedding the Blobby Tick at the core of nearly all of the brand’s self-tarnishment we have seen in the last few years.

Until he goes that IS the culture of the company.

That is why I hope everyone speaks up THIS time so the company can be investigated and hopefully cleaned from the CEO down. I know, I’m being fabulously optimistic on that one.

Hopefully California will not let the Acti-Blizz developers down until the situation got critical like they did famously with Interplay. I know, I’m being optimistic again.

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Narficus

And this allegation of racism and abuse was 2.5 years ago. The more you look, the more you find common allegations citing leadership failure.

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Bruno Brito

While i agree that Kotick is absolutely part of the problem ( and he’s overall just a dogshit CEO ), it begs to remember that Blizzard has these issues from before Kotick. He didn’t bring the culture. He just didn’t give a shit about it.

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Narficus

Astutely noted as usual, but with one minor quibble:
As I linked above, this issue is a problem of Kotick’s, too. He’s not just being a lazy uncaring ass. This has gone all the way up to AND including him.

A culture of hushing those who speak out, which is exactly what people feel like if HR is involved, is exactly his atmosphere and style per the above link. The other major market he has been courting similarly doesn’t give a toss about similar workplace ethics or lacking – including blatant racism. I’ve been getting people to expand where they are looking and it’s returning fruit; this saga is going to be a bumpy ride with twists, betrayals, and plenty of reveals that makes what has been reported in entirety so far just the crescendo rise at the end of the Prologue.

The feds are still in the ring via the EEOC.

A bit more subtle in the change from the Activision that split off from Atari no longer being the same under Kotick, a change in Blizzard has been noted over the years since their acquisition in 2008 (and I’m not saying that to absolve them of any previous history) then it clearly became Bobby’s ship and he was the captain leading the cruise and culture, as he was captain of Activision since 1991 and who knows what history then, right? We’re getting into some good historical background that might, for once, burn out the Kotick. If that is not accomplished then this will simply continue, with this time being yet another missed opportunity to address this culture of abuse at whatever the hell Kotick’s sweatshop is called now.

The problem goes all the way to the top, replace the CEO and work your way down for anyone else complicit in management. That seems to be how the investigating agencies are looking at the allegations for how long and how ingrained it is to the corporate culture, and I’m certainly not going to underestimate the ability of attorneys to use Google after looking through some trademark snafus. The regulators seem to know what to look for.

From what I have read so far of the filings, when this gets to discovery it’s going to get REALLY entertaining. More just keeps coming out and possibly added to the suit, in particular about the last 10 years.

I have mixed feelings, and I have loved Blizzard IPs, but at some point following the management for so long that to me it feels like there’s a point where if the brand will never change then you have to let it go…

[Image of burning Teldrassil, since the image upload isn’t working or something hiccuped, and I’m terribly sorry for any duplicate posts that might suddenly pop up like zombies.]

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Bruno Brito

I am not debating whether Kotick has or not to go. If it was according to my wishes, i would blast him into the surface of Mars and let the Doomguy deal with him.

I’m only pointing out that while Kotick IS a problem in itself, he’s wasn’t the origin of Blizzard’s woes. Blizzard was perfectly capable to be dogpoop at design and awful at keeping a decent workplace culture enough by themselves. Blizzard was always owned by shitty companies.

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PanagiotisLial1

I think a CEO with some decency, whether he was directly responsilbe or not, would have to resign out of respect to his self and the victims because he failed to address the problems. I also doubt he had no idea either, which is another case. Either way having no idea means he wasnt doing his job too and its hard to believe he was a tourist gaining a huge salary doing nothing.

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Stilvan

Wait – are you trying to imply that all CEOs are bad people?

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Bruno Brito

But all CEOs are detached, since that’s the nature of the job.

Maybe we shouldn’t be allowing humongous companies existing and forcing people to be fired in the hundreds while someone’s conscience tries to rationalize how to sleep at night after destroying their lives.

I’m a firm believer that we weren’t made for things of these scale, be it society, corporate or populace. The bigger it gets ( and the more merges it happens ), the worse it is to manage without blanket solutions.

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Narficus

led by a monster

The precise reason why, if Kotick is not removed, the culture of abuse at his companies will only continue as he prefers to spend more to double-down on denial regardless of what it costs him.

If anyone doubts the only viable solution for Acti-Blizz of a housecleaning from the CEO down then they need to read this and know the monster we refer to.