Massively Overthinking: Has Blizzard’s sexism lawsuit changed your gaming plans?

    
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Following last week’s disturbing revelation that Blizzard has been covering up more than a decade of abuse and that the state of California is attempting to hold it accountable, there’s been a distinct rift in the online gaming community about what gamers themselves can do about it. While some players and content creators and even websites have chosen to boycott the company’s games, some game devs have suggested that there’s a better way to help: by showing up in the games, on their streams, and at their live events and making the culture better from the ground-up.

I’m curious what our writers and readers have decided for themselves, so let’s talk about it – ideally like adults – in this week’s Massively Overthinking. What does your personal response to Blizzard’s sexual harassment scandal look like? Are you still playing? Will you play in the future? And if not, what needs to happen before you go back? Has Blizzard’s sexism lawsuit changed your gaming plans?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Andy really hit the nail on the head with this one, so I’ll try to keep things to a minimum. Yes, Blizzard got caught, as many companies do. No, I don’t believe a lot of the apologies coming out. I do think Blizzard will do something to change, at least a little, and that’s all I expect. It’s what happened a few years ago when I did the Switch Overwatch launch, well, a while after its launch. While the news is worse, I feel like I can’t expect much more. So, for the time being, that means if Overwatch 2 suddenly landed on my doorstep, I wouldn’t play it. But if Blizzard did something that seemed like it would address the issue (maybe get a few ladies into leadership positions, as I can’t remember talking to a single female dev in all my years covering their games), I’d give them a chance.

After all, there are very few games where my ethnicities are represented and fewer where there are multiple characters like that. It’s hard to separate the artist from the art, and I can do it as long as the artist really learns something from getting caught acting badly other than to hide that action.

Andy McAdams: I am still struggling with this. My six-month subscription was set to renew this week, and I cancelled it. But I’m not convinced it’s the right thing to do. I work in tech; I have championed DEI work internally and am on a global leadership team for DEI initiatives. I know, unequivocally, the value of the grassroots approach – both from lived experience and from watching others calling it out. But a grassroots approach from players is a good way to start changing gaming community culture – the best way to deal with WoW’s worst players is to not let the behavior just slide.

But how do I, as a player, just not let the behavior slide? I have no direct line into the people making this a heinous work environment. Hell, even cancelling my six-month subscription isn’t really much of a “stick it to the man,” but it makes me feel better, I suppose. Wrap that up with I have very good gaming friends who are WoW-only and cancelling my subscription means I’m also willingly not playing with them (though in truth, I was so bored with 9.1 that I haven’t been playing much anyway – but having the option to jump in with friends is always nice).

Hazelnutty’s video on the situation got me thinking again about it in that I know the situation at Blizzard isn’t unique or even particularly worse than other places. They just got caught. Does that mean that I’m being hypocritical because I’m still playing/contributing to those other games? Trolls would say (and have said) yes to “own” me, but I don’t know that it’s fair. It’s true that capitalism and greed have ensured that it’s almost impossible to make completely ethical purchases and use completely ethical services, but it’s obviously not an option to completely avoid them entirely and still be part of society. In the spirit of knowing a single person can’t fight the whole war, I pick and choose my battles because… well, we have to. At the moment, this is a battle I’m choosing to fight by stopping support of ATVI products. There are a million more, probably way more deserving, that I’m choosing not to at the moment.

I guess where I am at is cancelling my subscription so I feel like I’ve done something even if it’s not materially impactful to Blizzard and keep an eye on the rest of their responses to the situation. This isn’t a “I’m gone forever” but more of a “I’m going to step back and see how this plays out.”

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): When the news started breaking, I instinctively went to uninstall Battlenet, but apparently I did that roundabout Blitzchung and never brought it back. I stopped playing World of Warcraft after Draenor made it very clear I wasn’t the type of MMO player WoW wanted money from anymore, so losing WoW as an option is sad but not painful. On the other hand, I’ve stayed a Diablo fan even through the scandals, and I had designs on playing Diablo IV, Diablo II Resurrected, and especially Diablo Immortal. But I just don’t see a clear path to my buying any of those right now. I understand that many affected game developers inside Blizzard have asked fans not to boycott, but my conscience demands I hold off to see what Activision-Blizzard does next, as thus far, Blizzard has not only failed to make sufficient amends but signaled it means to double-down. So now, I’m gonna sit here and watch. And write.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I’d been entertaining the idea of taking a break from online games and the internet over the past few months, and I think this revelation is a sign for me to do exactly that. So I’ll be taking a break from super large MMOs and anything that even closely resembles a “game as a service” from major companies. I’m taking a break from my beloved BDO, PSO2:NGS, and SOLO. As much as I love those three, I just need a break from the genre. They’ll still be there when I come back anyway. I want to focus my downtime with my daughter and my wife rather than the latest controversy or going out of my way to try the latest flavor of the month.

I’ll be mainly focusing my gaming time on single-player games made by indie studios. One recent favorite is Emberfish Studio’s Hadean Tactics. I’ll also be revisiting old classics like Heroes of Might and Magic 3. I’ll be supporting smaller studios for the time being. At least that way, I can get in while they’re still small and easy to communicate with. There will be a few exceptions; I really enjoy Valorant deathmatch, the chat is automatically turned off in that game and its super low stakes so that’s going to be in my regular playlist. And even though Mirage Online Classic is an MMO, it’s a very small affair and I’d love to just go back and its a type of MMO I’ve never really tried before. So I’ll be taking the time to play that.

But along with that, I’m going to just quit Twitter and Reddit outright. MassivelyOP and our tipsters are more than enough to keep me in the know about stuff I care about anyway!

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): After having digested my rage at the Cosby Suite details that were revealed recently, I’m a little bit less furious at Blizzard entire and more at those responsible, combined with the foolish hope that people will be held to account and the cynical realization that there will probably be one or two sacrificial lambs to appease the mob.

As for my relationship with Blizzard’s titles, they were pretty much non-existent to begin with. I don’t hold deep, personal memories of anything they’ve made MMO, multiplayer, or otherwise, so their catalogue was already pretty much easy for me to cut away wholesale. That said, should my hopes come true and actual repercussions are felt, I’ll still not go back. Nothing they make interests me anyway.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): For me, the biggest thing that’s had to be changed was simply a matter of administration; unsubscribing from World of Warcraft was kind of a no-brainer because while I’m willing to stay subscribed for work when the game is merely badly run, staying subscribed in the wake of this news was another matter entirely. Considering what a terrible patch 9.1 is and the fact that I’m still sub-locked for a few months, it doesn’t really change much, but it sure removes even the lingering desire I might have had to occasionally play on my alts. So good work, Blizzard, that was awesome.

In the longer term… well, I wrote a whole column about this, but it raises some serious questions about whether or not playing WoW or supporting Blizzard at all moving forward will ever feel all right again. Quite frankly, it seems unlikely at this point based on the actions the company has taken and the behavior that the leaders there have displayed. I don’t like saying never or making absolute statements, but I wrote up a lot about this already, and the short version is that between a terrible product and a terrible corporate culture, something needs to change before they’re back in my wheelhouse.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): (Justin, purveyor of our Casually Classic column for WoW Classic, wrote an entire column on this topic.)

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): This last revelation changes nothing for me. I know I am a broken record at this point, but I do not and will not play any Blizzard games — ever. I’ve had a distaste for the studio from the get-go of WoW (never really knew it before). The 15 minutes I endured in WoW beta turned me off of that game permanently and assured that I’d never go play it, and the subsequent atmosphere of the community and studio never set well with me, assuring I’d never play any Blizzard games. Sadly, this latest news just confirms to me I made the right decision in the beginning: I never have and I never do want to support Blizzard in any way.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): My thoughts haven’t really changed much. Perhaps I feel even more justified in my choice not to play Blizzard games, though. I’ve been opposed to WoW’s business model so long that I gave up on ever playing it. Its other offerings haven’t really caught my attention either. A couple of years ago when Blitzchung was center stage, that really reaffirmed that the company didn’t have a proper moral compass. With this, it’s not clear it ever had one.

Companies can right the ship and correct their internal affairs, but I don’t think Blizzard is going to be able to do that without a huge upheaval. This sort of behavior isn’t limited to a small group on the edges; it’s coming from the core. Remember that a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. You can’t just pluck a few out and consider it fixed. You have to throw out the whole thing and start fresh.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I’ve saved answering this OT until fairly last minute because the revelations just keep coming, and it’s hard to get my thoughts in order. While I know my discomfort pales in comparison to the suffering of the actual victims, I have been pretty devastated by the news. I’ve been an enormous fan of everything Blizzard since before I learned to read, and their games have had an incalculable influence on me as a creator and as a person. To know the kind of evil that went on behind the scenes of games that did so much to inspire me is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Truthfully, I still haven’t made up my mind about how to react. Do I boycott its future games? Do I stop displaying all the Blizzard books and action figures all over my home? I don’t know.

The problem with situations like this is that corporations are not hiveminds. An abuser deserves to be punished, full stop, but if I punish the company as a whole, I’m also punishing the innocent bystanders, and in some cases maybe even the victims. For one example, many of my favourite novels based on Blizzard games are by Christie Golden; I’ve followed her on social media for a long time, and I even hired her for some writing coaching a few years back, and I have every confidence she’s a decent person. Doesn’t feel right to boycott her work, or get rid of her books, because of some other person being a scumbag.

It also seems worth noting that many of the survivors at Blizzard have themselves argued against boycotts, preferring to change the culture from within.

But it doesn’t feel right to do nothing and continue on as if nothing happened, either.

I do have the luxury of not being heavily involved in Blizzard games at the moment anyway. They’ve been drifting away from delivering the experiences I want for a few years now. For the last while my only engagement with its games has been sporadic co-op matches in SC2 and even more sporadic forays into Azeroth on my free WoW account. If nothing else, I’ll probably continue to do that (neither involves giving Blizzard any money)… but not right now. It doesn’t feel right. Meanwhile the only upcoming project of the studio I had a strong interest in was Overwatch 2, and I can live without it if Blizzard hasn’t done enough to clean up its act by the time it finally releases.

What’s been maybe even more hard for me is how to feel about Chris Metzen. He’s always been a major influence on me as a writer – a personal hero. I backed his Auroboros Kickstarter purely out of affection for him as a person and a desire to support his work. Now I’m not sure what to think.

For what it’s worth, I am inclined to believe him when he says he didn’t know about the worst abuses at Blizzard. My read on him as a person has always been that he’s basically a decent guy and trying to be better, but he did grow up in that “gamer bro” culture and can have some casually problematic attitudes as a result. He also strikes as a fairly “head in the clouds” sort of person who’s liable to miss a lot of what’s happening around him. So the idea that he may not have known about the really bad stuff seems at least plausible to me. But whether that absolves him is another question. Regardless of how much he did or didn’t know, it seems fair to say he failed on some level. He could and should have done more.

I’m still processing everything, but I’m leaning towards asking for a refund for my Auroboros pledge as it stands now. It’s not about punishment. I just can’t put him on a pedestal the way I used to.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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Danny G

I play Wow for 14 years almost non stop
what Blizzard did is disgusting
I was particularly shocked about the female
who committed suicide after being public shame
I know blizzard never care about the WoW players
what I didn’t know Blizzard never care about their employees
plus blizzard constantly produced shitty expansions
good only to piss off the WoW community
I’m not surprised WoW shadowlands is horrible
since now we know than blizzard was busy
to sexually assaulted their female employees instead doing their job
I don’t believe the lawsuit is going to change to how the company behave
because they have way too much money
and because assholes will remain assholes
for that reason I can’t continue to support the toxic culture of the company
so I’m definitively quitting to play their games including WoW
I’m going to spend my money somewhere else…!!!!

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Jim Bergevin Jr

My WoW subscription was cancelled during the Blitzchung Incident. I haven’t really looked back since that $15 a month has gone to other uses. I’m a fan of games that I enjoy, and not a particular company that makes those games for the most part. I’ve not bought games from BioWare, Maxis, Firefly, etc. because those games were complete messes when launched or simply not something I was interested in, even though I have many of their offerings. I’m just not slavishly loyal to any particular brand anywhere.

Like Andy mentioned, situations like this aren’t particularly unique and it is difficult to point to any large corporation like Blizzard and say they have a sterling reputation. We have to pick and choose our battles. We also have to realize that when things like this happen, it’s only a small (relatively speaking) number of people in the company doing bad things. The rank and file are there just trying to do their job the best they can and those of us looking to put said offender out of business really aren’t doing them any favors. The Privileged always pull out the “get another job” card, but that’s not as easy or simple as the Privileged think it is. Sometimes there are no other options. In reality, it shouldn’t have to be an option for the rank and file. The better option is to pressure companies to clean up the cesspool where the cesspool actually is, and hold those in power accountable for not doing it on their own.

At this point, I don’t think my WoW sub will ever be renewed, but I rarely ever say never. I have always enjoyed Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch. I just haven’t played either lately due to real life time considerations, and other games that have occupied my limited free time. At some point I will go back to getting a match in every now and again. For Overwatch, my money was already spent years ago on the Origins Edition. It’s easy for me to play and simply not give Blizzard any more of my money for either of those games in the immediate future, until I see some actual effort to make changes for the better, which includes a thorough cleaning at the top ranks. Until then, when I do go back to play, I will certainly make a concerted effort to point out and stop toxicity when I see it. That at least is something I can say I have improved myself on.

MasterOfPuppets
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MasterOfPuppets

Not gaming plans, as there’s nothing Blizzard I was tempted to play in the immediate future, and I stopped playing WoW after Burning Crusade; but I was looking for a birthday present for a friend who does still love the game, and although one of the Blizzard plushes was suggested, I didn’t want to spend any money on ActiBlizz at all, so I got her a plush Tribble from Star Trek instead.

More important than hitting Blizzard in the pocket books however is standing up and defending the victims of harassment the moment they speak up. Far too much of the gaming media is far too close to the industry it covers, and the gaming public is too willfully blind because they treat gaming companies almost like religions; and yes, most of the low level staff are good people just trying to do a decent job in a hellish industry, and deserve nothing but respect. I was one of them once too.

However as an industry, it’s abusive, manipulative and despicably greedy… and has gotten away with appalling behaviour because they’ve simply not been held to ethical standards that say a company like Nestle is. You might not know why Nestle, but you can’t go to any article where they’re mentioned without someone trying to explain what they’ve done. And that’s what we need more of for ActiBlizz too, people prepared to keep on saying “We shouldn’t support ActiBlizz products until they’ve ended the culture of sexual harassment in their offices.”

And if nothing else, people within the industry will be more willing to speak out when they think there will be public support for the brave stance they’re going to have to take in order to see any change.

There are some notable exceptions; Kotaku (and the reporters who have graduated from there, Jason Schreir and Cecilia D’Anastasio in particular) and the odd independent like James Stephanie Sterling who has done (ahem) Sterling work in banging the drum of industry corruption. Over here at Massively, Shroud of the Avatar now has a warning box on any coverage because of just how corrupt that project became; We need more warning boxes like that too, one on ActiBlizz’s products and Ubisoft for their sexual harassment culture and… After all, ethics are universal, not just a response to viral success, yes?

However critics were pointing out how the SotA project had gone off the rails, the developers were lying and scamming and organising harassment years before, and they got censored and abused by the media for supposedly being “haters”. They were right though. It took the devs of SotA literally turning up here and abusing the staff here before the scales dropped from Massively’s eyes. Over at ActiBlizz, it’s taken the State of California suing them, because one of their staff committed suicide because pictures of her genitals were being shared around the office, before it became a big enough story for the media to pick up, and the readers to pay attention. The reality is that at the moment, we are indeed just talking about ActiBlizz because it’s the story of the day.

We should do better next time, and not just dismiss criticism because we don’t want to feel guilty, or even think about how our games are produced. Stand by the victims, support more open journalism, report on the ethical violations from here on in.

And who knows, we’ll probably get a lot more, and nicer games when people aren’t trying to cope with sexual harassment when making them, and burning out or killing themselves when they can’t deal with it any longer.

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Crafty_Youth5227

Have not had any Blizzard game on my PC in years. But they are not the only company with this problem and I bet a lot of them are scrabbling now to fix any issue they have.

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Ben Stone

WoW was already on borrowed time with me. No classes have actually felt fun since the end of Legion when they took the artefact weapon powers and passives away.

The content was… OK… in BFA. Raiding kept me going, but it started on the downwards slope of not rewarding time spent. Shadowlands promised the ‘great un-pruning’ but just made it feel bad not to have a Monk, Demon Hunter, Warrior and Mage without giving any other classes anything meaningful. And everything has felt unrewarding.

Then all this stuff about the toxic work culture pops up and its easy to see why these stupid decisions have been made. They don’t have any diversity in the decision making circle to tell them how crap their ideas are.

I was already gone, but this whole episode made it easier to not look back. And the whole guild did the same, so we are off on another chapter elsewhere.

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Hurbster

Yeah, not going to bother with Diablo 2, or Lich King Classic (as much as I love that expansion after BC I dread to think of the monetization).

Never say never though, it’s going to take a hell of a lot of sustained changes for me to consider going back.

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KoboldWhite

Oh yes, I’ve removed everything Acti-Blizz related from my PC, I will never be returning to World of Warcraft, and my plans of playing Diablo 2 have been cancelled. I might actually end up playing objectively better games instead, now that I’m no longer lured in by my nostalgic attachment to Blizzard products.

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Toy Clown

Admittedly, I removed WoW from my computer around last September-ish and outside of Diablo, I’ve never played any other Blizzard games. Grim Dawn scratches the Diablo itch perfectly. Going forward, I won’t support a company that has treated women so badly. Last year African Americans’ lives were highlighted to the media, showing the world the horror they live with day-to-day. It blows my mind because this is supposed to be The Modern World; a First World Country!

An old gaming friend was a die-hard WoW fan. That’s where he split off to after SW:TOR turned out so badly for our group of displaced SWGers. He contacted me yesterday and asked what games I was playing, explaining that he had removed WoW from his computer and was looking for a new MMO to play. I am sad for him, but happy at the same time to be playing the same MMO with him for the first time in about 8 years.

What I am grateful about for what’s happening is that a lid has been blown off of something that needed to have it removed. I think good will come out of this on a corporate level, at least.

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Ryan Allgood

Admittedly I’m not subbed to WoW currently anyway, but I did uninstall Battlenet and all games. I probably would have bought Diablo 4, but most likely won’t now. We will have to see how this plays out first.

Kiernen
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Kiernen

I haven’t played any of Blizzard’s games (WoW Classic) since last fall. I won’t be playing any of them again. I cleaned off my hard drive last weekend and submitted a request to have my account permanently deleted. The thought of logging in again makes me feel sick.

Honestly, the thought of playing any MMO right now makes me feel sick. It doesn’t just happen at Blizzard and Riot and Ubisoft. It happens everywhere. I saw a comment last weekend from a former EQ dev who said he heard about similar things happening at SOE shortly after he started there.

I feel like it might be time to find a new hobby …

I also used to work in a male-dominated profession — I spent 10 years as a sports writer. For all of that time, I was the only woman in the newsroom at night. It was me and anywhere from six to 10 men. Not once did any of them — other reporters, editors, pressmen, athletes or coaches — make one inappropriate comment, or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. Apparently, I was one of the lucky ones …