Bloomberg has yet another piece up on the ongoing Activision-Blizzard sexual harassment and discrimination scandal, this one interviewing “more than 50 current and former employees” at the company and opening with the story behind the 2018 departure of CTO Ben Kilgore, Mike Morhaime’s then-“heir apparent.” When Kilgore’s replacement was asked what happened, he apparently told employees, “Don’t sleep with your assistant. But if you’re going to sleep with your assistant, don’t stop.” Needless to say, speculation about Kilgore and company assistants then ran rampant, only enhanced by the fact that he was referred to (by title) in the California lawsuit filed in July – a lawsuit that Activision reps have maintained is full of inaccurate and dated information but very much doesn’t seem to be.
The rest of the article is sadly going to sound very familiar to anyone watching the scandal; it recounts women being “accosted for dates,” groped at office parties, “subjected to alcohol-fueled hazing rituals,” subjected to references to rape in professional discussions, and “watching male colleagues use company events as a venue to solicit sex,” which when reported to HR went unaddressed. Author Jason Schreier also adeptly points out that multiple executives dated or married subordinates at the company, including Mike Morhaime, J. Allen Brack, and Frank Pearce, setting an awkward example for everyone else. (Chris Metzen isn’t mentioned, but he is also among that group.)
Morhaime is specifically called out; employees interviews confirm the general sentiment that he was beloved inside the company but that his “warm leadership style could be a blind spot” as he was “shielded from the misbehavior or that he gave offenders the benefit of the doubt, extended them too many chances or let them walk over him.”
The piece also homes in on the egotism and machismo that permeated Blizzard culture in the aughts and led certain male developers at the company to think of themselves as rockstars – with all the perks that entails. And of course, there’s the long-running push-and-pull over compensation at the company and how much control Activision has.
“Some Blizzard staff refer to Activision as the Eye of Sauron. With budget cuts constantly looming, managers of each department have jockeyed for resources. As a result, some are reluctant to report internal problems and risk drawing unwanted attention to their teams from corporate overlords, current employees said.”
We’ve got a full recap of the scandal in the financial report from earlier this week, or you can check out all of our coverage so far piece by piece:
“‘Blizzard had this promise, that was kind of this Camelot promise, of this really fun place to work in, and you’re working on some of the world’s best games, and you’ve got this really creative bunch of people,’ said one former male employee who held a senior leadership position. ‘But underlying all that was this unspoken part of the company, that there were all these bad things happening and getting either swept under the rug or ignored. And I think a lot of people are trying to process that.'”
Alex Afrasiabi, Ben Kilgore, and Tyler Rosen are all named in the piece as being senior staffers removed in the last few years for their behavior. Rosen hasn’t come up much, but he, unlike most of the men referenced in the piece, actually responded to WAPO’s request for comment in response to the story that he and four other staffers shared a hotel room at an industry event in 2014; one of the staffers was a woman who alleged he sexually assaulted her. “I was a part of the problem that plagues Blizzard and the wider gaming industry,” he now says. “I was given a final warning [in 2016] related to an incident in 2014 and fired in 2018 for a separate instance of harm and violation that I caused. Blizzard could not talk about my termination as a matter of policy, so I exited quietly which helped me avoid public accountability, perpetuated the culture of silence, and downplayed the experiences of survivors.”