Activision-Blizzard is using some of its $250M diversity fund to convert and ‘uplevel’ new game devs

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If you can’t hire them, then buy them or build them, right? Activision-Blizzard’s already done some buying; now it’s time for building, as last night the controversy-mired company announced a 12-week program called Level Up U that “prepares non-industry professionals and develops industry professionals to become full-time game developers.”

The company says it’s funding the initiative using a chunk of the $250M it set aside in 2021 after the eruption of its sexual discrimination and harassment scandal specifically to “accelerate opportunities for diverse talent” and boost the percentage of women and non-binary workers employed by the company.

“Through a combination of on-site and virtual training, Level Up U is a 12-week program that prepares and develops professionals for engineering positions at Activision and Blizzard. The first class is made up of 104 participants, including external candidates as well as current employees, interested in upleveling their engineering expertise or switching to engineering from other backgrounds. After a rigorous application process, they come to Activision Blizzard with a diverse set of skills from a wide variety of industries including medicine, finance, and aerospace. Level Up U is Activision Blizzard’s first major program funded through the $250 million investment announced last October to accelerate opportunities in gaming and technology for under-represented communities. As a result of recruiting for a broader set of skills, experiences, and capabilities, we were able to attract a diverse class, with 40% of the class representing underrepresented ethnic groups and 45% women and non-binary participants. […] Every candidate joins Level Up U as a full-time employee. Upon successful completion of the program, participants will continue to be coached and mentored by employees as they integrate into roles at Activision Blizzard that fit their individual skills.”

What is not clear is why anyone with the needed skillset would want to move from a high-paying non-gaming industry into the gaming industry at all given its poor pay, crunch, sexism issues, and harassment – let alone Activision-Blizzard. But it’s certainly a win for games.

Activision-Blizzard calls this the first program of its kind, but in fact there are others, including the long-running mentorship program at ArenaNet.

Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial gaming company owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In 2021, the company was sued by California for fostering a work environment rife with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. Multiple state and federal agencies are investigating the company as employees strike and call for Bobby Kotick’s resignation. As of 2022, the company is being acquired by no less than Microsoft.
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