So good old Bobby Kotick’s interview yesterday made him look really great, if we’re using very inaccurate definitions of the words “great” and also “good.” You know the only thing that would make this look better? If a former World of Warcraft staffer came out with a thread alleging that he was fired because leadership didn’t like the lines he wrote for a greedy loot goblin in the game. But what are the odds of that happening?
Well, 100%. You knew that because it was a very specific question.
The employee in question is Eric Covington, and according to his Linkedin, he worked for Blizzard for almost nine years on World of Warcraft and Diablo III; by the end, he was an associate game designer on multiple gameplay systems in Dragonflight. His twitter storm was a response to yesterday’s Variety puff piece on Kotick, which allowed without interrogation multiple people to claim that Kotick was a “good judge of game talent” who “gives his people enough authority to make good decisions” and “believes in allowing his creators to get the games right” and “respects the creative producer and developers in all of his different divisions.”
Covington pushes back against the narrative that Activision-Blizzard does any of these things with his own tale of being fired back in March. Covington was responsible for penning comments from Venture Company loot goblins, who are intended to be greedy corporate types. Some of his fluff comments for the NPCs included “let’s call this a cost-of-living adjustment,” “no profit sharing,” “finders keepers,” “looks like another yacht for me,” “I’ve come in below estimates,” “another record quarter for revenue,” and “time to go back to the office!” (It’s worth noting here for folks who don’t play that the “greedy goblin” stereotype for goblin characters has long existed in World of Warcraft, and it’s possible to object to that too, but that’s not on Covington.)
“I wrote jokes lampooning generic corporate greed for a Venture Company loot goblin (very in character), but then leadership walked face first into the joke after string lock while my focus was getting the patch done,” Covington says. He further clarifies that his dialogue jokes, which weren’t “targeted” at anyone and are admittedly totally in-character for this NPC faction, made it through marketing and promotion and to the live build, but “someone ‘very high’ at the company was playing the content and saw the lines” and had it hotfixed out as Blizzard began the “termination process […] behind [his] back.”
According to Reddit, the lines Blizzard ultimately cut were about the cost of living adjustment and the yacht, not the back to the office bit (in fact, Covington says he was excited to return to the office but supported those who weren’t). Yacht jokes are a whole thing in the Kotick-mocking fandom (but also for all rich people and capitalists); it’s so generic that even we have a running yacht joke that has absolutely nothing to do with ABK. In any case, Covington alleges he was fired for this dialogue.
“No consideration or trust extended to at least ask me what my intentions were for the character (Was it targeted at anyone? Nope.) No polite request to let me handle it and hotfix some lines because of circumstances (I would have willingly and understandably helped). […] 9 years of service. Up in smoke without question because someone looked at an innocuous joke and saw a reflection. They made sure to hustle and get me out before the end of the month in full knowledge that benefits would expire the next day. I’m still grateful to have the love and support of my friends and colleagues who were not pleased with the decision (to put things lightly). They do great work, stick up for their peers, and deserve to be treated and compensated fairly. So if you’re going to be sour towards a company, don’t aim it at the devs who are working hard to being their passions to life and make fun games we all enjoy. Make your voices heard to the decision-makers who act counter-intuitive to the wellbeing of their employees and games. I’ve been sipping on this tea for 2 months now but I think it’s time.”
It is not possible to entirely verify Eric Covington’s story as we do not have access to the HR files at Blizzard. It also seems unlikely Kotick himself had any role in his removal and that this is once again a problem with Blizzard’s management, not Activision’s oversight (except to the extent that Blizzard’s top exec is a former Activision exec installed by Activision).
However, given the recent ousting of the higher-profile Brian Birmingham over something equally dumb and the eagerness with which Blizzard President Mike Ybarra has been trying to demoralize workers and urge devs to quit, the claims are unfortunately plausible. We’re doubting Blizzard will comment on the allegation given that it’s about an employee being fired, but obviously we’ll update if it does.
Incidentally, Covington isn’t the only Activision-Blizzard worker who responded angrily to the Kotick interview. Overwatch 2 Senior Designer Dylan Snyder tweeted by referring to the interview as “absolute drivel.”
“The people who work at Blizzard strongly want Activision’s bullshit exposed for all to see. Activision punishes us for it by making sure to spout absolute drivel at the same time we release what we’ve worked tirelessly on. It’s 100% malicious and intentional at this point. […] I’ve seen responses saying this’ll lose me my job and like, iight, whatever. When I joined I didn’t sign up to parrot hollow platitudes about the ATVI c-suite. I joined because I believed & still believe in Team 4, & all my other friends and coworkers. They deserve the world.”
I wrote jokes lampooning generic corporate greed for a Venture Company loot goblin (very in character), but then leadership walked face first into the joke after string lock while my focus was getting the patch done.
— Eric Covington (@covingtown) May 31, 2023