Hey all and welcome to GYGO! I’m Kael, your local language learner and I’m telling you I am this close to being able to play a JRPG in Japanese. This realistically being at least six months but still that’s closer than I’ve ever been! I’m pretty hyped to be able to get some language input while indulging my habit of playing nostalgic classics that are too long to comfortably fit into my adult life.
Unfortunately, I’m not too hyped about this weeks news. I tried to keep details to a minimum in this article, but if you follow any of the links in the following two stories please be warned of non-graphic (but no less messed up) discussions of workplace harassment and suicide. Take care of yourself out there.
Activision Blizzard Sued over Workplace Harassment and Discrimination
In light of recent reports regarding allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision, Blizzard, and Ubisoft, Prima Games is putting a hard pause on coverage of all Activision, Blizzard, and Ubisoft content until further notice.
— Prima Games (@PrimaGames) July 23, 2021
Activision Blizzard Inc. is currently being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. This follows a two-year investigation into the workplace culture at Activision Blizzard. The suit alleges that female employees at the company faced discrimination in regards to pay, promotions, severe sexual harassment, and retaliation for pushing back against these practices.
Activision Blizzard responded with complaints that the DFEH’s report reflects a past Blizzard. They also stated that the DFEH didn’t inform the company of problems before filing the lawsuit (it is unclear to me if this has ever been the practice for DFEH investigations). Activision Blizzard claims they “take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.”
Even taking Activision Blizzard on its word regarding cases of sexual harassment (which the suit doesn’t); the suit claims that currently only 20% of Activision Blizzard’s workforce are women, and there is a demonstrable pay gap between genders. The DFEH specifically calls out the treatment of women of color in the company, who are said to be disproportionately micromanaged.
The lawsuit hinges on claims Activision Blizzard was aware of widespread discrimination and didn’t do enough to stop it. It points to specific instances of employees complaining to Blizzard Inc. president J. Allen Brack about the loss of female staff due to harassment. It also describes a broken human resources chain that failed to provide confidentiality to employees who reported.
The suit is seeking compensation for underpaid female employees as well as an injunction forcing Activision Blizzard to address its work culture.
Responses to Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Vary
My tweets represent my own views & not the views of my company.
I stand with the AB victims & believe their stories. To claim that these stories are "factually incorrect" or "untrue" is a slap in the face to current & former employees, & does not represent my core values.
— Nikki 'Gazelle' Crenshaw 💙 (@Gaiazelle) July 23, 2021
Multiple Activision Blizzard heads, both current and former, have responded to the lawsuit. Former senior vice president of story and franchise development at Blizzard Chris Metzen, and former Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime both took to Twitter to apologize. In their apologies, they expressed that they didn’t know the extent of the harassment being reported. Personally, that sounds like a pretty damning indictment of their managerial skills but…
PC Gamer reported on internal memos penned by current executives. They range from noncommittal admonishments of harassment (without admitting any specific wrongdoing), to outright denial of any harassment at the company. A notable email from J. Allen Brack reportedly assures people they can bring reports to him personally, which again is specifically mentioned in the lawsuit as something that has already been done.
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYF
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
Employees of Activision Blizzard took to Twitter voice discontent towards the company, particularly the executives’ reaction to the lawsuit. A message posted on multiple accounts specifically calls out an email reportedly penned by compliance officer Fran Townsend, which states that the stories named in the lawsuit are “factually incorrect” and “untrue.” Over 1,000 Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter calling the company’s behavior “abhorrent and insulting” and Senior System Designer on World of Warcraft Jeff Hamilton claims that no work is being done on the game amidst the lawsuit fallout. An employee walkout in support of the lawsuit is planned for Wednesday, July 28.
Streamers are also making statements regarding the lawsuit, with many denouncing the behavior of the company. Popular streamer Asmongold included a call to give developers space and to be understanding to streamers who aren’t in a position to pivot away from games like World of Warcraft. Some WoW fans have taken to the forums requesting the removal of game references to former creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who is named in the lawsuit as a harasser. The lawsuit also drew hundreds in an in-game protest organized by guild Fence Macabre.
If you are looking for alternatives to Activision Blizzard games, Reddit user NihilisticTheorist has compiled a list of similar titles.
The IDGA Calls Out Crypto
The International Game Developers Association put out a call to developers to limit the use of NFTs in games. They ask that developers be aware of the energy cost of NFTs and to use less energy intensive methods whenever possible. This means halting the use of NFTs all together in singular ecosystems where a set of programs have access to a single database that can track ownership. In ecosystems where programs are unable to share a database, they ask that developers use Proof of Stake instead of Proof of Work systems which—I’m going to be honest, I don’t understand this in the slightest—are reportedly less energy-intensive.
In other news…
Separate from their ongoing lawsuit, Activision Blizzard’s poorly received Warcraft III: Reforged was subject of a deep dive by Bloomberg. The article describes a battle between the company’s creative and financial interests. This left developers exhausted and depressed as they coped with constant cuts and changes to the project. Originally Warcraft III: Reforged was set to be a completely re-scripted remake of the original Warcraft III. By the end of the project, many series fans regarded it as a poor remaster whose mere existence harmed the online community that had been going strong for 20 years.
Games Workshop, creators of Warhammer, changed their IP guidelines this week to ban fan animations based on Warhammer characters or settings. This comes as they launch two animated series that draw heavily from talent recruited from the Warcraft fan animation community.
In a recent update, Superhot VR removed depictions of self-harm from the Steam edition game, with other storefronts to follow. The virtual reality game previously asked players to perform actions like shooting themselves in the head, or leaping off of tall buildings in order to progress through the narrative. Following the update, the game received a mass of negative reviews, triggering Steam’s review bomb filters.
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to 741741, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to talk to a trained counselor near you. If you are located outside of the United States, please call your local emergency line immediately—you can find many of those numbers compiled by OpenCounseling.
Additional writing contributed by Melissa Brinks.
A genderless eldritch beast bound to mortal flesh. Interests include games, gardening, magical realism, and the complete restructuring of America’s political and economic systems. Frequently orders too much food at restaurants. Tweets @unnnez.