Content warning: mentions of sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and rape culture.
Hello and welcome to Get Your Game On. My name is Zainabb and I’m still waiting for gaming to stop being such a toxic, abusive hellhole. We’re continuing to follow the news around the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, and allegations of similar behaviours experienced at Ubisoft. Please note that I haven’t included any specific descriptions of those behaviours but that most of the links contain at least some specifics. Look after yourself and reach out to friends and support networks if you need to.
Activision Blizzard Employees Walk Out and Ubisoft Employees Demand Accountability from the Industry
Last week California filed a lawsuit against Blizzard and their parent company, Activision Blizzard, for gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. Since then, Activision Blizzard’s CEO has released a statement apologising for the company’s initial response to the lawsuit, which dismissed employees’ allegations and stated that the lawsuit “distorted” the company’s image. CEO Bobby Kotick apologised for the lack of acknowledgement and empathy in this response.
Kotick also outlined some of the steps that Activision Blizzard aims to take to improve the company’s culture, including an external review of policies, changes to “inappropriate” in-game content, and a vague promise to “promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.” World of Warcraft is set to remove in-game “references,” although it’s not clear what these references are. Polygon has speculated that the game might remove items and characters named after Alex Afrasiabi, who has been named in the lawsuit as a key player in the culture of sexual harassment at the company. Blizzard has also confirmed this week that Afrasiabi was fired from the company following an internal investigation in 2020, which may or may not be related to these allegations of sexual harassment. You can read further details here but please be aware that this link contains distressing details about sexual harassment and rape culture at the company.
Over 2,600 Activision Blizzard employees have now signed an open letter in support of the lawsuit, which states that they don’t trust the company’s leadership to carry out accountability processes and that the company’s culture contributes to ongoing issues of abuse and harassment in the wider gaming industry. As planned, on July 28, hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout, a protest that received strong solidarity from local businesses, other studios, and non-gaming Blizzard staff, including company janitors.
In addition, over 1,000 Ubisoft employees have also expressed their solidarity with Activision Blizzard employees, signing an open letter in support of the lawsuit and which outlines discrimination, sexual misconduct, and bullying at their own company. Ubisoft employees stated in the letter that the company has done very little to improve its work culture since last year’s reports of sexual assault and harassment.
Here's the letter in full. It doesn't just stand with AB workers, doesn't just criticize Ubisoft bosses. It calls for industry-wide action and change, with publishers and developers getting involved. pic.twitter.com/WMNmRHjrq0
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) July 28, 2021
In response to the letter, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot published a statement saying that the company takes its employees’ concerns “seriously” and reiterated the processes that have changed since last year. However, Ubisoft employees released a final statement that listed specific changes they wish to see at the company, noting that Guillemot and the company continue to avoid addressing the issue of “protect[ing] and promot[ing] known offenders and their allies.” Ubisoft staff have included three specific demands in their statement, including that Ubisoft “stop promoting, and moving known offenders from studio to studio… without repercussion.” They have also demanded Ubisoft allow their employees to make decisions about Ubisoft’s culture moving forward, and that Ubisoft work with other companies and unions within the industry to improve accountability processes.
Newest statement from Ubisoft workers, reacting to CEO's note.
They list specifics they want the company to address. And press to be more involved in reform: "an invitation to reach out to company management personally is not the same as having a collective seat at the table" pic.twitter.com/2fFuUkCDeK
— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) July 30, 2021
These actions and the solidarity between Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft employees present the gaming industry with a strong starting point from which to reckon with pervasive cultures of sexual harassment, discrimination, and toxic working environments. However, there’s still a long way to go, with both Activision Blizzard and Ubisoft needing to prove that they’ll move beyond DEI “initiatives” and training sessions, which often cover up harmful work cultures without displacing power from those who abuse their positions. In fact, the company that Activision Blizzard has hired to review their internal policies is the union-busting law firm used by Amazon.
Activision-Blizzard is working with a union-busting firm, "Wilmerhale" – the same one that Amazon is using. pic.twitter.com/lUTDThV77g
— big poster character (@JDespland) July 29, 2021
Working with a company that prevents and punishes unionisation indicates an unwillingness to disrupt existing power structures within Activision Blizzard, which would allow non-management and non-senior employees to make decisions and influence the company culture moving forward. Real change won’t come from the senior leaders who have allowed abuse to flourish, but from the employees banding together to demand positive and lasting change.
In other news…
The Green Knight has received an accompanying one-shot RPG called The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game, taking place in the same world as the film. The game is designed for 3 to 5 players and a game master and is available to purchase for $35 on the A24 website.
Annapurna Interactive has announced several new projects, including a skateboarding game exploring “immigrant culture [and] growing up in the U.S.;” a horror game from the team behind Observation; and The Artful Escape, a musical narrative adventure with character animation that’s giving me Angela Anaconda vibes (you can watch the trailer below). You can find the full list here.
Alongside announcing a bunch of new games, Annapurna Interactive confirmed the “first and only expansion” for Outer Wilds, coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 28. You can watch the trailer for the expansion below.
Annapurna also released a new gameplay video for upcoming cyberpunk game Stray, which I’m particularly excited about because it combines two of my favourite things in this world: neon and cats. The video shows us more of the mechanics of the game, particularly its puzzle and platforming aspects, and just how delightfully cat-like the player character is. Watch the video below.
The War for Wakanda expansion for Marvel’s Avengers will be released on August 17. The expansion will introduce Black Panther to the game as well as include a new Wakanda world. War for Wakanda will be free for all existing owners of Marvel’s Avengers.
Nintendo has stated that Animal Crossing: New Horizons players can expect new updates this year, after a lack of fresh content since the game reached its first birthday this March. No further information about the update has been announced.
In addition to these updates, more free content for #AnimalCrossing: New Horizons is currently in development for later this year. More information will be shared in the future, so please stay tuned. Thank you for your support and patience.
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) July 27, 2021
A new AAA studio called That’s No Moon has been formed by former employees of Infinity Ward, Naughty Dog, Sony, EA, and others. That’s No Moon will focus on developing single-player, narrative-driven games. No specific project details have been announced and the studio is currently focusing on recruiting, aiming to hire graduate developers to continue to diversify their creative team.
Krispy Kreme is bringing Xbox doughnuts to the UK, which will feature a brownie batter centre and the Xbox Nexus logo iced on top. Available August 2–22, hungry gamers will receive a month’s free Game Pass subscription with their first dozen doughnuts.
Too queer for this plane of existence. Disabled, brown, we ain’t postcolonial yet. Find me in The Fade or its real-life equivalent: Twitter @ZainabbHull.