September 26, 2023

More than 1,500 employees at video game maker Activision Blizzard quit their jobs this week. Thousands of people signed a letter reprimanding their employer. And even when the CEO apologized, current and former employees said they wouldn’t stop making noise.

Shay Stein, who used to work at Activision, said it was “heartbreaking”. Lisa Welch, a former vice president, said she was “deeply disappointed”. Others went to Twitter or waved signs outside one of the company’s offices on Wednesday to share their anger.

Activision, known for its hugely popular Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and StarCraft game franchises, has been rioted over behavior problems in the workplace. The upheaval stems from an explosive lawsuit filed July 20 by the California Department for Fair Employment and Housing accusing the $ 65 billion company of promoting a “male workplace culture” in which men joked about rape and routinely harassed women and paid less than their male counterparts.

Activision publicly criticized the agency’s two-year investigation and allegations as “irresponsible behavior by unaccountable state bureaucrats.” But his dismissive tone angered those who called the company for trying to brush away the hideous problems that had been ignored for too long.

The violent reaction was unusual. Of all of the industries charged with sexism in recent years – including Hollywood, restaurants, and the media – the male-dominated video game sector has long been distinguished by its overtly toxic behavior and lack of change. In 2014, feminist critics in the industry were confronted with death threats in the so-called Gamergate. Executives of the game companies Riot Games and Ubisoft are also accused of misconduct.

Now the actions at Activision could usher in a new phase in which a critical mass of its own employees signals to the industry that they will no longer tolerate such behavior.

“This could mean a real responsibility for companies that don’t care about their employees and create unfair work environments where women and gender minorities are marginalized and abused,” said Carly Kocurek, associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology Investigated gender in gaming.

She said California’s lawsuit and the aftermath of Activision are a “big deal” for an industry that has traditionally dismissed sexism and harassment. Other gambling companies are most likely watching the situation, she added, considering whether they need to address their own cultures.

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick apologized to employees Tuesday, saying responses to the lawsuit have been “deaf” and a law firm will be investigating the company’s policies.

Activision, headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., Said in a statement for that article that it is “committed to changing, listening, and doing the important work of creating a safe and inclusive workplace that we can all be proud of.” .

In interviews, seven current and former Activision employees said that outrageous behavior up and down the hierarchy had been going on in the company for years. Three current employees declined for fear of retaliation. Their accounts of what happened at work are largely in line with what is set out in the state lawsuit.

Ms. Stein, 28, who worked in customer service at Activision from 2014 to 2017 helping players with problems and mishaps, said she consistently paid less than her ex-boyfriend who joined the company at the same time. and did the same work.

Ms. Stein said she once turned down drugs her manager offered at a Christmas party in 2014 or 2015, which put strain on their relationship and hampered their career. In 2016, a manager wrote her a message on Facebook suggesting that she be interested in “some freaky stuff” and asking what kind of pornography she had watched. She said she also overheard male colleagues joking that some women only got their jobs because they performed sexual favors to male bosses.

“It was really hurtful,” said Ms. Stein, adding that she felt she had to “endure it.”

Ms. Welch, who joined Activision in 2011 as vice president of Consumer Strategy and Insights, said she knew the company had a combative culture but was intrigued by the standout role.

Then, Ms. Welch said, at a hotel on a work trip earlier that year, an executive pressured her to have sex with him because she “deserved some fun” after her boyfriend had died weeks earlier. She said she refused him.

Other colleagues suggested that she “connect” with them, she said, regularly commenting on their looks over the years. Ms. Welch, 52, also said she was repeatedly passed over in promotions in favor of less qualified men.

She did not report the incidents, she said, also because she did not want to admit to herself that her gender was a “professional liability” and that she loved her work. But by 2016, she said, her doctor had persuaded her to leave because the stress was damaging her health.

Until the lawsuit appeared, Ms. Welch believed her experience at the company was unique. “To hear it’s on this scale is just deeply disappointing,” she said.

Responding to the allegations made by the former employees, Activision said that “such behavior is abhorrent” and that it will investigate the allegations. The company said it has distanced itself from its past and improved its culture in recent years.

The California Department for Fair Employment and Housing, which protects people from unlawful discrimination, said it had not commented on an open investigation. But his lawsuit against Activision, which was filed with the Superior Court of Los Angeles, spared only a few details. Many of the misconduct allegations centered on a division called Blizzard, with which the company merged in 2008 through a deal with Vivendi Games.

In the lawsuit, Activision was alleged to be a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”. According to the lawsuit, employees performed “cube-crawling” activities, during which they got drunk and behaved inappropriately towards women in work cubicles.

In one case, an employee died during a business trip by suicide because of the sexual relationship with her male supervisor, the lawsuit said. Before her death, male colleagues had, according to the lawsuit, shared an explicit photo of the woman.

When the lawsuit went public last week, Activision said it had worked to improve its culture but also defend itself. It was said publicly that the government agency had “hurriedly filed an inaccurate report” and that it was “nauseating about the reprehensible behavior” of bringing up the suicide.

In an internal memo last week, Activision’s Chief Compliance Officer, Frances Townsend, also called the lawsuit “truly meritless and irresponsible.” Ms. Townsend’s memo was posted on Twitter.

Employees reacted angrily. An open letter to Activision officials urging them to take the allegations more seriously and “show compassion” to the victims received more than 3,000 signatures from current and former employees as of Wednesday. The company has almost 10,000 employees.

“We no longer trust that our executives put the safety of employees above their own interests,” says the letter, calling Ms. Townsend’s statements “unacceptable”.

The organizers of the strike announced on Tuesday also presented the executives with a list of demands. This included removing mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts, hiring and promoting a wider range of candidates, posting salary data, and empowering a third party to review Activision’s reporting and human resources procedures.

The company’s stock collapsed on Tuesday. On the same day, Activision informed employees that they would be paid while participating in the strike. Mr. Kotick then apologized.

“I am sorry that we did not convey the right empathy and understanding,” he said in a message to the employees. “There is no place in our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind.”

Mr Kotick, who was under fire for a $ 155 million salary package that makes him one of the highest paid executives in the country, added that the company would join the team investigating the reported misconduct, fire managers, the investigation and remove game content that has been flagged as inappropriate.

The staff said it was not enough.

“We will not return to silence; we are not being appeased by the same processes that led us to this point, ”the strike organizers said in a public statement. Fearing reprisals, they refused to be identified.