When a California-based employment agency sued Activision Blizzard, one of the largest video game studios in the world on July 20, it’s no surprise to hear allegations of systematic gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. It was no shock to me to read about male executives groping for their female colleagues, or joking loudly about office rape, or completely ignoring women because of promotions. What was Surprisingly, California wanted to investigate Activision Blizzard at all, given that these issues appear to have been present since its founding in 1979.
Activision Blizzard is a multi-billion dollar publisher with 9,500 employees and a host of legendary franchises including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Diablo and World of Warcraft. July 20 California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a claim against Activision Blizzard, arguing that executives have created an atmosphere of misogyny and fraternal rule for years, violating equal pay laws and labor codes along the way. It’s not just about dirty jokes in the break room – the lawsuit highlights clear inequalities in recruitment, compensation and professional growth between men and women at Activision Blizzard and paints a picture of widespread sexism and outright abuse in the workplace.
Here is a summary of some of the statements:
Only 20 percent of all Activision Blizzard employees are women.
Leadership positions are held exclusively by white men.
In the company, women are paid less, promoted more slowly, and fired faster than men.
HR and executives don’t take harassment complaints seriously.
Women of color, in particular, are micromanaged and overlooked in promotions.
The common culture of student fraternities encourages crawling behavior, in which male employees groping and sexually harassing female colleagues at their desks.
Several weeks have passed since the lawsuit was filed, and all employees, executives and players had a chance to respond. Meanwhile, additional reports of long-standing harassment and sexism at Activision Blizzard continue to come in, including photos and stories of the Cosby Suite, which was specifically named in the application. According to the lawsuit, it was a hotel room where male employees gathered to molest women at events for a company named after rapist Bill Cosby.
Days after submission of documents, Kotaku posted a photo the alleged Cosby Suite, in which male Activision Blizzard developers pose on a bed with a framed photograph of Bill Cosby at BlizzCon 2013. Screenshots of conversations between the developers discussing the “hot chixx for the Coz” gathering and other offensive, immature things (especially when you remember this middle-aged men, not schoolchildren).
One of the only executives actually named in the lawsuit was Blizzard chief J. Allen Brack, and it claims that he generally ignored systemic harassment and did not punish violators. Brack called the allegations “extremely troubling,” but the phrase was thrown in his face on Twitter when the independent developer Nels Anderson compared it to video from BlizzCon 2010, with Brack on the far left.
In the video, a young woman asks for a group World of Warcraft developers, all six of whom are white men, will they ever create a female character who not looks like she just got out of Victoria’s Secret catalog. The panelists laugh, and one of them replies: “What directory would you like them to come from?” They essentially dismiss her question. At the end of the conversation, Brack begins to joke about one of the new characters from the sexy cow catalog.
On August 3, just two weeks after California filed the lawsuit, Brack stepped down as President of Blizzard. He will be replaced by CEO Mike Ibarra and Vice President of Development Jen Onil. Oneal will become the first female president since Activision was founded in 1979; the lawsuit notes that Activision Blizzard has never had a non-white president or CEO.
Activision Blizzard’s initial response to the lawsuit was tragedy, while one of the leaders called the accusations unfounded and distorted. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who regularly gets into disputes with shareholders over the ludicrous fortune he has amassed, posted his own answer to the lawsuit, where he, in fact, promised to listen better. Unsurprisingly, this did not ease the fears of many employees. The petition in support of the lawsuit gathered more than 2,000 signatures from employees, and within eight days of filing the application, workers organized a massive demonstration calling for systemic changes in the studio.
Kotik’s answer did not support the shareholders either. Investors filed an additional class action lawsuit against Activision Blizzard on August 3, alleging that the company failed to raise potential regulatory issues related to its discriminatory culture. Blizzard’s head of human resources, Jesse Meschuk, also left the company a few weeks after the lawsuit was filed.
Meanwhile, Another large game developers rallied around the suit, and former Activision Blizzard leaders shared his support for staff, I’m sorry for their involvement in maintaining a toxic corporate culture.
None of this is new. As evidenced by photos, videos, stats, and personal stories coming from Activision Blizzard, the company has operated on a brother first basis for decades and, in all fairness, is supported by an industry that basically functions the same way.
In 2019, the industry was hit by a wave of accusations against prominent male developers, and AAA studios such as Ubisoft and Riot Games made headlines for creating a toxic workplace environment. California is currently suing Riot over allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in hiring and pay.
But even this is not news. Women, non-binary people and marginalized people in the video game industry have been talking about systemic harassment and discrimination for literally decades. Sexism manifests itself in the hiring and pay habits of many large studios, as well as in the games themselves, which have an abundance of straight white male heroes.
What is an What’s surprising this time around is that the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard came out of nowhere. It took a media blockbuster to get California to sue Riot in 2020, but the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard sprang up on its own after years of quiet investigation by the Fair Housing and Housing Department. If sexism is systemic in the video game industry, it looks like the system is finally fighting back.
All Engadget recommended products are handpicked by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something from one of these links, we may receive an affiliate commission.