The video games publisher Activision Blizzard has found itself at the centre of a crisis, accused of maintaining ‘a frat boy culture’ rife with sexual harassment, and unequal pay and treatment for women within the company.
The industry was alerted to the situation when a lawsuit was brought against the company by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, forcing Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick to release a statement addressing accusations against the company of harassment and discrimination.
The address, however, was subject to severe backlash in the form of an open letter from employees that described the response to the lawsuit as “abhorrent and insulting” for describing the allegations as ““distorted and in many cases false.” It also accused the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing of being “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”
A planned staff walkout in protest prompted the issuance of a second statement, in which Kotick acknowledged that its initial response to the lawsuit was ‘tone deaf’ and promised long lasting change at the company.
Nevertheless, the walkout went ahead this week as employees noted that Kotick had still failed to address concerns.
“While we are pleased to see that our collective voices – including an open letter with thousands of signatures from current employees – have convinced leadership to change the tone of their communications, this response fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns,” read a statement tweeted by employees this week.
“Today’s walkout will demonstrate that this is not a one-time event that our leaders can ignore, We will not return to silence, we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point. This is the beginning of an enduring movement in favour of better labour conditions for all employees, especially women, in particular women of colour and transgender women, nonbinary people and other marginalised groups.”
The lawsuit and subsequent stance taken by the firm’s employees has been met with support from those across the industry, including the global non-profit organisation, Women in Games, a group dedicated to promoting equality and parity for women and girls in games and esports.
CEO Marie-Claire Isaaman said in the group’s own statement: “International, widespread news of the growing furore mounting around Activision Blizzard, stemming from allegations reported across the media about a Californian Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) lawsuit, and the subsequent response from the company, shine a harsh spotlight on a culture that Women in Games is actively working to reform.
“All of the media coverage points to a work culture gone badly wrong – harming women through discrimination and harassment – issues that are horribly familiar.
“Perhaps what is genuinely new, is that the world, connected as it is now by global movements such as MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as the continuing global disaster of the COVID-19 pandemic, is more equipped and ready to vociferously reject such a culture.
“In addition, we are seeing high level efforts from The UN through its sustainable goals, the EU with its strategy for weaving gender equality through all of its policies, and the UK’s presidency of the G7, integrating gender equality into all of its strategies – all demonstrate support for radical change.
“Women in Games brings its proactive support to both the popular demand for change and the wider political will that provide a more formal backdrop. As an organisation we are actively engaged in a range of initiatives and activities to counter discrimination, harassment and inequality for women in the workplace and in online spaces.
“The problems that confront women, whether they are players or makers of games are not history, and are not news, and Women in Games is proud to highlight our ongoing initiatives to achieve change.”
The video games space has been forced to confront its difficult relationship with discrimination in recent history, and since 2018, Women in Games has worked with Jenny McBean, director of research at the market research company Bryter, to better understand the severity, and persistence of online harassment.
Toxicity directed at female gamers is taking on an increasingly sexual nature in 2021 and one in five say that such toxicity makes them not want to play again. Almost half of gamers in the US and UK feel there is a lack of female representation in streaming, but toxicity discourages them from streaming themselves.
A talk on the detailed findings of this research will be presented by Jenny McBean at the forthcoming Women in Games Conference, which takes place on September 15th and 16th as a virtual event, alongside a host of other initiatives central to tackling real world problems.