Activision Blizzard Sued by California DFEH Over ‘Frat Boy’ Culture, Harassment

Started by Syt, July 22, 2021, 02:26:03 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

Syt

https://www.pcgamer.com/uk/more-than-1500-activision-blizzard-employees-condemn-company-leadership-call-for-compassion-for-victims/

QuoteMore than 1,500 Activision Blizzard employees condemn company leadership, call for 'compassion for victims'

More than 1,500 current and former employees of Activision Blizzard have signed a letter condemning the company's response to a lawsuit alleging discrimination, sexual harassment, and "frat boy" culture at the company. "The statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel ... are abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for," the employee statement reads.

The letter, which according to Kotaku was sent to managers today, was prompted by Activision Blizzard's response to the lawsuit, and in particular an internal memo issued by chief compliance officer Frances Townsend that dismissed the suit. Townsend claimed the lawsuit presented "a distorted and untrue picture of [Activision Blizzard], including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories—some from more than a decade ago."

"We believe these statements have damaged our ongoing quest for equality inside and outside of our industry," the employee letter says. "Categorizing the claims that have been made as 'distorted, and in many cases false' creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims. It also casts doubt on our organizations' ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future. These statements make it clear that our leadership is not putting our values first."

"Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action—and the troubling official responses that followed—we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a 'truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,' while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable."

The letter calls for statements from Activision Blizzard executives that "recognize the seriousness of these allegations," and for Townsend to step down from her position as executive sponsor of the ABK [Activision Blizzard King] Employee Women's Network. The employees also want company leadership to work with them on new efforts to ensure that employees, and also members of the community, "have a safe place to speak out" about misconduct.

The number of signatories is continuing to grow and represents a significant portion of Activision Blizzard, which reported approximately 9,500 employees at the end of 2020. Employees have also been pushing back against the company's response on social media, and former Blizzard leaders including Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen have apologized for failing to protect its employees.

I've seen criticism of Metzen's and Morhaime's apologies, questioning if they were as ignorant of the stuff as they claim to be.

Jason Schreier over on Bloomberg had another article chronicling the bad launch of the Warcraft 3 remake/remaster, and it basically comes down to: management didn't want to put the necessary resources into it and then cut its losses after release.

He has a more general overview in his newsletter:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2021-07-23/activision-blizzard-s-games-culture-crisis-runs-deep

QuoteBlizzard is one of the biggest names in video games, with a string of hits that made it the envy of the industry. That success has been the result of a unique company culture at the California-based game developer behind Diablo, Warcraft and StarCraft that prioritized great games above all else. But as we learned this week, that culture had a dark side.

On Tuesday, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Blizzard's parent company, Activision Blizzard Inc., alleging discrimination against women through intense sexual harassment, unfair pay and retaliation. A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard described many of the claims as distorted or false.

Many of the allegations centered on Blizzard, which led several women who worked there to speak out on social media about their own awful experiences at the company. What was particularly painful for many of them, some said, was that they saw Blizzard as a dream job. They'd grown up admiring masterpieces like Diablo II and StarCraft and hoped to join a company that seemed idyllic, only to experience what they described as sexism and abuse when they arrived. Only a fraction of employees at Blizzard were women, according to the complaint, which made it feel at times like a frat house.

Veteran employees use language like "bleed Blizzard blue" to describe their love for the company. The result was a stream of acclaimed and influential titles, but no game would be worth the sort of treatment described in the lawsuit.

Activision has spent the past few years pushing for changes to Blizzard, though it appeared to be focused on less rotten aspects of the culture. Activision's growing influence has instead impacted the parts of Blizzard that were universally beloved.

I wrote Thursday about how Activision's push for Blizzard to cut costs and focus on big hits helped lead to the company's first ever flop last year— Warcraft III: Reforged, a remake of an earlier classic. The game was smaller and less lucrative than Diablo IV and Overwatch 2, expected to be smash hits, so it became less of a priority at Blizzard. The result was a well-documented disaster.

But the game isn't the only thing Activision has been meddling with at Blizzard.

Look to France

Last year, Blizzard informed employees that it was shutting down its Versailles office, which was largely responsible for localization, marketing and customer service in Europe. This kicked off a lengthy negotiation period with the union that ended last week. As part of this process, the company sent out a letter to affected employees justifying why it had to fire them all. The document, which was reviewed by Bloomberg, is full of criticisms of Blizzard's finances and interesting numbers that reflect Activision's future plans.

A few stats from the letter:

- Blizzard's staff was made up of about 52% game developers as of December 2019. For comparison, the company said, in March 2020, Ubisoft had 85% game developers, and Take-Two was 77%. The conclusion: "Blizzard is therefore lagging behind its competitors."
- In 2019, 40% of Blizzard's revenue came from microtransactions—those in-game purchases that irk players but can significantly boost a game's value. But across the industry, microtransactions made up 78% of video game companies' revenue, the letter said.
- On a similar note, only 12% of Blizzard's 2019 revenue came from mobile games, whereas other companies are making more than half of their revenue from mobile. Activision wants to change that.

This push may be mixed news for Blizzard fans. More development staff could mean more games, which might please players who are accustomed to waiting years between new Blizzard releases. But an emphasis on microtransactions and mobile games won't be welcome news to fans who prefer to play on PCs and consoles or spend money on a game just once.

Plus, big cultural changes can unfold in more subtle ways. One former Blizzard employee recently told me that they knew things were starting to change when a team's sponsored lunches were canceled. Another said they started seeing finance people in meetings where they wouldn't have normally been. These small moves can add up to large shifts as veteran Blizzard employees worry about the company's culture changing from, make great games first and the money will follow to, worry about money—all the time. The company's emphasis on billion-dollar franchises has already led staff to leave and pursue independent development.

"We are grateful to our Versailles employees for their dedicated service in support of our player communities and will continue to support them through the measures agreed," an Activision Blizzard spokesman said.

Great games come first

Under co-founder and former Chief Executive Officer Mike Morhaime, who left the company in 2018, Blizzard's development decisions had always been made with players' best interests in mind. When it became clear in 2012 that Diablo III's controversial "real money" auction house was ruining the game's balance by allowing people to pay for the best gear, Morhaime decided to remove it. When the card game Hearthstone seemed likely to fail and was almost canceled, Blizzard took a risk and stuck with it anyway, leading to a massive hit when it came out in 2014.

But since 2017, with a slow release schedule and World of Warcraft subscribers declining, Blizzard's revenue at times hasn't lived up to Activision's expectations. A few high-profile failures, such as the costly cancelation of the online game Titan, gave Activision's executives a foot in the door to exert more control. And Morhaime's departure left a massive void. His successor, J. Allen Brack, was named president rather than CEO—a reflection of Blizzard's reduced power and autonomy. (Activision boss Bobby Kotick is now the company's one and only CEO.)

In an email to staff last night, Brack called the labor lawsuit's allegations "extremely troubling," adding, "I disdain 'bro culture.'" But internally, some Blizzard staff have resurfaced a 2010 video showing Brack and several other top developers laughing off a question from a woman asking for World of Warcraft's female characters to be less sexualized. Culture issues existed long before Activision began intervening in Blizzard's operations.

Kotick's Activision will look to find a way to maintain the degree of quality Blizzard is known for, while addressing complaints about the culture and, of course, fortifying the bottom line. Blizzard is certainly changing, but perhaps not in the ways it really needs to.
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

crazy canuck

Quote from: The Minsky Moment on July 26, 2021, 10:50:18 PM
Quote from: crazy canuck on July 23, 2021, 11:02:11 AM
I don't understand why this is a matter for the court.  Doesn't the state have an administrative body to rule on such things?

This is something that would go before our Human Rights Tribunal or Worksafe (the administrative body which regulates safe workplaces, including being harassment free).  Those decisions would then be subject to judicial review by the court if there was some error in the initial decision or direction.  The court would not be the initial decision maker.

Seems a bit cumbersome to require a court process before meaning remedies can be applied when there is admitted bad behaviour.

Don't know how it works in California; every state does things their own way.

At the federal level, the EEOC does handle some complaints administratively, but most contested matters are litigated in the courts.  It is common for private disputes to be settled at the agency level, in which case the courts don't get involved.

As a practical matter, no private party that contests the charges, as Blizzard is doing here, would accept the kind of remedies being sought in this case without invoking their right to judicial review.

I agree that judicial review would likely follow if it was an administrative decision but that is a lot more efficient from the perspective of court time.   
I want you to panic

https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.

The Minsky Moment

Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 11:34:28 AM
I agree that judicial review would likely follow if it was an administrative decision but that is a lot more efficient from the perspective of court time.   

What DFEH is doing in this case has nothing to do with administrative efficiency.  They are sending a message and not just to Activision.  To the whole industry.
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson

crazy canuck

Quote from: The Minsky Moment on July 27, 2021, 02:26:07 PM
Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 11:34:28 AM
I agree that judicial review would likely follow if it was an administrative decision but that is a lot more efficient from the perspective of court time.   

What DFEH is doing in this case has nothing to do with administrative efficiency.  They are sending a message and not just to Activision.  To the whole industry.

And that is part of what I find a bit surprising.  That a government agency can sue in court to enforce its own regulatory framework.  It has a strong stench of abuse of process.  Why not just exercise the statutory power they have?  And if that is lacking - what are are they in court?  As an outside observer this process is odd.
I want you to panic

https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.

The Minsky Moment

Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 02:37:38 PM
Quote from: The Minsky Moment on July 27, 2021, 02:26:07 PM
Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 11:34:28 AM
I agree that judicial review would likely follow if it was an administrative decision but that is a lot more efficient from the perspective of court time.   

What DFEH is doing in this case has nothing to do with administrative efficiency.  They are sending a message and not just to Activision.  To the whole industry.

And that is part of what I find a bit surprising.  That a government agency can sue in court to enforce its own regulatory framework.  It has a strong stench of abuse of process.  Why not just exercise the statutory power they have?  And if that is lacking - what are are they in court?  As an outside observer this process is odd.

Employment commissions in the US perform several functions.  On the one hand they investigate and attempt to "conciliate" (settle) individual private employment claims.  This is more of a mediative/neutral function.  Some of them also arbitrate claims by state employees - this an arbitration role.  And finally, they have a prosecutorial-like function - they investigate allegations of pervasive and flagrant violations of discrimination laws and bring cases if they find such violations have occurred.  The stautory framework embraces all of these functions.

This case falls into category 3.  The agency investigated multiple allegations of wrongdoing and found what it believed be widespread and pervasive firm-wide bad conduct.  The case is brought explicitly in the public interest from remedial and deterrence functions.  There is no abuse of process because the agency is authorized by statute to bring such cases and the court system provides a fair and neutral forum.  (at least in theory)
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson

viper37

So Blizzard has seen the light.  Well, a more cynical person would say they no longer have any choice.

QuoteThis has been a difficult and upsetting week.

    I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters - and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.

    Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.

    It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.

    Many of you have told us that active outreach comes from caring so deeply for the Company. That so many people have reached out and shared thoughts, suggestions, and highlighted opportunities for improvement is a powerful reflection of how you care for our communities of colleagues and players – and for each other. Ensuring that we have a safe and welcoming work environment is my highest priority. The leadership team has heard you loud and clear.

    We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.

    We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.

    I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace. This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Enforcement.

    We encourage anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace to use any of our many existing channels for reporting or to reach out to Stephanie. She and her team at WilmerHale will be available to speak with you on a confidential basis and can be reached at [email protected] or 202-247-2725. Your outreach will be kept confidential. Of course, NO retaliation will be tolerated.

    We are committed to long-lasting change. Effective immediately, we will be taking the following actions.

        Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
        Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
        Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
        Hiring Practices. Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
        In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.

    Your well-being remains my priority and I will spare no company resource ensuring that our company has the most welcoming, comfortable, and safe culture possible.

    You have my unwavering commitment that we will improve our company together, and we will be the most inspiring, inclusive entertainment company in the world.

    Yours sincerely,

    Bobby
https://kotaku.com/activision-ceo-bobby-kotick-comments-on-harassment-alle-1847374627
I don't do meditation.<br />I drink alcohol to relax, like normal people.

If Microsoft Excel decided to stop working overnight, the world would practically end.

Grey Fox

Colonel Caliga is Awesome.

Syt

Eh, I'll believe it when meaningful change happens. Until then it's a executive saying what he needs to say in hopes that the stock price stays up (it apparently dropped 9% after news of the walkout).
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.

The Brain

From the looks of it a major purge seems necessary (but not sufficient), including removing all senior managers, if the owners actually want to change the company.
Women want me. Men want to be with me.

The Minsky Moment

Quote from: viper37 on July 28, 2021, 09:51:12 AM
So Blizzard has seen the light.  Well, a more cynical person would say they no longer have any choice.

The jump off a cliff strategy still attracts some proponents, but for some reason they tend to lack staying power.
The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.
--Joan Robinson

Darth Wagtaros

Gaming companies are shit to work for, by damn near every account I've read, seen, or heard.  They grind up young devs looking for a first joba nd then fire them as soon as the time comes to give them a raise.

This is just another aspect of a poisonous industry.
PDH!

crazy canuck

Quote from: The Minsky Moment on July 27, 2021, 08:45:50 PM
Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 02:37:38 PM
Quote from: The Minsky Moment on July 27, 2021, 02:26:07 PM
Quote from: crazy canuck on July 27, 2021, 11:34:28 AM
I agree that judicial review would likely follow if it was an administrative decision but that is a lot more efficient from the perspective of court time.   

What DFEH is doing in this case has nothing to do with administrative efficiency.  They are sending a message and not just to Activision.  To the whole industry.

And that is part of what I find a bit surprising.  That a government agency can sue in court to enforce its own regulatory framework.  It has a strong stench of abuse of process.  Why not just exercise the statutory power they have?  And if that is lacking - what are are they in court?  As an outside observer this process is odd.

Employment commissions in the US perform several functions.  On the one hand they investigate and attempt to "conciliate" (settle) individual private employment claims.  This is more of a mediative/neutral function.  Some of them also arbitrate claims by state employees - this an arbitration role.  And finally, they have a prosecutorial-like function - they investigate allegations of pervasive and flagrant violations of discrimination laws and bring cases if they find such violations have occurred.  The stautory framework embraces all of these functions.

This case falls into category 3.  The agency investigated multiple allegations of wrongdoing and found what it believed be widespread and pervasive firm-wide bad conduct.  The case is brought explicitly in the public interest from remedial and deterrence functions.  There is no abuse of process because the agency is authorized by statute to bring such cases and the court system provides a fair and neutral forum.  (at least in theory)

We do it a bit differently.  An administrative tribunal separate from the investigative/prosecutorial group performs function 3.  That decision is then subject to judicial review.  It removes a lot of administrative clutter from the court.  Also you get a tribunal that knows its own jurisprudence rather than trying to educate a judge about the issues involved.
I want you to panic

https://www.theguardian.com/science/video/2019/jan/25/i-want-you-to-panic-16-year-old-greta-thunberg-issues-climate-warning-at-davos-video

"Woke" is now almost exclusively used by those who seek to deride it, those who chafe at the activism from which it sprang. Opponents to the idea are seeking to render it toxic. They use it to stand in for change itself, for evolution, for an accurate assessment of history and society that makes them uncomfortable and deflates their hagiographic view of American history.

viper37

Quote from: Syt on July 28, 2021, 10:14:58 AM
Eh, I'll believe it when meaningful change happens. Until then it's a executive saying what he needs to say in hopes that the stock price stays up (it apparently dropped 9% after news of the walkout).
of course, it's the main reason he's doing it.  But I feel like, at this point, Blizzard will have no choice but to implement significant changes.  And hiring that lawyer firm to investigate each case seems like a step in the right direction.
I don't do meditation.<br />I drink alcohol to relax, like normal people.

If Microsoft Excel decided to stop working overnight, the world would practically end.

Syt

https://hard-drive.net/bobby-kotick-announces-new-apology-letters-will-be-written-by-alternating-teams-at-treyarch-and-infinity-ward-each-year-for-foreseeable-future/

QuoteBobby Kotick Announces New Apology Letters Will Be Written by Alternating Teams at Treyarch and Infinity Ward Each Year for Foreseeable Future

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Following a massive employee strike at Activision Blizzard due to years of harsh treatment and sexual harassment, Bobby Kotick has written a letter to employees to apologize for the company's actions and announce that a new apology letter will be released each year, written in alternating years by Treyarch and Infinity Ward.

"We already have these guys on an alternating schedule producing new Call of Duty games each year, so why not have them also work on our new yearly apology letters to employees?" Kotick asked in his letter. "It's a very similar process to making Call of Duty, really. You don't need to recreate the entire letter each time, you just need to work from the base created in the previous letter, updating some language to fit modern events and trends. They just have to make sure that they stick to the core theme of the apology letter series: that we're very sorry, we investigated this ourselves and found no wrongdoing, and that we're committed to some vague change in the future."

In order to make sure that the apology letters stay true to the standards of Activision Blizzard, Kotick has given himself the role of Final Proofreader, a job that comes with a $50 million yearly salary.

:XD:

(In case you find the 50 million p.a. a bit silly ... seems in line with his IRL paycheck: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/activision-blizzard-pulls-out-a-win-on-say-on-pay-proposal-after-delaying-vote-for-a-week-11624299616 )
If we want to prevent catastrophic economic and societal change we will have to radically change our climate system.

Proud owner of 42 Zoupa Points.