One of the most devastating situations has taken the center of the video game world, with the demand for Activision Blizzard.
The company is accused in numerous instances of labor and sexual abuse of a significant number of women and members of minorities, perpetrated by its middle and senior leadership. The product of an investigation started in 2018 and with the collaboration of numerous employees and former employees of the company, this is a fairly extensive compilation of a severe situation.
The content of the claim it leaves out specific names, as it focuses on the company in a broad sense, naming only producer Alex Afrasiabi as directly responsible for abuses and current Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack as facilitator.
As this demand became known, the gaming world was rocked in many directions. If the Ubisoft scandals weren’t enough to rouse the public from their slumber, the Blizzard case has more than enough to expose industry corruption.
The specific data of the lawsuit exposes cases of abuse of authority to the female personnel of several of the teams within Activision Blizzard, with reports that later confirmed to studies such as Treyarch, the Battle.net team and the World of Warcraft team as the most notorious scenarios.
It is these last two that have attracted the most attention, given the prominence of status that these teams hold within the gamer fan base. To sum up, they are not “the corporate Activision”, they are the “Blizzard of all life”.
In the workplace, a culture centered on the misogynistic mentality is manifested, which in the lawsuit they call “frat boy culture”, but which is a highly reductive term for the situation. The actions speak of groups of men who delegate their work to female staff and only dedicate themselves to recreational activities outside of work, to later benefit from the results and take promotions, bonuses and prizes for this work.
These activities confer power and impunity that the men’s club used to inappropriately go beyond the workers, making sexual advances without consent verbally, physically and with an emphasis on being visible to all staff.
Specific cases detail the “cube crawls”, where the employees within the circle of friends would consume huge amounts of alcohol during working hours, and then make a “game” of crawling under the cubicles of their colleagues and touching them inappropriately.
In the same vein, the case of an employee who was openly abused by her supervisor, reaching the point that she took her own life, after exposing personal photos at a social gathering of company members, was revealed.
The Cosby Suite
Although the lawsuit makes a reference to Afrasiabi and the space known as “Cosby Suite” (misspelled as Crosby), where the club of friends perpetrated their most severe instances of harassment and abuse of company employees, the details would be discovered later. .
In a report of Kotaku, numerous evidences of activities inside this room were unveiled, with photos, chatlogs and publications on social networks that implicated a group of Blizzard division leaders, which are:
- Alex Afrasiabi: Creative Director of Blizzard, one of the original designers of World of Warcraft.
- Greg Street: Divisional Vice President of Riot Games, in charge of developing a new MMO for the company. Of all he is the only one who has manifested in social networks to date, denying involvement in inappropriate activities
- David Kosak: Designer for Deviation Games.
- Jonathan Lecraft: Blizzard Staff Member
- Jesse McCree: Blizzard Chief Designer
- Cory Stockton: Blizzard Designer
- John Mosquera: Member of Bonfire Studios
- Paul Cazarez: Designer of Zenimax Online Studios, part of The Elder Scrolls Online staff
Indicated by name and surname, these subjects have been exposed as alleged criminals, with evidence that can support these complaints and that reveal the most notorious side of corruption, but not the only one.
Details cannot be seen from above
Members of the highest echelons of the company appear to be largely absent from the scandal at this level. Leading many to be deluded that it may be an isolated case, bad apples within Blizzard.
But while there is no Serge Hascoet in this situation, there are no innocents in the leadership of Activision Blizzard. There is no reason why the name of J. Allen Brack is on the list.
The company’s first reaction was an immediate rejection of the lawsuit, stating that it was false accusations. When the numerous reports verifying them were released, they changed the note to “we are very surprised and concerned about this situation.”
The releases, one after another, were the same malleable version of a corporate apology in which there is no actual admission of guilt or acknowledgment of the events that took place. Damage control and try to handle the situation in the media.
Members of the leadership in the past, such as Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen were a little more tactful, declaring on their social networks that in their time at the head of the company they were completely unable to see the signs of abuse. Affirming that they failed as leaders and that they will do everything in their power to expose this situation.
Although this response was taken positively on social media, Blizzard employees reminded them that this apology is not a carte blanche to ignore their mistakes. Morhaime hired Afrasiabi, Metzen collaborated directly with Afrasiabi, so even though they weren’t in the Cosby Room, they knew who they were working with.
Decisions on the throne
Higher up the ladder is Bobby Kotick. Known for being America’s most overpaid executive today, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has already made his mark on the scandal. Not just with their own corporate outrages, but with the addition of a law firm with highly questionable specifications.
Kotick contracted the services of the firm WilmerHale with the intention of thoroughly analyzing the structure of Activision Blizzard. With attorney Stephanie Avakian leading the investigation, it is intended to make a great public statement about the internal culture of ActiBlizz as a whole.
But it is curious that a law firm specializing in corporate protection investigations was selected instead of focusing on defending employees. What is the OBJETIVE? Preserve the status quo of the company or expose the situation to justice?
Corruption in full
If the Blizzard Case is showing something, it is that these types of situations are, in full, characteristics of the video game industry. With companies that handle huge amounts of money, reach and influence investors around the world, the excesses in their practices are in the open for all.
We can talk about their internal policies of excessive work or their rampant abuse of monetization systems that prey on people with gambling addictions, made the normality of the industry by these companies. But the disdain and cruelty with which employees are treated in companies and studios is surprising for being the norm.
In the Ubisoft case, for the French company the use of abusive measures used by Serge Hascoet was not a negative situation or a “character flaw”, but rather they were part of what made it more efficient when it came to delivering results.
From above, only the results matter. The fulfillment of development periods (imposed from the leadership), the achievement of objectives (required to please the shareholders) and obtaining the highest possible amount of profit margin in each project.
This is normal for large video game distributors, be they Electronic Arts, Rockstar Games, Bethesda, Riot Games, CD Projekt Red, Valve, Guerrilla Games, Konami or Square Enix. It is normal due to a great demand on the part of the shareholders that each company has to generate more and more income.
What does this have to do with sexual abuse scandals at Blizzard? When goals are universally profit-based, it opens the door to people willing to abuse their power for personal gain. All members of the Cosby Suite club have significant contributions to making the company’s games a commercial success.
Probably that scene from World of Warcraft that caught your attention the most was written by Afrasiabi. Every Overwatch game played with Jesse McCree is a reference to a man accused of sexual abuse for which the character was named. When Mike Morhaime or J. Allen Brack welcome users to BlizzCon and talk about inclusivity, we are seeing people who chose to look the other way while their own teams of employees were suffering.
The Blizzard affair continues and darker things will most likely be revealed. So it is important to be attentive to the reaction of the community of their games and the reality that will touch them from now on.