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Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees joined a walkout today to protest the company’s initially harsh response to allegations of sex discrimination at the company that makes games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.
The backlash against the company’s stance was visible on social media, and that forced Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to adopt a more conciliatory stance and apologize for the company’s “tone deaf” response earlier. Kotick promised swift action against anyone found to have violated the company’s policies on non-discrimination. And today, the company issued a statement that said employees need not fear retaliation for joining in the planned walkout.
“We support employees’ right to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation,” Activision Blizzard said in a comment on the walkout. “We know there are a variety of topics that need to be considered. The leadership team at Activision Blizzard is also committed to long-lasting change, listening, and continuing the important work to create a safe and inclusive workplace that we can all be proud of.”
Thousands of employees also signed a petition expressing their disagreements with Kotick’s response and what they perceived as missing from the company’s actions to date, according to Bloomberg. And more than 500 Ubisoft employees, who last year went through their own “#MeToo” turmoil, signed a petition in solidarity with the Activision Blizzard employees.
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The complaints come complaints in the wake of a sweeping sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the state of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
“I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding,” Kotick said late yesterday. He was referencing an internal memo to employees from Fran Townsend, chief compliance officer, that denied the allegations in the lawsuit, as if the company were trying to aggressively combat the state agency rather than consider the possibility that some of the testimony from its own employees might be valid.
Many people pointed out that former Blizzard president Mike Morhaime, former executive Chris Metzen, Activision president Rob Kostich, and current president J. Allen Brack used a far better tone in acknowledging possible failings in the past and how this let the women of Blizzard down.
Cher Scarlett, a former Battle.net worker at Blizzard, pointed this out to Morhaime. Scarlett also spoke in a Clubhouse room where I was talking about the lawsuit, and she said working at Blizzard was her dream job, but it was unbearable once she arrived.
“Taking responsibility and apologizing for your role in this is paramount, Mike, and I really appreciate it,” she tweeted in a reply. “When things got really bad in bnet [Battle.net], many of us felt abandoned by you, and what’s worse, when I was threatened with physical harm and panic-cc’d you about it, I was later reprimanded for doing that, completely ignoring how terrified I was that my trying to save someone’s life had somehow put my job in jeopardy, and that I was going to be assaulted at a work event because of it.”
Meanwhile, Kotaku reported a story about some of the most disturbing parts of the state agency’s case, saying that Blizzard executives had once set up a “Crosby suite” in homage to disgraced actor Bill Cosby, and it highlighted the behavior of Alex Afrasaibi — former creative director on World of Warcraft who was called out in the lawsuit — during the BlizzCon 2013 event. Images surfaced of the Blizzard people who attended the suite as well as text messages with crude views of women.
Greg Street, who was in the photo of the Crosby Suite, explained in a tweet that the room was a green room at BlizzCon where many employees took breaks. He said he never saw anything inappropriate beyond drinking during the convention.
He said, looking back, he was embarrassed at the nickname of the room, and said he wasn’t aware of its significance at the time.
“All of that said, I understand that the story puts everyone in a tough spot, and I’m sorry for that. I hope my reputation here at Riot [where he now works] and your individual experiences with me give you a strong sense of the person I am and the values I hold,” Street said.