Blizzard Employees Speak Out on Lawsuit & More
The recent Blizzard sexual assault lawsuit has several employees taking to social media to speak out. We’ve seen emails from the current Blizzard president, former heads of Blizzard, and current developers/employees speaking their piece about what is currently going on. The harassment of women at Blizzard is a long-standing problem and this lawsuit has been going on since 2018. It’s not a new suit but it is a moment that is long since overdue. Many of these statements express sorrow over what has gone on under Activision-Blizzard’s watch. It is hard to believe that some of these Blizzard’s heads didn’t have any idea about the frat-boy culture and sexism that existed under their reign.
Current Blizzard Employees Speak Out
The general sentiment is that Blizzard’s official statement doesn’t represent the employees or what they believe in. What do we mean though? After this news broke, J. Allen Brack, Blizzard president sent out a company-wide email. He calls the lawsuit “factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories from more than a decade ago.” He went on to call the allegations troubling. He claimed that it’s unacceptable for anyone in the company to be harassed or discriminated against, but it’s pretty clear by the number of accusations that it’s been going on for years:
“The leadership team and I will be meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we move forward. In the meantime, I want you to know that you can talk to any manager, any HR partner, any member of the legal team, or to any one of the executive team [including, Hey J]. If you feel more comfortable talking to someone outside of Blizzard, or prefer to be anonymous, you can contact the Way2Play Integrity Line.”
Some of that feels very ominous. We cannot imagine that someone in the midst of a lawsuit would want to go to the legal team of the very company being sued. Whether this is just lip service or not, we cannot speculate. Fran Townsend had a significantly different email, which you can read here. Townsend is a former Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush (2004-2007). Here’s what she had to say:
“I am proud to be a part of a company that takes a hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments and sexual harassment issues. Our Speak Up campaign reinforces zero tolerance for retaliation against those who do speak up. We’ve made significant investments to foster inclusive behaviors, and to reflect greater diversity within our leadership teams. . .”
Fran Townsend’s email just essentially says that there are no problems and that everything is fine. That Activision is a great company with great values, and that she’s treated with respect and value. Her email once made public was widely lambasted on Twitter. Instead of admitting there’s a problem and working to avoid it, Activision-Blizzard’s statement to their employees is that everything is fine and that the DFEH (Dept of Fair Employment and Housing) is being false and misleading.
Not everyone agrees with these statements, however. Lead Game Developer Jeremy Feasel said that:
“Many of us will not be working today in solidarity with the women that came forward. The statements made by ABK do not represent us. We believe women, and we will continue to strive to do better and hold others accountable. Actions speak louder than words.”
On the topic of work being done, Jeff Hamilton, Senior System Designer elaborated on work. He said that almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft “while this obscenity plays out.” Fans of World of Warcraft may have to wait a significantly long time, longer than usual, for updates or improvements on the MMO. We have no idea about how long this stop on development will be. He also pointed out that he feels the allegations should be taken in good faith, and he’s disgusted by the trauma inflicted on friends, co-workers, and his colleagues. You can read his thread here.
Nikki Crenshaw, a Blizzard UX researcher also spoke up on Twitter about how higher-up Blizzard employees speak out about the lawsuit:
“My tweets represent my own views & not the views of my company. I stand with the AB victims & believe their stories. To claim that these stories are “factually incorrect” or “untrue” is a slap in the face to current & former employees, & does not represent my core values.”
It’s pretty clear that the Blizzard employees have a different message that they speak out about on social media. Elsbeth Larkin, one of the tools software engineers for WoW pointed out she’s heard horror stories about the company that she knows is true, and that it’s “appalling” that Activision-Blizzard dismissed these accusations twice.
Metzen, Morhaime, and Other Past Blizzard Employees Speak Out
The current heads of the company seem to think all of this is spurious and misleading. We get a very different statement from previous company leadership and other ex-employees of the company. For example, Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard apologized to former employees in a statement on Twitter:
“The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down. In addition, we did not succeed in making it feel safe for people to tell their truth. It is no consolation that other companies have faced similar challenges. I wanted us to be different, better.”
Morhaime pointed out that the company was not perfect, but reportedly tried very hard to create a safe environment. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case at all. A former dev for Blizzard said in the thread that when she CCed Morhaime about her being threatened with physical harm, she was reprimanded for doing so. Not by Morhaime himself, but nothing seemed to have been done about it. It’s just a really peculiar situation. An awful one, to be sure. Cher Scarlett concluded her thoughts with this:
“When I think back specifically to how many women Afrasiabi harassed and assaulted, myself included, and how many people were traumatized by Bridenbecker, the toxic environment that Pearce’s EA’s had for so many years… it’s hard for me to think that you couldn’t have enabled it.”
Morhaime promised to use his influence to try and foster change, but to be frank, he should have been doing that while he was actually at the company, instead of allowing things to fester and grow worse. Chris Metzen, who worked with Blizzard until 2016, also made a statement. He’s a former senior vice president of story and franchise development.
He also opened up about how he failed everyone when female employees needed them the most, the higher-ups did nothing. He points out the common thread among the employee statements. That people didn’t trust HR, that they didn’t speak up at all out of fear, or that they were made to think this kind of thing was just normal. He also had this to say in his official statement:
“Words are cheap. Not sure what grand, sweeping promises really do either. Accountability starts with people. Not corporations, or platitudes, or ‘values’ cast in iron around a statue. Unless we as individuals – and by ‘we’ I mostly mean ‘men’- start to walk in far greater awareness, compassion, and empathy for the women around us – in the whole of our lives, not just at work -then nothing changes.”
He’s right, too. The problem is that the executives past and present of Blizzard give nothing to create trust. They’ve only offered words and no actions towards improving the culture at Blizzard. Metzen says that it’s not enough to say “I see you” and “I hear you”, and that’s also true. It’s unfortunately clear that neither of those was happening, according to the allegations and statements made by past and present Blizzard employees. This court case is still ongoing, and we will keep you up to date as this story develops.