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Activision Blizzard: Discrimination, Toxic Work environments, and a cultural revolution

A gaming behemoth shrouded in controversy. Adam looks at Activision Blizzard's staff walkout and the reasons behind it.

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Image Credit: QuinceCreative on Pixabay

On 20 July the state of California Department of Fair Employment and Housing brought a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. For over a decade, the game developer has seen employees either stay silent or suffer the consequences of trying to expose the truth. It appears that minorities within Blizzard have been the target of company-wide discriminatory practices. Women have been sexually harassed, cultural minorities have had their progression slowed, and a frat boy culture has remained.

Activision Blizzard being at the forefront of the gaming world finally exposes what many have been saying for a long-time – there is systematic discrimination industry-wide.

This exposé follows a staff walkout which truly made the issues public. Last Wednesday, staff across Activision Blizzard decided they would not work until the truth was out. Along with their walkouts, many gamers joined in the protest, refusing to play Activision Blizzard games such as  Overwatch and Call of Duty.

Amongst all this news Activision Blizzard has felt the hit financially. When press coverage of the issue first became mainstream on 26 July, the Activision Blizzard stock price opened at $90.14,  with it dropping to $80.90 on 3 August.

However, Activision Blizzard has not been without response. Amidst all the accusations John Allen Brack, who took over as Blizzard president in 2018, stepped down from his position. Early press statements suggested that he stepped down to “pursue new opportunities”, however, the timing can be no coincidence. Whatever the reasoning for Brack stepping down, it must be said that the leadership team have failed those who have been asking for help, with Brack taking his first role within the company in January 2006 and holding multiple leadership roles since.

Further to Brack stepping down COO Daniel Alegre has today released a press statement addressed to all staff.  It has been published for full viewing on Activision Blizzard's website.

“I am pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Jen O'neal and Mike Ybarra have been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard. Jen and Mike will share responsibility for development and operational accountability for the company. Both are leaders of great character and integrity and are deeply committed to ensuring our workplace is the most inspired, welcoming environment for creative excellence and to upholding our highest game development standards.

Many of us already know Mike and Jen and have experienced their leadership, their empathy and their unwavering sense of accountability:

Jen is an 18-year company veteran and the former head of Vicarious Visions studio. As Executive Vice President of Development at Blizzard, she has been providing senior development leadership and support to the Diablo and Overwatch franchises.

Mike has been in the technology and gaming industries for over 20 years, including 7 years as a senior executive at Microsoft’s XBOX division. Most recently Mike was Executive Vice President & General Manager of Platform and Technology at Blizzard overseeing and our Development Services organizations.

With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, I am certain Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion and a dedication to excellence.

With Jen and Mike assuming their new roles, J. Allen Brack is leaving the company to pursue new opportunities.

Of course, these are early days, so the exact changes the new leadership additions will bring remain to be seen. From everyone at Nouse gaming, our hearts go out to all those affected by such awful events. Those who have had the bravery to stand up and speak deserve the credit, and hopefully similar systematic discrimination never rears its ugly head again.

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