Blizzard Old Guard Admit Failures Following Lawsuit, WoW Development Reportedly at a Halt

Nathan Birch
Activision Blizzard

Last week a bombshell was dropped on the industry when California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging widespread gender-based discrimination and harassment at the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher. The suit seems to largely focus on Blizzard where women are said to face unfair treatment when it comes to “compensation, assignment, promotion, [and] termination.” Sexual harassment, including drunken “cube crawls,” is also said to be endemic as part of a “frat boy” culture.

While current and recent leadership, such as J. Allen Brack and former WOW creative director Alex Afrasiabi, are called out in the lawsuit, the roots of Blizzard’s alleged culture issues almost certainly go further back, and some of the company’s old guard have admitted as such in recent statements. This weekend Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime, who handed the reigns to J. Allen Brack in 2018, released a statement admitting he “failed” Blizzard’s female employees.

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I have read the full complaint against Activision Blizzard and many of the other stories. It is all very disturbing and difficult to read. I am ashamed. It feels like everything I thought I stood for has been washed away. What’s worse but even more important, real people have been harmed, and some women had terrible experiences.

I was at Blizzard for 28 years. During that time, I tried very hard to create an environment that was safe and welcoming for people of all genders and backgrounds. I knew that it was not perfect, but clearly we were far from that goal. 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.

Harassment and discrimination exist. They are prevalent in our industry. It is the responsibility of leadership to keep all employees feeling safe, supported, and treated equitably, regardless of gender and background. It is the responsibility of leadership to stamp out toxicity and harassment in any form, across all levels of the company. To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you.

I realize that these are just words, but I wanted to acknowledge the women who had awful experiences. I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down. I want to hear your stories, if you are willing to share them. As a leader in our industry, I can and will use my influence to help drive positive change and to combat misogyny, discrimination, and harassment wherever I can. I believe we can do better, and I believe the gaming industry can be a place where women and minorities are welcomed, included, supported, recognized, rewarded, and ultimately unimpeded from the opportunity to make the types of contributions that all of us join this industry to make. I want the mark I leave on this industry to be something that we can all be proud of.

Diablo, Warcraft, and StarCraft writer/co-creator Chris Metzen, who left Blizzard in 2016, followed with a statement of his own, largely mirroring Morhaime’s sentiments…

For their part, Activision Blizzard has released a lengthy statement in response to the DFEH suit, in which they accuse the agency of “distorted […] and false” descriptions and insist the picture painted is “is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” The statements of Morhaime, Metzen, Brack, and the numerous current and former Blizzard employees who have been sharing their stories of abuse on Twitter would seem to be at odds with that official defense. It certainly sounds like there’s plenty of debate and turmoil within Blizzard as WoW senior systems designer Jeff Hamilton says work on the game has largely ground to a halt as the controversy plays out…

All Activision-Blizzard-affiliated social media accounts have gone silent following the DFEH lawsuit. We’ll keep you updated if any further official statements are made.

Update: Nearly 1000 Activision Blizzard employees have signed a petition that deems the company's official response to the DFEH lawsuit "abhorrent and insulting," and calls for "immediate corrections" that "recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault." Whether Activision Blizzard brass responds remains to be seen, but clearly, pressure is mounting both externally and internally.

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