At the rally, attended by more than 350 people, one sign read: “Unaccountable corporate bureaucrats are driving the best employees out of Activision Blizzard.” Another read “Nerf Male Privilege,” using a game development term for weakening or tuning down an in-game mechanic. The walkout started at 10 a.m. Pacific time and ended at 2 p.m.
Companies in the area sent food trucks out to support Blizzard employees in the walkout, catering and porta potties were donated anonymously and people drove by, honking in support, according to current employees present at the walkout. The employees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation for speaking to media.
Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Social media users also urged gamers to avoid crossing “the virtual picket line” by playing games published by Activision Blizzard, including “Overwatch,” “World of Warcraft” and any Call of Duty title.
The issues cited by the DFEH lawsuit against Activision Blizzard have been raised about a number of other video game publishing companies over the years. Employees of Ubisoft, another major video game publisher based in Paris that recently ousted several executives following reports of workplace harassment and toxicity, authored an open letter in solidarity with Activision Blizzard employees, sending it to the company’s CEO, Yves Guillemot.
“It is clear, from the frequency of these reports, that there is a widespread and deeply ingrained culture of abusive behaviour within the industry,” the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, read. “It should no longer be a surprise to anyone: employees, executives, journalists, or fans that these heinous acts are going on.”
The letter went on to call for employees at Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard and other industry-leading publishers and developers to work together and “agree to a set of rules and processes for handling reports of these offences.”
Blizzard employees announced Tuesday they would halt work, citing the company’s statements on the lawsuit and an internal email from Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer Frances Townsend, which had called the lawsuit claims “a distorted and untrue picture of our company.”
The same day, Sabrina Brogan, a Blizzard employee, informed the Activision-Blizzard-King Women’s Network she would step down as the network’s Europe, Middle East and Africa lead after seeing Townsend’s email. The notice from Brogan was shared with other employees via an internal messaging system and shared with The Post. Townsend is the executive sponsor for the Women’s Network, a post she was asked to resign in Monday’s open letter.
In part, Brogan’s message read: “I am ashamed I am working for this company.”
Tuesday afternoon, Blizzard leadership told staff via email that the company would extend paid time off to all who attended the walkout. That same evening, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick called initial management responses to the lawsuit “tone deaf” in an email to employees. He said that the company had hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of Activision Blizzard’s policies and hear from employees about uncomfortable or inappropriate experiences in the workplace. His message was shared on the company’s investor relations website.
Kotick added that any leaders who “impeded the integrity of our process” when resolving complaints would be terminated. The company would also add additional staff and allocate resources toward investigating claims and checking that hiring managers are considering diverse candidates for open positions. Kotick also said that in-game content deemed inappropriate in light of the recent allegations would be removed.
The walkout came after more than 2,600 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter sent Monday to the company’s leadership. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post, described management’s response to the lawsuit as “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.”
The employees made four specific demands of the executive leadership team, including: the adoption of policies that would improve diversity and representation; transparency around employee compensation by gender and ethnicity; and a third-party audit of the company’s reporting structure, human resources and executive staff. The employees are also seeking to end the inclusion mandatory arbitration clauses in current and future employee contracts. Such clauses send complaints made by employees against the company to a private arbitrator, rather than a lawsuit in a civil court.
“We wanted the demands to be easy to rally behind, with the intent that this process will take months, if not years,” a current employee told The Post. “We want commitments and actions from our leadership to be willing to do the work to implement specific and targeted policies. Part of the work will involve figuring out together, the best solutions for these problems. That cannot be done in the space of a sound bite.”
Blizzard employees responded to Kotick’s email Wednesday in a joint letter, noting that Kotick had not addressed demands for the end of forced arbitration for employees, worker participation in hiring and promotion policies and greater pay transparency.
“While we are pleased to see that our collective voices … have convinced leadership to change the tone of their communications, this response fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns,” wrote the letter’s authors.
The letter also noted that while Kotick did mention hiring a law firm, employees did not have input into its selection. “Any external team that is appointed without the input of employees cannot be guaranteed to stand for our interests,” the letter’s authors, who also organized Wednesday’s walkout, told The Post.
In addition to those attending the rally Wednesday, employees at Activision Blizzard and throughout the video game industry supported the protest via social media, using the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout.