By Michael Yu, Feb. 15, 2022
As someone who regularly plays video games and follows the gaming industry, I am often appalled at the constant bigotry and abuse that is perpetrated by some of the industry’s biggest names. I also find myself infuriated at the apparent lack of consequences any of these corporations face for their revolting actions.
Tech giant Microsoft, made headlines on Jan. 18 when it announced that it would be purchasing video game publisher Activision Blizzard for a staggering $68.7 billion. However, this acquisition came during a time when Activision Blizzard was embroiled in a lawsuit about rampant sexual misconduct and abuse in the workplace.
With Sony also moving to purchase similarly troubled video game developer Bungie, I believe that these recent acquisitions will do nothing to alleviate the issues in both companies and only served as an easy way out of the rut they were stuck in.
While Activision Blizzard are known for franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “Overwatch”, its name has recently become synonymous with bigotry and countless reports of abuse.
The lawsuit described an abhorrent activity perpetrated by male employees called the “cube crawl” where they would get drunk, crawl under work cubicles and harass female employees.
The lawsuit also told the story of when a female employee tragically committed suicide while on a business trip with a male employee who allegedly brought sex toys with him after sexually explicit photos of her were shared throughout the company.
These events at Activision Blizzard led to many walkouts, protests and attempts at forming a worker’s union. However, Microsoft’s acquisition of the company led to these movements being pushed aside.
This movement being brushed aside shows how little value these corporations place on its employees and the community. The gaming community is full of many diverse groups, including people who may have been a victim of sexual harassment before. This acquisition did nothing but devalue their experiences.
Despite Xbox head Phil Spencer’s promises to “extend our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard,” I cannot foresee this acquisition leading to any meaningful change. The toxic culture has become so ingrained at Activision Blizzard that it will need more than empty promises to fix it.
This lack of action does not bode well for any current or future employees. Once the two companies merge in 2023, there is nothing in place to prevent Activision Blizzard’s toxic workplace culture from spreading into Microsoft, or for new employees to enter a toxic and abusive workplace. It is imperative that Microsoft starts making real impactful changes soon to heal the scars left by Activision Blizzard.
As a gamer, this acquisition will also affect how I and many others are able to purchase and enjoy video games. With this acquisition, Microsoft now owns many of the industry’s biggest companies from Zenimax to Activision Blizzard. If these acquisitions continue, the industry will be heading toward a consolidation of the market and exclusivity deals that will harm the consumer and bury independent developers even more.
While the finer details of the deal are still under debate, the two companies have come to an agreement regarding Activision Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby Kotick.
Kotick is far from innocent in the accusations. He allegedly threatened to kill a female employee who tried to speak out about the abuse. Additionally, he allegedly knew about the abuse for years and did nothing to stop it.
However, instead of facing any consequences, Kotick will stay in power of the company until the deal is set in 2023 and then retire with a $375 million dollar severance deal from the Microsoft acquisition. For companies as large as Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, this is an unacceptable conclusion that brings no justice to those who were wronged.
The way that Kotick’s situation was handled sets a distressing precedent for the gaming industry as a whole. Harassment and discrimination are unfortunately not new issues in gaming communities, and I believe that this case will only serve as an invitation for other abusers to commit their crimes without fear of consequence.
While support for the movement against Activision Blizzard may have been strong at the start, it has waned as more time has passed. By browsing various gaming communities and forums, I notice a lack of support or comments even mentioning the lawsuit. Now, with highly anticipated sequels like “Modern Warfare 2” and “Overwatch 2” arriving soon, it is clear that the general public and fans have moved on and are only interested in the next game release.
Since the lawsuit was made public, more than 500 employees have come forward with stories of sexual assault, pay discrimination and harassment at Activision Blizzard. In December of 2021, Lisa Bloom, a lawyer for one of the abused employees, called for Activision Blizzard to, “prioritize its many sexual harassment victims,” and to establish a $100 million dollar compensation fund for other similarly abused employees.
In response to Bloom, Activision Blizzard released a pointless statement to gaming website Kotaku where a spokesperson condemned the sexual misconduct and abuse that happened at their own company.
Even after the announcement of the Microsoft buyout, Activision Blizzard continues to suppress its workers’ rights. When Call of Duty developer Raven Software attempted to form a workers union called Game Workers Alliance on Jan. 29, Activision Blizzard refused to agree to the terms set by the union.
Just two weeks after Microsoft’s acquisition, Sony announced that they will also be buying the gaming developer Bungie, best known for the Destiny franchise, for $3.6 billion. Mirroring the Activision Blizzard deal, Bungie was also in the middle of a controversy regarding crunch culture and harassment.
In an article written by journalist Rebekah Valentine for IGN, anonymous employees shared that they would often work 60-to-100-hour weeks with no breaks to push out the newest “Destiny 2” expansion.
Other employees at the company described female employees being undervalued by overtly sexist team leaders. A team leader described as a “sexist nightmare” was known to act violently during meetings. His actions included yelling at meetings, throwing papers and demeaning anyone who tried to criticize his behavior.
Despite the public scandal, Bungie faces no consequences and its latest expansion, The Witch Queen, reached one million pre-orders by Feb.2. Now with the backing of Sony, it is unlikely that the company will ever face repercussions.
These acquisitions were made with no regard to improving the work culture or stopping the constant harassment at the companies. Rather, these deals were nothing more than two corporations battling over who could build a monopoly in the industry first.
Before purchasing the next “Call of Duty” game or “Destiny expansion”, take a second to think about the countless employees who may have been abused to create it. If there is any hope for change in the industry, it is by taking the step to hold these corporations accountable for their actions.
The Game Workers Alliance continue to fight against Activision Blizzard and harmful practices in the game industry. To learn more about the union, visit its website.
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