There’s a good chance you’ve heard of “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft,” or “Candy Crush” even if you’re not a big gamer. Those games, which are played by hundreds of millions of people around the world and have become cultural phenomena in some cases, are all owned by a single California company led by one of America’s longest-serving CEOs.
Activision Blizzard, that company, is currently embroiled in a scandal. Accusations of discrimination and harassment at the gaming behemoth have erupted into an avalanche of dissent in recent days.
The first high-profile departure from Activision Blizzard was announced Tuesday morning, when COO Daniel Alegre told employees that J. Allen Brack, president of the company’s Blizzard Entertainment studio, would be leaving his post.
The unfolding crisis, as well as employee reactions to it, echoes previous controversies at major tech firms. And what happens at Activision Blizzard is likely to have major ramifications not only in the gaming industry, but also in the tech industry and across corporate America.
A lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing started the backlash against (and within) Activision Blizzard.
Multiple female employees were subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay, according to the lawsuit, and “the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct, instead retaliating against women who complained.”
In the aftermath of the lawsuit, several former Activision Blizzard employees began sharing their stories on social media, but the company’s attempt to portray the suit’s claims as “inaccurate” and “distorted” prompted more than 2,000 current and former employees to sign a petition calling the response “abhorrent and insulting.”
In a note to employees last week, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick admitted that the company’s initial response had been “tone deaf” and that it was hiring an outside law firm to investigate the claims. That didn’t stop dozens of employees from staging a walkout on Wednesday at the company’s Irvine, California headquarters (with hundreds more joining virtually). Greater pay transparency and the elimination of mandatory arbitration were among the demands.