Blizzard's Company Values Don't Mean Much Today

Photo: Anthony Kwan, Getty

Blizzard has a set of core values literally enshrined on the ground of their corporate HQ. Today, two of those — “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” — were covered up by employees in the wake of Blizzard’s contentious decision to suspend a Hearthstone pro over his views on Hong Kong.

Kevin Hovdestad, who used to work at Blizzard, shared this photograph (which he didn’t take) earlier today:

Blizzard has a set of eight “core values” that the company says “represent the principles and beliefs that have guided our company throughout the years. These values are reflected in employees’ decisions and actions every day.”

They include stuff like “gameplay first” and “commit to quality”, but the two in question today are:

EVERY VOICE MATTERS:

Great ideas can come from anywhere. Blizzard Entertainment is what it is today because of the voices of our players and of each member of the company. Every employee is encouraged to speak up, listen, be respectful of other opinions, and embrace criticism as just another avenue for great ideas.

and

THINK GLOBALLY

Everywhere on the planet there are people who play Blizzard Entertainment games. While respecting the cultural diversity that makes people unique, we strive to grow and support our global gaming community. We also seek the most passionate, talented people in the world to enrich our company and help us forge the future vision of Blizzard Entertainment.

It’s understandable that, in light of their company bowing to the whims of an authoritarian regime and suspending someone who was calling for more democratic rights in his homeland, some Blizzard employees feel like those two values aren’t worth the ground they’re stuck on.


Comments

    I sympathize with Blizzard in some sense.

    Like most western companies dealing with China (which is just about every western company), you're always in a "fucked if you do and fucked if you don't" kind of situation.

      Don't sympathise with them. If they're fucked either way they could at least choose the option that fucks over fewer people that aren't themselves.

        Whichever action Blizzard took here would have no measurable effect on the political situation in Hong Kong, for better or worse. On the other hand, if the Chinese government revoked Blizzard's licence to operate in the country, every Chinese player of Blizzard games would get screwed, and that's a market that's larger than the western ones combined. I don't agree with Blizzard's call here, but I think it probably has the least fuckovery for everyone involved.

          blizzard's revenue from SE Asia is a total of 12%. This is including South Korea and Japan. It's more to do with the fact that trecent owns 25% of the business.

            China's not part of SEA, it's its own region. With 700 million internet users and 30-40% YoY growth for the Blizzard's products in the Chinese market, it's by far the largest and most critical market for gaming companies today.

          The claim that Blizzard's actions would have "no measurable effect" on China is exactly the same as the claim that reducing Australia's greenhouse emissions will have "no measurable effect" on global warming. Each claim is both practically true and disingenuous.

          In both cases one has a choice to either effectively endorse the current situation or to join a collective response in fighting it. There is absolutely no question that collective action does have the potential to make a measurable difference, and no one company or individual is acting in isolation here, not least of which being two million "individual" Hong Kong protesters.

            I agree that collective action can have a significant pressure effect on uncooperative entities. But I think to be effective, it needs to build quickly and broadly. Things like climate treaties and globally coordinated public backlash against inaction provide the immediate surge needed, and are the main driving forces putting out climate change pressure, yet still the major players drag their feet. Things are changing, but very slowly, and it's taken more than 8 million people protesting across 150 countries to get even that far.

            I don't see comparable conditions existing here. China's focus for decades has been on developing self-sufficiency specifically to avoid being susceptible to international pressure, and they don't typically respond to this kind of thing. On top of that, there are far fewer companies who believe pulling business from China is an immediate necessary thing than there are who believe that of climate action, and on its own Blizzard is a drop in the pond that will easily be filled by someone else. I'm not even convinced that pulling business out of China is the right move to make, and I firmly support the rights of Hong Kong citizens and Uyghur and others.

            Don't get me wrong; like I said in my post, I think Blizzard made the wrong call. But without a summit or a treaty that rallies other companies to do something they're extremely reticent to do quickly and collectively, I just don't believe this is the action to catalyse change.

          I really have an issue with this argument. The suggestion that any number of people missing out on video games is worth more than a peoples fight for democracy offends me to my core. Blizzard weren't thinking of all those poor Chinese people that would miss out on video games, I mean, obviously they were, but only insofar as its a market they won't be able to make any money out of.

            I fully agree with you that the two things are incomparable. The rights people are fighting for in Hong Kong is clearly more important. I tried to be clear in my opening sentence that I believe nothing Blizzard does will have any effect, positive or negative, on the political situation in Hong Kong. The Chinese government simply doesn't respond to this kind of pressure as others might do.

            I also noted that I disagree with Blizzard's decision here, so I hope you don't mistake a pragmatic evaluation of potential gain vs harm with endorsement. Pragmatically, I think Blizzard chose the least detrimental option; ethically, I think they made a bad call.

              That only becomes the pragmatic decision if your worldview prioritises profits over people. And that right there is the crux of the problem.

                Practical outcome is foundational to pragmatism. When people were never going to benefit either way, then it's not really about prioritising profit over people. Acknowledging that no choice they make will practically benefit the people in Hong Kong leaves the decision (from a pragmatic approach, bear in mind; an ethical evaluation is very different) down to which option has the lesser detriment. I think, objectively, the loss of faith in the western market is going to be the lesser detriment than losing the Chinese market altogether.

                I appreciate that this is a semantic conversation, and it's not my goal to take sides in any of these comments. My personal view is that I disagree with Blizzard's decision, but I do feel I understand how a pragmatic assessment would lead to the action Blizzard took, even though I don't endorse it. I want to be clear that I respect your right to disagree, that's perfectly healthy and doesn't mean either of us are participating in bad faith.

          For themselves? undoubtedly they did the best thing. For the world and our species at large? Not so much. Whatever they'd do may not have a direct effect in Hong Kong as you say, but it would generate a lot of discontent within China's population.

          Maybe if every big entertainment/fashion/etc corporation did this, the Chinese government would have to deal with an ever-growing mass of malcontent that could be seized by a political party promising to re-capture Western markets by more closely aligning the country with western values such as, I don't know, not cutting up live prisoners to scoop their organs for sale? What're a few organs (of a people they are driving to extinction, ie. a non-renewable commodity) against all the business lost?

            As big as China's gaming market is, it's absolutely dwarfed in proportion to China's population. I know we probably disagree on this, but I don't think discontent with Blizzard shutting down operations in the country would be anywhere near enough to influence national policy. If every company did it, that might be a different story, but it's just as likely to have the opposite effect of entrenching Chinese support for their own government in defiance of what would be seen as an unfair concerted effort to hurt them.

              Shouldn't we at least try, though? As you say, it's possible that they'll become more entrenched, but their more entrenchedness is going to be, for all practical purposes, only as bad as it already is. They are not going to go out of their way to commit MORE human rights atrocities just to spite the West... so if there's a chance that concerted pressure will convince them to change at least some of the most egregious stuff, the gamble would be fully worth it. I sincerely believe that if there's such a chance, it is our moral duty to take it.

              On the other hand, continuing to allow the money we freely give them to return as stakes in Western corporations to ensure that they will further their agenda overseas seems like a no-return ticket to let the Chinese government silently take over the world.

        Thats one of the tough ones to answer. If they piss off China, they dont get to operate in that country, and directly fuck over 1.4 billion people. If they dont piss off China, then everyone else only gets their feelings hurt, but can still play. They arent going to fix the Hong Kong issue either way.

        Theres no good answer with this, they are a business trying to operate in the biggest growing market in the world, and having to deal with the strict policies that go along with that.

        How this has gone down sucks. Majorly. But from the perspective of Activision, this was the only way this was going to play out. Bend over for China, where they know what the long term repercussions are.

        What they have done out of this though is highlight once again how bad the issue is. They've probably helped build political pressure in some ways, as the rest of the world starts seeing the repercussions of whats going on and portray some identifiable impacts. It puts a face to the problem (or another if there are others), which is something others can rally behind.

          I like that you said Activision and not Blizzard. I would like to continue to believe Blizzard may still be redeemable.

          Don't you dare try and give Activision or Blizzard any credit whatsoever for highlighting the issue or 'building political pressure'. Credit for that goes to the protester. And yeah, probably the Hong Kong/China situation isn't going to be fixed by video game companies or even any companies but that doesn't mean that what they did was fine. I didn't and don't ever expect companies to choose values over money but that doesn't mean I'm not going to complain when they do.

            I'm not giving them credit, get over the butthurt. What Blizzard have done though is expanded the impact his protest might have otherwise had. If they had just shut their eyes and done nothing, this story goes nowhere. A few Hearthstone players might have picked up on it, but it would be just another article dealing with an issue most people cant relate to.

            Only its no longer that. The guy lost a wad of cash and gets banned, that hits the news. Someone else comes along and offers to give him that lost cash, and an invite into their tournament. That also hits the news.

            Suddenly, the issue is spread far wider, and his protest is heard by so many more people. And its an individual who's been hurt by that protest, allowing many of those that couldnt relate to put a name to the issue.

            His selfless act has now been heard by a much bigger audience, and had a far bigger impact than it otherwise would have. Because of Activisions choice to strip him of his winnings and ban him. Thats not giving them credit, thats realising they've made the protest go further.

            By the way, its called the Streisand Effect. Look it up. In their attempt to block the issue, they've raised awareness more than what the original effort would have.

          How this has gone down sucks. Majorly. But from the perspective of Activision, this was the only way this was going to play out. Bend over for China, where they know what the long term repercussions are.

          Seems to me that such a mentality, if adopted by everyone, would have most of the world under China's thumb by 2050. Shall we start adopting this new blessing to salute each other: May your ethnicity/demographic group not be the next one to be chosen for institutionalised culling by our Chinese overlords?

      If they're fucked either way, isn't that even more of a reason to do the right thing?

        No, because the court of public opinion is a short-lived punishment.

        The repercussions from China if Blizzard had done nothing would have been extreme to their business.

        The outraged people will forget in a month or so. But if they pissed off china, China would never forget.

          Yeah, unless the negative reaction reaches some sort of critical mass I suppose. Guess we'll find out in a month or so.

      There is precedent for US companies pulling out of China rather than going the cooperation/appeasement route. Google is an example, (belatedly) deciding not to continue filtering their search results for Chinese users, which resulted in most of their services being blocked in the country.

      Blizzard is free to continue as they are, but they shouldn't be surprised if people recognise this as a non-neutral decision and act accordingly.

    Every voice does still matters, just means that the voice of chinese money matters more

    Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

    If they allow this kind of thing, it sets a precedent and is in open violation of their tournament rules. Rules that Blitz himself admitted he broke (and knew he would be sanctioned for).

    If they don't allow it, then it brings upon them the wrath we've seen so far.

    The sad reality is that any company who has stakeholders and a financial interest in the Chinese market would probably act similarly - only Blizzard were the unlucky ones to be put in the spotlight for it.

      They're not the first, and they won't be the last.

      There was an international incident a couple of years ago where the American government wanted to act on something but knew that if they did, they'd incur the wrath of China.

      If a country has the ability to keep America's government at bay... Imagine how a business like Blizzard would do.

        So, what do we do? Just let them take more and more power because we are too afraid of the power they have today? The more leverage we give them the more and graver atrocities we'll have to shrug and pretend we don't see not to upset our understated overlords.

    Man, it's like these companies weren't aware Big-Red will one day come knocking....

    But who's values actually do these days?

    Our governments and companies do this sort of thing because while we've become very vocal, we've also become very lazy.
    For many folks morals extend only as far as an angry social media post for a few likes.
    We like to think we have all these freedoms and choices but ask yourself if you would actually be willing to get up off your arse and put it or your money on the line to prove that.
    How many folks are gonna have a little rant and then log in to Overwatch or WoW Classic?

    I don't just mean us as individuals either, I would ask if Kotaku journos plan to cancel their WoW accounts and boycott Activision/Blizzard products and reviews?

    If this post pisses you off then downvote it into oblivion, the green and red numbers don't actually mean anything to me and at the end of the day it's up to you to decide what your values are and what you're prepared to do about them.

      And yet the people in Hong Kong (and sometimes a climate protest in whichever city you live) are accused of being rabble rousers and the like by conservatives, who enjoy freedoms bought by people of this ilk 100 years ago.

      I would vote you up or down, but I'm having trouble working out the point of your post. "Everyone is a hypocrite" is about as milquetoast an opinion as one is ever likely to see.

        Are you actually having trouble working out my point or have you already decided?

        Either way, how the comment makes you feel and what you wanna do about it is all up to you my friend.

    The definition given under those two values have nothing to do with political activism though. It quite clearly states every voice matters is in relation to game design and story etc. Thinking globally is exactly what they did here, they looked at their player base and instead of offending communities they stuck to their morals and remained apolitical.

    Now the thing I find here hypocritical is how they will pat themselves on the back for being so progressive and championing LGBT rights when it doesn't cost them anything but the prospect of losing a whole country's market causes them to hunker down. That should have been the real example in this article, not the poor misinterpretation of the author.

      Unfortunately, losing a whole countries market would be disastrous for any company... Especially when that country is China.

      A less extreme example is when Australia's ACCC forced Valve to change their refund policies to comply with Australia law.

      And Australia is a tiny tiny tiny market compared to china. Pulling out of Australia wouldn't have even made a dent in Valve's bottom line... Pulling out of China would destroy Blizzard.

      You are absolutely wrong that instead of offending communities they stuck to their morals and remained apolitical. In fact, Blizzard very clearly and explicitly chose a side in a political dispute.

      Remaining apolitical would have looked something like Blizzard releasing a statement that they neither support nor oppose the opinions expressed. Instead they banned the guy for a year and denied him his prize money.

        Guy broke the rules he agreed to follow when he entered the competition. The real victims here are the hosts who lost their jobs because of him.

          What rule was that again?

            2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o)

            Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD ($0), in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.

              That would be the rule that says that you can be banned for doing anything, any time, that Blizzard decides retrospectively it would prefer not have happened? That seems pretty clear cut.

              I wonder if it's Blizzard's official position now that Taiwan is a province of China? Wouldn't want to offend all those Chinese. Wait... but what if that offends the Taiwanese? OMG, paradox!

                Yeah, its a pretty bullshit rule aint it. BTW, wasnt posting because I agreed with it, but because you asked which rule it was. It was chance that I happened to have been looking at the original story about this a minute before, which had a link to the official rules document (a pdf) and posted the rule itself.

                Anyhow, thats the rule he broke.

                  That's the rule used by Blizzard to justify their right to ban him, which is a different thing entirely.

                  @simocrates' suggestion that Blitzchung "broke" some rule or other implies that there was a reasonably clear line that Blitzchung wasn't supposed to cross, and therefore when Blitzchung was banned it was due to either Blitzchung's deliberate decision or stupidity, which is self evidentally not the case.

                But those rules are available to the contestants and old mate even stated he knew he might get in trouble for saying what he did prior to saying it but chose to anyway. I don't understand why people have to froth at the mouth about this. It is actually possible to support the Hong Kong riots and also believe Blizzard aren't in the wrong here.

                  I don't think many people are arguing that Blizzard aren't entitled to use their one-sided, catch-all, take it or leave it legal clause any way they see fit.

                  All most of us are saying is that it is actually possible to support the Hong Kong riots and also believe that Blizzard deserves all the criticism they are getting.

                  People are frothing at the mouth because Blizzard have sided with a totalitarian dictatorship against democracy protesters, and if you don't have a problem with that it's probably because you are lucky enough not to have to live under a totalitarian dictatorship.

                I don't believe Blizzard have sided with a totalitarian dictatorship at all. They just don't want to be involved in another country's politics and want to sell games. They shouldn't have to be forced into taking sides. Just let them do what they came to do. Make games and provide entertainment.

                  If Blizzard had decided not to get involved they had the choice to stay out of the issue altogether. Instead, they kept a guy's prize money and banned him for a year. That's the opposite of not getting involved.

    They lost any ground to stand on the second they fired the commentators as well. How was it their fault? Collective punishment at it's finest.

      Apparently they were aware of what he was going to say and didn't try to stop him, etc

    My favourite take from this whole situation is “Blizzard gonna have to announce two gay characters to deal with this disaster”

    Blizzard's ban has probably kept the problems of Hong Kong in the spotlight and discussion for many people who likely would otherwise be completely oblivious to what was happening there.

    Shitty decision has probably worked less in China's favour than if Blizzard did nothing.

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