The Mess Around Whether To Boycott Activision Blizzard

The Mess Around Whether To Boycott Activision Blizzard
Photo: David McNew, Getty Images

On July 20 California filed a lawsuit against Call of Duty and World of Warcraft maker Activision Blizzard alleging widespread workplace issues over the years including sexual harassment and gender-based pay discrimination. A week after employees formed a worker group to push for better working conditions, management still hasn’t even acknowledged their demands, and now fans are trying to figure out how best to support developers in their ongoing struggle.

While Activision Blizzard employees performed a walkout on July 28 calling for things like more diverse hiring and pay transparency and for supporters to show solidarity by donating to various charities, players and content creators across various games were pushing additional messages. “Do not cross the virtual picket line!” read one widely circulated screenshot. It called on players to not log into any Activision Blizzard games for the duration of the walkout, something a number of high-profile streamers like Hearthstone’s David “Dogdog” Caero also pledged to do.

“The men streaming WoW and ignoring the walkout are not allies,” wrote Warcraft Twitch streamer Third Artefact on Twitter. “Remember them and where they decided to stand during this important moment.”

Others on social media called on players to give up the company’s games altogether. Some in favour called it a symbolic way to force Activision Blizzard to pay attention. Others voiced concern that a prolonged boycott might just as easily lead certain games to be shut down, potentially resulting in layoffs impacting the very employees this action is intended to support.

These debates continued this week in the wake of Activision Blizzard’s latest earnings call. Despite striking a much more contrite and conciliatory tone during the meeting, the company has yet to respond to calls for a worker group-led audit or the replacement of third-party investigator and sometimes union-busting law firm WilmerHale.

Though some have renewed calls to boycott all Activision Blizzard products, it remains far from clear whether that’s something any developers at the company, including the women most mistreated by it, even support. Kotaku reached out to a number of current and former Activision Blizzard developers for their thoughts on how fans can best try to bring about change at the company. Some didn’t respond. Others didn’t want their comments to draw attention away from the ABK Workers Alliance’s current list of demands.

“We are incredibly happy to see our community stepping up to support our cause,” a spokesperson for the group told Kotaku. “All our voices are needed to make sure that meaningful change happens. We encourage our community to make themselves heard, and to continue fighting to end abuse in gaming. Our communities and workspaces should be welcoming spaces for women and other marginalised genders.”

Outside of outright boycotts, some fans and streamers have settled on simply trying to raise awareness of the ongoing labour struggle on social media and in-game. World of Warcraft content creator DragonsAfterDark is one of a few people who streamed Activision Blizzard’s earnings call under the Warcraft category on Twitch.

“Personally, I’ve chosen to remain subbed, but I also think boycotting is a valid response,” they told Kotaku over email. “A combination of both sides working together is what’s going to grab the leaderships’ and shareholders’ attention.” They mentioned concerns raised during the investor call over potential dips in monthly active users and big influencers leaving the community as a sign that players have gotten Activision Blizzard’s attention.

Screenshot: Blizzard Screenshot: Blizzard

“However, we also can’t expect things to get better by everyone washing their hands of the company,” they said. “For me, the answer is to support the employees by staying, and keep the pressure on to try and make things better.”

Regardless of the debate over strategies, many Activision Blizzard players face a more fundamental question of whether they personally want to continue spending their time in game worlds now tarnished by the company’s reported track record of mistreatment and abuse.

“It is hard to keep playing with a clear conscience,” Xantia, a longtime Warcraft player and the fan from the now notorious 2010 BlizzCon panel, told Kotaku in a phone call. “I mean, I feel torn on both sides. On the one hand, there are still women who work for Blizzard and who are part of the World of Warcraft team and who do work that they are proud of. And you want to support that. But at the same time, to what degree can you support a company that just swept this kind of behaviour under the rug to the point that it took a lawsuit from the state of California to call it out, and where it looks unlikely that the company will actually enact meaningful changes?”

Like a lot of players, Xantia said she’s stepped back from the game and is reevaluating what her relationship with it will be moving forward. Like the ABK Workers Alliance’s struggle to transform Activision Blizzard’s work culture, it’s a complex problem without easy solutions.

“In spite of all this, there are strong, inclusive [World of Warcraft] communities and there are women-led guilds,” she said. “Do you turn your back on something like that? If you leave the space, does that mean the dudebros — the ones making things toxic for women in the first place — win?”

Comments

  • Nah, don’t boycott CoD. Everything seems purely on the Blizzard side of the fence. Go forth and don’t play their stuff.

    Disclaimer: I’ve never played a CoD game, but I did used to play most Blizz games.

    My sister is quite happily playing WoW still tho.

    • It’s not just Blizzard, though they do seem to be the worst offenders right now. From memory Treyarch was also called out for awful behavior.

  • Avoid logging into those games…
    3 years and counting. (used to play 4 games)

    I think for a lot of ex-Blizzard fans who always entertain to come back when Blizzard announces a new IP, this has hurt the companies reputation immensely, that future release will be corrupted by the thoughts of these offenses against staff and fans.

    • IKR? I was considering getting the Diablo II Remaster when it released but I’m happy to not do that too. Especially since Vicarious Visions got merged into Blizzard.

      • You’d be punishing (for lack of better word) VV for something they had no role in. They’ve been diligently working on a very solid looking remaster (especially compared to the hatchet job that was WC3 Reforged) so unless you’re particularly worried where your $70 is going inside the conglomerate, it’s a pretty guiltfree purchase.

  • There are a few game development companies I won’t support due to the way they treat their loyal ‘fans’ through predatory in-game practices. They also seem to be the same companies that are predatory to their own staff.

  • if you’re boycotting the company… aren’t you also affecting the same people that is affected currently? I mean if the execs are getting less money because of declining revenue doesn’t mean everyone underneath them won’t suffer

    I’m not boycotting them personally, but at the same time I don’t have an active WoW sub and haven’t logged into bnet in over a month because there are other games to play

    • You’re right. Boycotting either doesnt hurt Kotick or Brack, it hurts the people that this effects. Kotick and Brack are alright. They’ve got a golden parachute. If no one ever buys another activision/ blizzard game they are both still going to be grossly rich!

      Even the effected staff have asked people not to boycott. There is a list of site’s they’ve asked people to donate to if they’d like to help.

    • Nah. Execs get fired when they fuck up the bottom line. Yes, they will probably divert some of that pressure to shield themselves per usual, but that’s always been able to be masked. This? This cannot be masked. The PR genie is out of the bottle, future suffering of their bottom line can’t be directed towards ‘bad game failed to meet expectations, resources being ‘diverted’ to better projects’. Shareholders are watching and they are aware. They will punish that kind of diversion.

      • Now is the perfect time for a boycott, Blizzard games have been losing subscribers anyway recently and I am sure Bobby was getting ready to fire a chunk of the company again to take a nice big bonus to throw in to his money pit.

        At least this way it makes them look bad while a bunch of people get fired.

  • Hiring for diversity is stupid. Hire the best people for the job.

    That said, there may be problems with the people conducting the interviews and all that. Which would need to be fixed

    • What part of “White Boy Frat House”… do you think is actually hiring the best. They were hiring, promoting and firing based on social favouritism and sexual biases based on the litigation filed.

      If they are hiring the best, diversity should be naturally present based on local demographics especially over 9,000 employees.

    • Diversity hiring, quotas et al exist because the “best people for the job” very frequently seem to be the same gender and ethnicity as the people doing the hiring and promoting. You can’t just say “stop having inherent bias”, you have to mandate against it until it’s been statistically shown to have been eradicated.

      • That does tend to happen when the main demographic of America is white and most programmers at least are white and male. Demographics within a country and industry don’t cease to exist because minorities in that country exist. If you looked at the programming department in Blizzard, you’d overwhelmingly expect them to be white, male and within a certain age range, because that’s the dominant group in the industry. The actual problem occurs when they’re deliberately denying advancement or hiring of others because they’re not a certain demographic group (which seems to be mostly sex offenders) and that’s entirely on HR’s practices and whatever instructions they’ve received from the department heads. Since they do tolerate rampant sex offending, I wouldn’t put racism past them either.

      • if you hire someone based on their skin color/ gender or identity you are saying you dont value them for their experience or work ethic, You are saying you only value them for their race/ gender or Identity alone.

        I dont know about you but i think thats pretty insulting to the person hired.

          • Hi, Please provide me with screenshots of where I stated explicitly that minorities aren’t skilled.

            Thanks 🙂

    • No hiring for diversity is not stupid, you just arent willing to understand why it can be a positive step forward for some types of people. People like you seem to think by hiring for diversity means that the people they do end up hiring are some how inferior in terms of skills… you do know it is possible to represent a minority and still being skilled, dont you?

    • Quotas for hiring are incredibly important for increasing diversity due to natural and subconscious biases that we all have.

      Their is a famous study that had violin players play behind a screen where they could not be seen by the male hiring panel and then play when they could be seen. When hidden behind the screen they selected almost 50/50 men to women, when not hidden far more men were selected than women.

      If you have diversity in your staff and hiring panels, you get diversity in your hiring and actually get the best person for the job as the subconscious bias is eliminated.

    • Actually it’s really not.

      Hiring based on arbitrary “best metrics” is bullshit. Meritocracy bullshit favours a status quo that leads to stifling of innovation. It has underlying assumptions about “the best” which almost always translate to white guys from upper middle class backgrounds.

      What you actually need to do is look for diversity because it allows your company to be flexible, adaptable, and hold a range of different ways of thinking and approaches to problems.

      This doesn’t mean you ignore qualifications at all. What it does mean is that relevant qualifications are literally the bare minimum. What you actually want are ways of thinking outside the box.

      Organisations that have structural inclusively have higher staff retention, reduced conflict, higher productivity and higher morale. All these lead to better products and a more sustainable business model.

      Literally supporting diversity makes your company better.

      Meritocracy, on the other hand… well this illusion leads to Donald Trump, Scott Morrison and Bobby Kotick. Bunch of shit heels who take credit for the work of others, and anything they actually do ends up failing and making everything else worse.

      • Correct. Meritocracy sounds great until you factor in discrimination and the way meritocracy is measured (i.e. CV accomplishments). So even if your company is truly, fully meritocratic and unbiased, you are going to be looking at CVs from men with a laundry list of achievements and CVs from women and minorities with far less achievements… not because they are any less talented but because they simply haven’t had as many opportunities to shine. And once that fully meritocratic company hires the guy with the laureated CV, that employment will become another badge of honour which will help guarantee further and better employment later on. In other words, a vicious cycle where those who were given opportunity at the beginning keep being given opportunity, often at the expense of those wanting to break through.

    • Since I read this woke article looks like I be supporting blizzard more.

      They need to brush this aside and move on.
      As with diversified workforce what a load of crap.
      People should always be hired on merit not some diversity quota.

      If they go woke they will go broke people don’t care for this bs

  • I’m boycotting, but I’m of the opinion that changes to the bottom line can now meaningfully be linked to consumer sentiment against the corporate culture, and not the quality of their games.

    By the same token, I don’t blame anyone for ‘crossing the picket line’ as it were. Especially people whose livelihoods depend on these franchises, who can’t pivot overnight.

    • Yep, When it comes to WoW Dev Team and Cdev team, they have just kept failing to understand the playerbase and have been openly ignoring feedback and in some cases have been just completely spiteful when the players dont like the direction the game has gone.

      Storywise Cdev cant understand why the playerbase hates the current storyline, Hell the Lead Cdev, Steve Danusr (spelling) openly praised the story for the final season of GoT as being great. They are currently in the middle of forcing the much hated and derided Kerrigan redemption ending from LoTV on to Sylvanus. Our player characters are constantly given the idiot ball to progress the plot as well.

      On the Development side of thing, Blizzard continues to add more and more timegating to the game, the Devs honestly believe that the brokely powerful shards of dominion are equal to Class Tier Set and continue to add RNG on top of RNG. Hell they screwed up Torgasht again just to add a shitty talent system to remove some of their shitty changes to it and still refuse to add an Endless mode to it, even worst they made it so that Speed running is required to get a perfect score to open up new areas when people never wanted speed to play any part of torgasht…thats what Mythic+ is for.

      Blizzard keeps saying ‘We hear you, We are listening” but we have yet to see any evidence of that in game or out

  • “The men streaming WoW and ignoring the walkout are not allies,” wrote Warcraft Twitch streamer Third Artefact on Twitter. “Remember them and where they decided to stand during this important moment.” — Jeez, I’d rather NOT be the ally of anyone who is so aggressive towards people who are just going about their business. If Blizzard has done the wrong thing, there are legal mechanisms to adress it. Witch hunts tend to have collateral damage, and people like Third Artifact are part of the problem, not the solution.

    • A thousand times this.

      EVERY time something like this comes up, there’s always some tool going on witch hunts targeting people who are supposedly ‘part of the problem’ as they’d have everyone believe. And it’s just like, if these are your true colours, why in the hell would I want to be in any way associated with you or anything you represent?

      These people do more harm to causes they claim to support than anyone else could if they tried.

      And on that note, I’d also touch on certain groups that like to co-opt and leech off these things like they always do… The overall core issues were about workplace harassment, abuses and sexual assault on a massive scale.

      But then some of these people come along and it’s now “More diversity hires!” and the likes, and the original core goal of simply trying to protect people from being abused and sexually harassed to the point that they want to kill themselves doesn’t even get a mention. The shit is disgusting, and anyone guilty of it should be ashamed of themselves.

    • This folks is why I never engage in this stuff anymore… any discussion online is either your with us or against us. No grays or nuance.

      Just black or white and frankly as much as I would like life to be that simple experience quickly tells you real life is never just black and white.. especially if you want to grow up and step out of your comfort zone.

  • “The men streaming WoW and ignoring the walkout are not allies,” wrote Warcraft Twitch streamer Third Artefact on Twitter. “Remember them and where they decided to stand during this important moment.”

    Notice she only says men and not women, What about women still streaming wow Third Artefact? Piss off with this shit.

    • As for my boycott reasons, it wasnt a hard decision. Between Blizzard choosing daddy china over common sense in the blitzchung situation and the current WoW dev team being incompetent morons it was easy for me to drop WoW and all other blizzard games.

      I dropped WoW during the Blitzchung situation, BFA was a terrible expansion that was uttering boring and underwhelming. Shadowlands has not improved on that at all.

    • Djbear strikes again with false equivocation. It’s always great watching you so confidently roll your face across keyboards in an attempt to engage with social issues.

  • Considering i wont play a blizzard game again til D4.
    And even then, i might not if the mates i played D2 & D3 with dont bother with it.
    So its a pretty easy boycott.

    • But what about a real money auction house, would that lure you back? How about paid cosmetics? How about we make the 70 dollar price just a base price and then you have to pay an extra 21.99 to unlock each class?

      • I never paid money once with the RMAH, i found it stupid and didnt spend a cent. But i also didnt grind for gear, i used the gold and bought stuff that worked and i was happy with that.

  • While it’s a pity that they (the money grabbers) get away with stuff that they should never do, as far as I’m concerned the conplete lack of decent thought towards gaming (ie another F’d WoW Exp, money grab D2/WoW-Exp), has just made me undub and pretty much ignore any Blizzard related release for the forseeable future. So we will see whether anything that is done turns the business into what it used to be.

  • Boycotting is a worthless action, there is no way that the amount impact gamers THINK they are having will have any real impact on the people who need to be impacted by it. Instead if gamers really feel passionate about it, instead of just puffing their chests trying to act big on social media, they should look closer to home. To look at how their work place is, how their social groups operate, how they themselves possibly act towards women and creating unpleasant circumstances. Whether they are aware of it or not. THAT is meaningful, not talking big on social media.

    • These stories sound so insane to me because if I did even a fraction of what any of these people did at work I would be fired immediately and my industry is very male dominated.

      Its crazy how unprofessional it all sounds.

  • I don’t understand the thought process behind ‘oh I’d better not boycott because then I’d be hurting the employees’.

    Playing games has never been about financially supporting the creators of the games. It is about consuming entertainment. If the entertainment is good, the creators profit. That’s how art forms have always integrated into society.

    If you feel like you are letting developers down by boycotting, what about the millions of indie developers who released games that were never successful? Don’t they deserve support too? Why are blizzard’s employees more deserving of financial support than the developers of games you have never played? This whole idea comes from a good place, but it’s completely unworkable when you think about it for even a second.

    So yes, boycott. People should have already been doing that after Blizzard demonstrated they cared more about Chinese money than free speech.

  • Hate all those sexist dumbasses IGNORING all the men who suffered from all forms of abuse and toxicity as well. Pathetic hypocrites who only care about people based on what’s between their legs, and yet they claim to care about equality. A person is a person, and PEOPLE have suffered, they should ALL be fought for.

  • Since I read this woke article looks like I be supporting blizzard more.

    They need to brush this aside and move on.
    As with diversified workforce what a load of crap.
    People should always be hired on merit not some diversity quota.

    If they go woke they will go broke

  • What we all should do is boycott Kotaku.
    The most woke gaming News platform on the planet pandering to the left.

    The only journalist you have is Jason and we all know his shady practices on YouTube.

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