Harassment Culture in One of Gaming’s Biggest Studio

By Hunter Young

Franchises like Call of DutyWorld of WarcraftOverwatch, and Diablo have firmly cemented Activision Blizzard in the hearts and minds of gamers and propelled it into the zeitgeist of the general pop culture. Given the sheer size and popularity of the company, the video game industry was shaken to its foundations with the breaking news in July 2021 that Activision Blizzard was fraught with a culture of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and a general “frat bro” working environment.[1]

On June 24, 2021, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) concluded a two-year-long investigation that found that Activision Blizzard had “discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge, and retaliation.”[2]The report further concluded that Activision Blizzard’s female employees were subject to sexual harassment and the company’s leadership had “failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.”[3] The lawsuit alleges discrimination citing the fact that women only comprised 20% of the massive 9,500 employee company.[4] On the more extreme end, the complaint alleges that one employee committed suicide after experiencing sexual harassment on a company trip.[5]

DFEH filed a civil lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for violations of California’s civil rights and labor laws.[6]The lawsuit prioritizes allegations that Activision Blizzard violated the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Equal Pay Act.[7] The Fair Employment and Housing Act imposes strict liability on certain types of harassment that was allegedly present at Activision Blizzard.[8] California’s Equal Pay Act requires equal pay for substantially similar work.[9]

The fallout of these reports has spawned multiple lawsuits related to the reported culture at Activision Blizzard. On August 3, 2021, a shareholder of Activision Blizzard initiated a class action lawsuit against the company claiming that negligent leadership caused a cycle of bad press and marketplace reaction which in turn caused a significant drop in the company’s share price.[10] Most recently, on September 13, 2021, the Communications Workers of America filed another lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging that the company intimidated workers and prevented them from unionizing following the discrimination and harassment scandals.[11]

 Activision Blizzard is no stranger to scandals.[12] The company has come under fire in the past for racial discrimination, sexual discrimination towards its gamers, and inserting spyware into its games just to name a few[13]. Once again, details of Blizzard’s alleged malpractice has sparked conversations within the industry regarding how it treats women and people of color.[14]  As a result, Blizzard has again found itself as the catalyst for change and improvements in the video game industry.

[1] Liz Lanier, ‘Cube Crawls’ and ‘Frat Bro’ Culture: California’s Huge Activision Blizzard Lawsuit Alleges Yet Another Toxic Workplace in the Video Game Industry, Time (July 30, 2021, 5:02 PM), https://time.com/6086010/activision-blizzard-california-lawsuit-sexual-harassment/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] DFEH Sues California Gaming Companies for Equal Pay Violations, Sex Discrimination, and Sexual Harassment, Cal. Dep’t of Fair Employment & Hous. (July 21, 2021) https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2021/07/BlizzardPR.7.21.21.pdf.

[7] Id.

[8] Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940 (West).

[9] Cal. Lab. Code § 1197.5 (West).

[10] Owen S. Good, Activision Blizzard: How a ‘Frat House’ Workplace Led to a Sexual Harassment Lawsuit, Polygon (Aug. 5, 2021, 9:59 AM), https://www.polygon.com/22608372/activision-blizzard-lawsuit-explainer-sexual-harassment-frat-boy-discrimination-gender-fired.

[11] Shannon Liao, Activision Blizzard Employees File Unfair Labor Practice Suit Against Company, The Washington Post (Sept. 14, 2021 2:42 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/09/14/activision-blizzard-union-busting-nlrb/.

[12] Daley Wilhelm, The Shady Side of Blizzard, SVG (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.svg.com/171831/the-shady-side-of-blizzard/

[13] Id.

[14] e.g. Bungie, https://www.bungie.net/en/News/Article/50496 (Last visited Sept. 16, 2021).