Activision Blizzard’s toxic work culture highlighted again in new reports

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has empowered many more to come forward with their stories.

The fallout from Activision Blizzard‘s lawsuit with the State of California continues. After the company backtracked on its shameful initial response, a number of other incidents have come to light, painting an even more grim picture.

Activision Blizzard

A wave of new reports discussed some fairly out-in-the-open practices that women and marginalised groups have been dealing with for years. For those familiar with company culture, the allegations in the lawsuit were not surprising.

Sources told IGN that many long-time higher-ups were “untouchable”, particularly those in charge of profitable games, like World of Warcraft. Alex Afrasiabi’s, former senior creative director at Blizzard, was among those responsible for fostering a culture of harassment. Afrasiabi is also named in Kotaku‘s report about his “Cosby Suite” (named after alleged rapist Bill Cosby) an informal BlizzCon networking event that took place in a hotel suite.

Activision quietly fired Afrasiabi in mid-2020, and only now revealed that his firing was a result of an internal investigation that brought much of that to light.

IGN’s report also talks about a drinking culture at Blizzard that forced many women to skip office parties, where some have been subjected to inappropriate touching by male co-workers. One room at Blizzard’s office, designated for breastfeeding, did not have locks. A source said that men would sometimes walk into the room and stare.

“There was no way to lock the door. They would just stare and I would have to scream at them to leave,” the person said. Breastfeeding rooms now have locks on the doors, according to IGN.

In 2018, an Activision IT worker secretly installed cameras in the Minnesota office unisex bathroom to film and spy on employees, according to a Waypoint report. The IT worker later pleaded guilty to “Interference with Privacy,” and their sentence was suspended.

Another Waypoint report brought a different incident to light, one taking place at a cybersecurity conference’s job fair in 2015. Security researcher Emily Mitchell was looking for a job at the time, and she approached the Blizzard booth to inquire about the pentesting position.

Penetration testing is the process of evaluating a system’s security by attempting to hack it to find any potential vulnerabilities. One Blizzard employee asked Mitchell humiliating questions such as whether she was at the conference with her boyfriend, while another asked if she’s lost. Blizzard employees continued making inappropriate comments, including asking her if she “liked being penetrated” and other unprofessional comments.

Two years after this incident, Blizzard wanted to hire a security research company. Unbeknownst to Blizzard, Mitchell was the company’s COO at the time, and she decided to tell company CEO Jeremi Gosney about her experience. This prompted Gosney to write a scathing response to Blizzard, which he shared on Twitter at the time with Blizzard’s name redacted.

Among other things, Gosney’s email had three stipulations that Blizzard would need to complete before the two companies can work together. The list includes a 50% “misogyny tax” whose proceeds would be donated to charities helping women in tech, for Blizzard to sponsor a computing conference for women, as well as a formal apology to Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard’s response to last week’s employee walkouts has been to organise listening sessions for employees, according to Bloomberg, but that management has yet to address their demands directly. Some of their demands include hiring more diverse candidates, making salary data available to all staff, and an end to forced arbitration clauses in contracts.

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