Yesterday, a controversial article made the rounds from VentureBeat about how Activision Blizzard was losing the “PR war” in the wake of horrific allegations about the mistreatment of women at the company over the years. Author Dean Takahashi has since apologized for the perception that he was being insensitive to the victims, and explained he was trying to analyze the situation on the business side of things.
I think the main issue is framing this as a “PR problem,” which at the very least, the headline did, even if the article parsed it differently. But if we’re talking about what this current scandal could do to Activision as a company, the implications could reach far beyond poor perception of the corporate entity or its CEO, Bobby Kotick, who let me tell you, has not exactly been winning any PR wars for a very long time now.
The stories that are coming out about Activision Blizzard’s history with women are nauseating, and require content warnings for abuse and suicide. There were many terrible stories in the original lawsuit filling, but the one that stood out there was of a woman who died by suicide on a business trip, who had been in a relationship with a superior and had in the past, had photos of her genitals circulated around by employees at a holiday party.
Since that story broke, others outside of the lawsuit have emerged, including one where an Activision Blizzard employee was convinced of setting up cameras in bathrooms, and another where a woman was asked if she “liked to be penetrated” at job fair by a recruiter with the company.
What has been revealed to this point about the environment at Activision Blizzard has raised real moral questions for potential employees, journalists and fans.
As the original VentureBeat piece said, Activision Blizzard currently has thousands of open jobs they need to fill to actually keep making video games, and with the entire industry on a hiring spree, after this, it’s hard to know why many people would specifically seek out a job there, knowing everything that’s gone on. Especially women, which could make their current diversity problems even worse.
For journalists, we face the question of the moral responsibility of covering future releases from Activision Blizzard. Every outlet is handling this differently as we try to parse the behavior of management with the on-the-ground employees who are often victims, and who might be hurt more through blackouts or bans. Some outlets have said outright they’ll be covering Activision Blizzard games less, or not at all. What happens when say, hypothetically, the big, splashy Call of Duty Game Informer cover no longer materializes this year because of the objections of staff?
Fans are asking themselves something similar. It is always hard to hold “fan boycotts” to their word as they rarely pan out on a larger scale, but these allegations are so significant and severe that at least anecdotally, there have been reports of many people say, cancelling their long-term WoW subscription in protest. Some content creators have vowed to stop covering the games, even if they’re their bread and butter.
This is all happening at an extremely precarious moment for Activision Blizzard, the Blizzard side especially. Call of Duty has a cushion, given how well it sells, but it is supposed to reveal its new game soon, and it is now forced to do so in the midst of this. For Blizzard, this is a developer that is the main focus of many of these allegations, and even before this, has slipped in the eyes of fans as a top tier studio. They need to roll out Diablo 2 Resurrected this fall, and they’re continuing to work on Overwatch 2, which has raised questions about “performative” inclusivity with its diverse characters juxtaposed with Blizzard’s treatment of women and minorities. Diablo 4, still years away, is a must-win for them, but that team is full of many “old guard” veterans that were around when many of these most severe allegations were taking place.
The moral side of this is the business side, in many ways. Because of its treatment of women, Activision Blizzard will find it harder to hire employees, gain coverage for its games and convince fans to buy them over alternatives. Activision Blizzard and Kotick have already been on thin ice with many for years, but these allegations have splintered it, if not shattered it. And yet, a main problem remains that the only people that really seem to matter are the company’s investors. Stocks have dropped this past week, yes, but are still 10 points above the yearly low for Activision stock. This hasn’t produced some massive crash, and the corporate response to the lawsuit seems designed to placate investors, not employees or fans. Bobby Kotick only issued his first statement about any of this after the stock finally started to drop, and did so on the Activision investor page, even if it was addressed to his employees.
Things have quieted down a bit with no more corporate statements, even after the recent walkout by Activision Blizzard employees that does not seem to have produced a meaningful response by management. As for the longer term implications, we won’t know how that shakes out until they get back to actually trying to launch new games this fall, and we’ll see how that’s received.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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