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Bloomberg Report Highlights "Rock Star" Blizzard Culture Fostering Misbehavior Towards Female Employees and Fans
2021/08/08 at 9:58 PM
Jason Schreier of Bloomberg has published an explosive article about the toxic culture at Blizzard Entertainment, detailing how men at the top were treated as rock stars who viewed female employees and fans as groupies, getting away with sexual harassment, discrimination, and other unprofessional behaviors.
Blizzard Turned Game Developers Into Rock Stars. Misbehavior Followed
The article features statements from several former female employees, detailing the "testosterone-fueled arrogance and heavy drinking that were a regular part of office culture", as well as the major power imbalance between high-ranking men and the female employees that they subjected to "frequent and often unwanted sexual advances".
One summer day in 2018, employees of the video game maker Blizzard Entertainment opened their email to find a brusque message from the chief executive officer, Mike Morhaime. It said the company parted ways with Ben Kilgore, the chief technology officer and Morhaime’s heir apparent. The email didn’t give a reason, but employees immediately began to gossip. Kilgore presided over the most notorious group of sexist drinkers at the Irvine, California, headquarters, where sexism and drinking were rampant, current and former employees said.
Shortly afterward, they got a supposed explanation during a large staff meeting. Derek Ingalls, now head of the technology department, was asked why his former boss had left. Ingalls told a brief story that concluded with a strange piece of advice: “Don’t sleep with your assistant. But if you’re going to sleep with your assistant, don’t stop.”
The article goes on to discuss the history of Blizzard culture and how women have been treated in the company. It highlights how the first female employee was condescendingly described as having an "easy laugh" and "little sister-like demeanor" in a video celebrating the company's 10th anniversary. Later, female employees would be outnumbered four to one, causing many to feel isolated and powerless in the face of a sexist "frat bro" culture. It also mentions how Mike Morhaime's warm leadership style sometimes failed to protect women, as it could lead to giving harassment offenders the benefit of the doubt.
A major theme of the article is how Blizzard's widespread success and popularity led to high-ranking men behaving like rock stars. With legions of fans swarming around them, the arrogance and unchecked power only got worse, with female fans often being viewed and treated like groupies, especially at events like BlizzCon. While the past few weeks have shone a light on the poor working conditions endured by Blizzard employees, the unprofessional behavior shown towards female fans has been less-thoroughly documented, so including the fan dynamic in the Bloomberg piece is a notable discussion point--one which seemed to resonate with the community, especially past BlizzCon attendees.
Some male employees began to see women at the conventions not just as customers but as groupies. One woman who worked there recalled a conversation in which one of Blizzard’s top executives told a group of his staff that young women—both fans and colleagues—saw them as superstars, and why shouldn’t they benefit sexually from that?
For many, working at Blizzard is a dream job, and the article discusses how this has unfortunately led to employees being underpaid - a problem so widely known it's even called the 'Blizzard tax', and which is exacerbated for women at the company due to an even more pronounced salary gap.
In recent years, Activision has taken a more active role in Blizzard's operations, but the changes being made do not seem to have done much to improve working conditions, and they seem to be negatively affecting the games as well.
A byproduct of these changes was the release last year of Blizzard’s first bad game, Warcraft III: Reforged. It was the result of mismanagement and financial pressures from Activision, according to people who worked on the game. Developers on the project wrote in an internal postmortem reviewed by Bloomberg that they were suffering from “exhaustion, anxiety, depression and more,” mirroring some of the stories and complaints that followed in the lawsuit.
Activision Blizzard said it aims to preserve Blizzard’s “unique identity” while ensuring a safe and fair work environment. It recently awarded equity to every employee, the spokesman said.
However, a recent revision to the performance review system forces managers to give more frequent negative reviews, which will result in less generous bonuses and profit share for Blizzard employees, three people familiar with the change said. Several women said they fear this will give managers more opportunities to discriminate in conscious and unconscious ways—and that it will further empower the company’s supposed rock stars.
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