Employees at the gaming giant Activision Blizzard staged a walkout on Wednesday, capping off a week of escalating tensions over how executives have handled accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment at the 10,000-person company.
Outside Activision Blizzard’s office in Irvine, California, Wednesday morning, employees held signs with messages such as “Believe Women,” “Commit to Equality,” “nerf male privilege” and “Fight bad guys in game / Fight bad guys IRL.” Cars drove by honking their horns. Online, the hashtag #ActiBlizzWalkout was trending as fans of titles like World of Warcraft and Overwatch expressed overwhelming support, including pledges to boycott games for the day in solidarity.
An organizer said about 500 people attended the event. An unknown number of other employees participated in the work stoppage remotely.
“We love our jobs, but our jobs don’t love us back,” one Activision employee told WIRED ahead of the walkout. “And that hurts. So we’re trying to change that.”
Today’s walkout was spurred, in part, by Activision Blizzard leadership’s reaction to an explosive lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week. The suit alleges rampant workplace inequality, from unequal pay for similar work to a leadership culture that permitted sexual harassment and even retaliated against women who came forward.
In response, Activision Blizzard released a statement saying that the company values diversity but also criticizing the DFEH’s two-year investigation as “irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.” Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, Fran Townsend, a former security adviser to George W. Bush, struck the same tone. In a letter she sent to staff last week, obtained by Axios, she described the suit as “truly meritless and irresponsible” and allegations within it as “factually incorrect” or “old.” She also said she is “proud” to be part of a company that takes a “hard-line approach to inappropriate or hostile work environments.” Company president J. Allen Brack, who is named in the suit, called the allegations “extremely troubling” in another internal email obtained by Bloomberg.
Employees—especially those with personal experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination at the company—chafed hearing what they felt were unempathetic, even dismissive responses. On Monday, employees across Activision Blizzard decried leadership’s statements in an open letter, calling them “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.” The letter noted that employees had lost faith that “leaders will place employee safety over their own interests” and asked Townsend to step down in her role as the executive sponsor of the ABK Women’s Network. By Tuesday evening, the letter had over 3,200 signatures from current and former employees.
“The lawsuit brought to light sentiments of isolation from individuals who, for the longest time, felt like they were alone or that retaliation might occur,” said the Activision employee and representative of the walkout movement, who is anonymous for fear of repercussions. “I think it’s giving a voice to the voiceless.” To support those individuals, employees across Blizzard, Activision, and King—all under the Activision Blizzard umbrella—began organizing.
“The movement has been companywide, a collaborative effort among hundreds and hundreds of people,” a Blizzard employee and walkout movement representative tells WIRED. The employee adds that there is no current conversation about unionizing. The organizers announced the walkout on Tuesday. They also released a statement of intent for the action, as well as several demands including sharing data on employees’ compensation to ensure fair pay, recruiting policies that better promote diversity, and bringing on a third-party, employee-chosen task force to vet human resources and executive staff.