Sexual harassment is disturbingly common and deeply embedded in the video game industry - and elsewhere - where victims, mostly women, not only need to deal with unfair working conditions and unequal pay, but also offensive behavior and predatory advances. Activision-Blizzard is the latest company involved in a harassment controversy, and it's affecting the development of World of Warcraft.
In a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the company is being accused of turning a blind eye towards harassment and cultivating an unsafe working environment with 'fratboy culture'. The lawsuit is based on testimonials given by several former and current employees who witnessed or suffered sexual harassment while working at Activision-Blizzard.
Reactions to the lawsuit were mixed, to say the least. Employees, some company heads and those level headed fans who do not react to any condemnation of sexual harassment with angry, hateful bile expressed concern and disappointment, but not surprise. Meanwhile, other members of Activision-Blizzard management (named in the lawsuit as preparators of harassment, typically) have called it untrue, distorted and factually incorrect.
As fans and employees took to Twitter and other platforms, with some Activision-Blizzard developers protesting the company's official stance in real life and players protesting in-game, development itself has mostly been unofficially paused.
Activision’s response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they’re rendered unable to keep making a great game.
— Jeff Hamilton (@JeffAHamilton) July 25, 2021
Senior System Designer Jeff Hamilton also turned to Twitter to air his thoughts about the on-going controversy, revealing that "[...]almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now" while touching on the company response to the suit which made employees "[...]so mad and traumatized they’re rendered unable to keep making a great game".
Hamilton prefaced his take by stating that he personally had positive experiences working at Activision-Blizzard, but that it is "DAMNINGLY OBVIOUS that that experience has not been universal", closing the message saying that the situation "benefits nobody - not the players, not the developers, not the shareholders".
That last bit lost us - after decades of sexual harassment practically being institutionalized in the video game industry, these past few years finally saw some (though debatably successful) legal steps being made against it. Fighting against these crimes is more important than pushing out the next patch. Shareholders in particular should be raising their voices the most, though their silence is deafening.
The overall message is clear though - as seen on various social media platforms, most Activision-Blizzard employees are highly critical of the company's stance, outlined in Executive VP of Corporate Affairs Fran Townsend's internal e-mail sent out following the lawsuit being filed, and calling the testimonials out of context and more than a decade old - as if saying that the company not dealing with sexual harassment issues for over 10 years is somehow a good thing?
A two-year investigation preceded the lawsuit, not unlike the one recently conducted at Riot Games, with a key difference. After countless testimonials and exposés about the culture of harassment and abuse in Riot Games, the company itself investigated itself, and this investigation by the company revealed nothing wrong in the company. See the issue? In the case of Activision-Blizzard, the sexual harassment investigation was not handled by Activision-Blizzard.
Amid some developers choosing not to work and other being unable to work under these conditions, it is unclear how the lawsuit will affect the content pipeline. The Phase 2 release of PTR for The Burning Crusade Classic is the only outstanding release fans are waiting for, though several projects are running in the background and maintaining an MMO as huge as WoW definitely requires a lot of work. Blizzard already quietly delayed an Overwatch map reveal, as timing would be unfortunate.
That said, this issue is definitely worthy of taking priority while maintenance and patches take the backseat for a bit.