The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard has revealed a carbuncle of toxic culture within the company and exposed it to the world.
In fact, it hasn’t just exposed it. The whole thing has encouraged many current and former employees to come forward and confirm the situation. The headlines just keep rolling in and every day or two some employee of note is fired for their involvement. The whole thing has been a disaster for the company, one of its own making. The state only sued after a two year investigation because the company clearly wasn’t serious about making any changes.
And, when the lawsuit hit, they doubled down on the line, claiming that these were all old issues and that everything was fine now… right up until it became clear to everybody that everything was not fine. Then it was suddenly expedient to reverse course and talk about change.
The fact that the company is now firing people who were implicated in the toxic behavior at least puts them moving in the right direction. Key members of the Diablo IV team were in the latest round who got the chop, which at least indicates some level of seriousness.
It would have been a lot easier if they had cooperated with the state before the lawsuit, but Bobby Kotick, the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit himself back in 2010, felt he could brazen it out. Now the company pays the price.
And with the state now committed, things will have to change at the company. I’ve worked for a few companies that have been sued for bad behavior. The state will make sure every employee gets the word, usually through some sort of mandatory training at regular intervals. Sometimes it takes. Sometimes management buys in on doing the right thing. And sometimes your CEO gets up and snarks about how they have to play nice now and respect everybody since they got sued when they fired somebody because they got a sex change operation. (A Texas company that no longer exists.)
Activision Blizzard might very well be a better place at some future point. But that is not likely to be enough. We didn’t think the company was this bad until the lawsuit hit, so how can we possibly tell if things change. Meanwhile those tales from the lawsuit will continue to dog the company. Something will need to visibly change, and when a reputation has been damage, a name change often seems the easiest plan. It nearly worked for ValueJet.
The thing is, while the lawsuit names Activision Blizzard in general, and includes Activision in some sections, the vast majority of the dirt seems to be on Blizzard specifically. They are getting all the headlines. Maybe I am just reading the wrong news sites, but I have yet to see anything about, say, the Call of Duty team at Infinity Ward making booze-fueled work day tours through the cubes to harass female employees or the like. The Activision name might be safe.
But the Blizzard name has to go.
The company name will be changed. Maybe it will be Activision. Maybe it will become Activision King. Hell, if they’re worried, the whole thing might become King., though that might be a little too tied to the patriarchy I suppose. But it is always easier to rebrand to a name you already own.
Blizzard will become just another studio under the new company. Its special standing gone. That special standing, which it has managed to hold onto since it was first acquired back in 1994, has been largely based on the success of WoW during the Activision era. Mike Morhaime got the CEO of Blizzard title because the game was bringing in a billion dollars a year. J. Allen Brack got to be President because, though WoW was no longer as big of a deal, it was still a consistent money maker.
Now though, WoW seems headed for a fall with the bad news while Activision has figured out how to make Call of Duty pay out big for more than one quarter a year. Blizzard is not so special anymore.
The name will have to go. There will be a studio re-org, at least on paper. I suspect that they might do a Daybreak and give each respective group their own studio name, at least for WoW, Diablo, and Overwatch. But maybe they will keep it all one group, just under a different name.
Anyway, that is my Friday prediction, that the Blizzard name will go away before all of this is over, and with it Blizzard’s special status within the company. At a minimum it gets dropped from the main company name.
Meanwhile, if I were Activision I might emphasize that their upcoming title, Diablo II Resurrected, was done by Vicarious Visions, which is in Albany, New York, far from the current scandal. Maybe get them on board for Diablo IV as well.