I have mentioned in the past that I occasionally have to remind myself that various game companies and studios are not, in fact, my friends. It isn’t that they like me or dislike me, it is that they are not people and are incapable of anything of the sort.
Yet I think that many gamers, myself included, struggle with this because of our emotional investment in the games we play. I have no problem understanding that the utility company doesn’t care about me… to say it only sees me as an account number probably oversells our relationship… but video game studios, whose decisions have such an impact on my leisure pursuits, the line is harder to draw.
This is all the more a problem because developers and community reps and studio heads are often out there interacting with the community, which helps personify the company. CCP is the most problematic for me because they, as a team, are out there in the community and they host live fan events, so I interact with the team online regularly and have met many of them, from Hilmar on down, in person.
Other studios get out there as well. If you’re deep into EQ or EQII you probably know who Holly Longdale was at Daybreak. If you’re into WoW you probably have opinions about Ion Hazzikostas and how he compares to, say, Greg Street. There are lots of names out there from various studios that personify the companies and the games.
In the end though, those are individuals. They may represent the company to you in some way, but they are not the company. The company is just a name, an idea, a construct of our imagination, a consensual illusion that we all share that binds a select group of people together, and no amount of vision statements or employee handbooks can make it feel for you in any way.
Saying you hate Activision is like saying you hate the color blue if you think too hard about it.
And yet… and yet… even though they are not people and cannot care, a corporation is made up of people, dozens, hundreds, thousands of people, each with their own life, story, likes, fears, motivations, and emotions. To paraphrase a famous movie quote, “Corporations are people!”
As a collection of people, corporations tend to develop a culture. I’ve worked at companies with a strong central culture and at companies where every group or team or office has their own distinct flavor. And culture, once it sets in, can be as difficult as crabgrass to be rid of.
Culture tends to be set by the leadership of the group, and once the group buys in it tends to be self-reinforcing. Changing it requires constant affirmative effort. The CEO or some VP saying they want to change the culture of a company is an exercise in futility. Unless there are policies and rule back it up, and unless those policies and rules are enforced as expected, any statement about changing a company’s culture is just window dressing. The CEO may aspire to it, but without effort it is nothing more than that.
Which finally, 500 words into this ramble, brings me around to Blizzard.
Lots of problems there, mostly culture related. If the CEO and senior management say it is okay to harass and discriminate, if they visibly engage in that sort of behavior, that sets the tone for the company, the defines what is acceptable, no matter what HR’s employee handbook says. HR, in the end, reports to senior management and they either get on board with the culture, as they did at Blizzard, or they get the axe next time a record setting financial report leads to layoffs.
Eventually the State of California showed up due to employee complaints about the culture. But the state is interested in the corporate entity known as Blizzard. That is who they will sanction, unless an employee files criminal charges against an individual. Otherwise they will just make the company pay, and the company isn’t a person, can’t care, doesn’t set or define culture. Likely the state will also require all employees to take some sort of mandatory training about how to behave in the work place. But that sort of training has been mandatory in California for more than 20 years for anybody in a supervisory role in a company over a specific size. I know, I had to take that training when I was in management. You can see how well it worked at Blizzard. If the ideas within that sort of training aren’t part of the culture, the training won’t stick.
Blizzard has stated that they are going to fix the culture. They have, admittedly, fired some people. Many were fired way too late, but at least they were let go, from J. Allen Brack on down.
Unfortunately, the line seems to be drawn somewhere below executive management.
Bobby Kotick has vowed to fix the company, but he is clearly part of the problem. He has known about the allegations, helped in covering them up, and has been problematic on his own.
In theory, when you’re the boss, everything is supposed to be your fault. In practice, at Blizzard… and in a lot of other companies… leadership doesn’t confer responsibility, it shields you from responsibility. This all happened on Bobby’s watch with Bobby’s full knowledge.
Blizzard is a large company, and part of an even larger organization. There are without a doubt many good people working there. But so long as the company has Bobby Kotick as its head the company won’t change. Making the executive suite immune from any culture change, when culture flows from leadership and the examples it sets, is doomed to fail.