Bungie CEO Pete Parsons announced yesterday that the studio behind genre-defining franchises like Halo and Destiny would be getting rid of mandatory arbitration clauses in its developer contracts moving forward. The news comes as the anti-worker policies face renewed criticism across the games industry in light of a recent wave of allegations of sexual harassment and discriminaton at Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard.
“We will be eliminating the mandatory arbitration clause in all our employee agreements, given the growing concern that arbitration may not be the fairest way to resolve employment complaints,” Parsons wrote in a blog post alongside a list of other ways Bungie is attempting to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Some of those other steps include hiring a chief people officer and a director of diversity and inclusion, reviewing the recruitment and application process for bias, and adding a third-party anonymous reporting tool through which employees can voice concerns.
Mandatory arbitration clauses have been a special sticking point for many developers trying to improve the studios where they work. That’s because they require those who may have endured various forms of mistreatment to take those issues before a company-appointed arbitrator rather than potentially litigating them in court. In addition to denying people all the tools at their disposal to address injustices, the clauses can also act as silencing mechanisms for companies aiming to sweep stories of abuse under the rug.
Mandatory arbitration clauses were why over 150 employees at Riot Games walked out in 2019 in protest, eventually forcing the League of Legends maker to make them optional, though only for new hires. Existing employees have still been forced to take gender discrimiation complaints out of the court system and behind the closed doors of arbitration.
Now, in the wake of a July lawsuit by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard, there are once again calls for gaming companies to abandon the policies. A group of Activision Blizzard workers called ABetterABK wrote a letter to CEO Bobby Kotick and the rest of management in July demanding an end to mandatory arbitration clauses, stating, “Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.”
The company has so far refused to acknowledge that demand, or any of the group’s others, but was accused by ABetterABK and CODE-CWA of attempting to union-bust in a National Labor Review Board lawsuit filed earlier this month.
Though Bungie did not name Activision Blizzard in a July statement about workplace abuse, the studio did write that it believes “Women, POC, and underrepresented communities” when they come forward with “reports of abuse or harassment.”
Activision Blizzard recently negotiated an $18 million settlement with the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over a harassment and discrimination lawsuit, but investigations and lawsuits by a number of other groups are still pending.