A California lawsuit earlier this year alleged sexual harassment, discrimination, and a pervasive “frat boy culture” at Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard. At least in one instance, that culture included an employee signing all of his work emails as “1-800-ALLCOCK.”
That detail comes from the latest episode of The Wall Street Journal podcast which elaborates on some of its recent bombshell investigative report outlining new instances of misconduct and coverups, including by CEO Bobby Kotick.
“There was one example where an Activision employee had for years just signed his email signature 1-800-ALLCOCK,” reporter Kirsten Grind said in a transcript of the podcast. “So if you were a woman, you would get that email and that was just the normal course, right? Just guys being guys joking about it and you just sort of felt like that was what happened at Activision.”
Activision reportedly didn’t take action regarding the email signature until it received a complaint about it just this past summer, at which point it fired the employee after a month-long investigation.
“Our Compliance team opened an investigation upon receiving a report related to use of this phone number, and terminated the employee after the investigation was concluded,” Activision Blizzard’s chief communications officer, Helaine Klasky, said in a statement to Kotaku.
The podcast episode also interviewed a former employee about her time at Sledgehammer Games, maker of the recently released Call of Duty: Vanguard. Ashley Mark, hired as a quality assurance analyst in 2016 during the production of Call of Duty: WWII, described the male-dominated workplace like this:
You’ve got people who want to...Basically are very nerdy, want to make a good game, and then you’ve got the gun-loving group because it’s Call of Duty so you’re going to attract people who love guns, and then you have got people who are really into fitness. There’s a lot of people who are into fitness at least at that time at Sledgehammer Games. So there were people who would go into groups and that you would go to the gym and they would just get pumped up. So it’s very masculine.
Mark recalled a 2017 studio anniversary party where one former Sledgehammer manager “put his arm around my female coworker almost like a choke hold” while hugging her and repeatedly saying her name. That former manager told The Wall Street Journal he didn’t remember the details of the evening in question because he was too drunk, but confirmed he was put on a two-week paid suspension before being moved to a different role.
Sledgehammer Games was also where one former female employee was reportedly raped twice, incidents that were not investigated until she sent a letter from her lawyer after she had already left the company. According to the new podcast episode, when she originally took her complaint to studio HR, a representative for the department tried to get her to downplay what had happened and reframe it in a more positive light.
“The Journal’s reporting on this point is inaccurate,” Klasky said in a statement to Kotaku. “We investigated immediately when the lawyer’s letter came to us in July 2018, starting that same day. The investigation found that, contrary to the lawyer’s claims, the employee had not told HR she had been raped. The company did not learn of any rape allegation until the lawyer’s letter arrived.”
Until recently, most of the attention has been on allegations about past misconduct and discrimination at Blizzard. But these latest reports reinforce parts of the original California lawsuit which cited booze-filled offices and work events, and negligent HR departments, as recipes for mistreatment across the entire Activision Blizzard business.
This week, the heads of both PlayStation and Xbox spoke out about the latest revelations. Nonprofit organization Girls Who Code cut ties with the company. And some shareholders joined over 2,000 current Activision Blizzard employees in calling for Kotick to resign.
“It’s pretty clear that the only forces that can create change at Activision are its customers (whose money is the ultimate corporate goal), its investors and the employees whose talent makes Activision’s games worth buying,” Paul Reiche, former head of Activision Blizzard’s Skylanders studio, told Axios today. “If the new stories I have read are true, I can’t see how Activision can continue its success without new leadership.”
Update: 11/20/21, 11:32 a.m. ET: Added a statement from Activision Blizzard.