On July 20 California filed a lawsuit against Call of Duty and World of Warcraft maker Activision Blizzard alleging widespread workplace issues over the years including sexual harassment and gender-based pay discrimination. A week after employees formed a worker group to push for better working conditions, management still hasn’t even acknowledged their demands, and now fans are trying to figure out how best to support developers in their ongoing struggle.
While Activision Blizzard employees performed a walkout on July 28 calling for things like more diverse hiring and pay transparency and for supporters to show solidarity by donating to various charities, players and content creators across various games were pushing additional messages. “Do not cross the virtual picket line!” read one widely circulated screenshot. It called on players to not log into any Activision Blizzard games for the duration of the walkout, something a number of high-profile streamers like Hearthstone’s David “Dogdog” Caero also pledged to do.
“The men streaming WoW and ignoring the walkout are not allies,” wrote Warcraft Twitch streamer Third Artifact on Twitter. “Remember them and where they decided to stand during this important moment.”
Others on social media called on players to give up the company’s games altogether. Some in favor called it a symbolic way to force Activision Blizzard to pay attention. Others voiced concern that a prolonged boycott might just as easily lead certain games to be shut down, potentially resulting in layoffs impacting the very employees this action is intended to support.
These debates continued this week in the wake of Activision Blizzard’s latest earnings call. Despite striking a much more contrite and conciliatory tone during the meeting, the company has yet to respond to calls for a worker group-led audit or the replacement of third-party investigator and sometimes union-busting law firm WilmerHale.
Though some have renewed calls to boycott all Activision Blizzard products, it remains far from clear whether that’s something any developers at the company, including the women most mistreated by it, even support a boycott. Kotaku reached out to a number of current and former Activision Blizzard developers for their thoughts on how fans can best try to bring about change at the company. Some didn’t respond. Others didn’t want their comments to draw attention away from the ABK Workers Alliance’s current list of demands.
“We are incredibly happy to see our community stepping up to support our cause,” a representative for the group told Kotaku. “All our voices are needed to make sure that meaningful change happens. We encourage our community to make themselves heard, and to continue fighting to end abuse in gaming. Our communities and workspaces should be welcoming spaces for women and other marginalized genders.”
Outside of outright boycotts, some fans and streamers have settled on simply trying to raise awareness of the ongoing labor struggle on social media and in-game. World of Warcraft content creator DragonsAfterDark is one of a few people who streamed Activision Blizzard’s earnings call under the Warcraft category on Twitch.
“Personally, I’ve chosen to remain subbed, but I also think boycotting is a valid response,” they told Kotaku over email. “A combination of both sides working together is what’s going to grab the leaderships’ and shareholders’ attention.” They mentioned concerns raised during the investor call over potential dips in monthly active users and big influencers leaving the community as a sign that players have gotten Activision Blizzard’s attention.
“However, we also can’t expect things to get better by everyone washing their hands of the company,” they said. “For me, the answer is to support the employees by staying, and keep the pressure on to try and make things better.”
Regardless of the debate over strategies, many Activision Blizzard players face a more fundamental question of whether they personally want to continue spending their time in game worlds now tarnished by the company’s reported track record of mistreatment and abuse.
“It is hard to keep playing with a clear conscience,” Xantia, a longtime Warcraft player and the fan from the now notorious 2010 BlizzCon panel, told Kotaku in a phone call. “I mean, I feel torn on both sides. On the one hand, there are still women who work for Blizzard and who are part of the World of Warcraft team and who do work that they are proud of. And you want to support that. But at the same time, to what degree can you support a company that just swept this kind of behavior under the rug to the point that it took a lawsuit from the state of California to call it out, and where it looks unlikely that the company will actually enact meaningful changes?”
Like a lot of players, Xantia said she’s stepped back from the game and is reevaluating what her relationship with it will be moving forward. Like the ABK Workers Alliance’s struggle to transform Activision Blizzard’s work culture, it’s a complex problem without easy solutions.
“In spite of all this, there are strong, inclusive [World of Warcraft] communities and there are women-led guilds,” she said. “Do you turn your back on something like that? If you leave the space, does that mean the dudebros—the ones making things toxic for women in the first place—win?”
Update - 5:58 p.m. ET, 8/5/21: When asked about Activision Blizzard’s response to current employee demands, a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku the following over email:
Activision Blizzard leadership is aware of the employee letters. Leadership continues to be committed to improving the culture and safety of the workplace, listening to employee feedback, and approaching changes holistically, which requires time. As is our practice, we will be communicating with employees about actions to be taken.