News from Activision Blizzard HQ

A streak of news transpired yesterday, and I’d say it’s the hottest topic in my picture of the world and the news feed right now. You can’t deny that whatever actions are taken, whatever opinion you may have on the matter, and whomever you support, the whole issue has an objectively immense popcorn value.

First and foremost, JAB was dismissed both from the Blizzard president chair and from the company in whole. It’s not anything unexpected, as leadership was bound to take some responsibility for blindness and/or dismissive attitude of the employee concerns.

I’m not pro or cons JAB, as I’m not deeply involved in his career achievements. He seemed like a nice guy from what I saw in online Blizzcons, but at the same time he didn’t strike me as a passionate, a visionary required to lead the creative process and company as a whole – a lack of inner fire if you will.

His replacement is not one, but two leaders – a male and a female. It’s a Solomon’s solution to an extent, although Blizzard would be trashed in any case in given circumstances. If they picked a male only, what about inclusiveness, replacing a male with a male? If they picked a female only – well, they’re doing it just to put a female in a leader position. If they do both, like now – well, obviously it’s because they needed to pick a female for a leader, but can’t let her do this on her own and require a male support. Do you see how people’s minds work?

Anyhoo, both Jen O’Neal and Mike Ybarra are here for us, and we’ll have to deal with it.

Both have certain achievements and experience in Blizzard development leadership and outside of it. Both are relative newbies in the company – which I think was one of the arguments to pick them, as they’re not involved in the rotten and compromised Blizzard “good old” developers group that have been there for ages, and which are questioned now about how blind you have to be for decades about the matters in question.

How and where they lead the company, we’ll have to see yet. My only wish is that they were passionate about games, as frankly JAB looked like he was very tired of his job, burned out, and for some reason did not quit like Morhaime or Metzen which pursued new endeavors just for the change of scenery and rekindling.

Second, the head of HR was also sacked. Another expected move, welcomed by both employees and the community. HR department ultimately failed to do their job, that’s out of question. Gaslighting, dissuading employees and attempts to sweep their complaints under the carpet is not the behaviour I would expect if I experienced what certain employees did in their workplace.

They wanted solid proof – well, I’d like to see them receive similar attitude from the police if they come to complain about robbing in the street, breaking and entering or harassment in their own lives. You got a serious complaint – well, take it seriously, investigate, talk to witnesses and other employees – do your job! And even if you don’t believe one person, two is a bell of doom, and three is already an apocalypse. Just – why are you here if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do?

These personnel decisions are expected, yet few. Of course both employees and community need publicity about actual abusers, proofs of what they’ve done and purging them from Blizzard as well. I wonder if they will do this before court, or as a result of hearings, but no one would agree if they stayed in the company. Until they’re gone, the company cannot hope to secure the healthy atmosphere. So we’re waiting.

Finally, Blizzard employees have worked out a very rational and sensible list of four demands to the management, as well as implementing a course of actions on their own – including channels of support and communication, independent from company business processes. They also rejected WilmerHale picked by Activision as a third party to deal with the internal issues. WilmerHale has a really bad reputation of busting unions and supporting the big shots instead of workers. Why Activision management picked them, is very clear – any attempt at unionizing is a red rag for the bull. Yet it is also very clear that it’s not the time and place for this choice. How could they be that stupid?

Long story short, we’re in a movie plot now – decent good common employees vs evil corp management, a classic scenario with classic villain-hero archetypes, and no wonder where the sympathies lie. Moreover, the said sympathies are more than justified in the current situation.

Activision has no choice but to listen to the employees. They are what makes the games and profits tick, and if fired or quit, the company is done for. Not only I’d like to see them try and find the replacements for the jobs, but also who would like to work there after this sort of events?

So far everyone behaves as expected, and I hope the good guys win. It’s a plot worth a movie – some might say it’s even better than games’ lore :) Popcorn out, let’s see it go.

3 thoughts on “News from Activision Blizzard HQ

  1. All honestly? I am not optimistic about them recovering from this. I’m sure the majority of those working there now are keeping their heads down and doing their jobs so they will get their next paycheck and continue getting their health benefits. I would say there are a good percentage that are updating resumes and quietly searching for new jobs. It’s not a good situation, and for all the Kotick has to go calls from people, he’s Activision, not Blizzard. He has made the main company a lot of money by running it as a corporation. He seems to me to be more of a scorched earth CEO, and I’m sure we will be seeing a lot of upper level team leaders and management being fired, or asked to resign. Once those left find themselves without experienced team leads? And positions are filled by new people from outside Blizzard, probably more Activision folks, it will get be a shell of what it was.

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    • The most important people who define the game are storytellers which have to be romantic people, and game system designers. I don’t see (yet) any changes in lore department so far – the lore might be shaky in storytelling, but it can’t be denied it’s produced with love, passion and care. As for the tech part, I’ve seen a tweet from Ybarra where he boasted all mythic dungeons done with 20 keystones, so at least he plays the game, and does it well, so he’s interested in its well-being. Ion’s not leaving yet too, and raids are something that was never, ever reprimanded in WoW.

      The only thing that worries Kotick are MAU and income, and as long as the team provides great content and lure in players, he would not interfere.

      It’s cruel to say that, but minor jobs are replaceable without a big impact. How many minor coders and artists have come and gone that we didn’t even know there names or even detected there presence? And there are talented people everywhere.

      Solving the whole thing is yet possible, and if we get a healthier company as a result, we would only win from the healthier creative process. But it’s a do or die situation, true. Everything now depends on Activision management, as employees are naturally pissed off, and the only thing to save the boat is meeting all their demands without negotiations. Otherwise, Blizz is a dead meat.

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      • I don’t think Kotick will give in to all the demands. Certainly his team may offer a compromise alternative to some, but I’m certain things like the arbitration aren’t going anywhere.

        What we may see for future development is removal of things like the poop quests as being childish frat boy behavior. Those responsible for quest design may second guess the wording of every quest to make sure it is not offensive in any way. I would say 100% that any presentations at conventions will be fully vetted and reviewed before anyone steps on stage. The legal department is going to be calling the shots for the time being. The company rules will be updated, and all employee’s will need to agree to the terms, or find work elsewhere. It’s bad enough here now that companies are being encouraged to tell employees to get a Covid shot, or go find another job. It’s not a good time for anyone that thinks they can make a stand against a big company.

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