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Report: World of Warcraft development effectively halted due to Activision-Blizzard lawsuit and plummeting morale

Wow Shadowlands Revendreth Dessication
Wow Shadowlands Revendreth Dessication (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

What you need to know

  • Activision-Blizzard makes games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch.
  • The state of California is suing Activision, alleging a sexist, "frat boy" culture that marginalizes women.
  • A senior Blizzard developer says that plumetting morale has all but ended development on World of Warcraft.

Last week, a bombshell lawsuit dropped on Activision-Blizzard, alleging gross misconduct directed at women employees, after a multi-year investigation. The lawsuit describes a "frat boy" culture by which female employees are subjected to harassment, unequal pay, and unequal opportunities, while perpetrators get shielded by upper management. Activision Blizzard denied the claims in a lawsuit, while talking about how Blizzard is apparently actually great. Multi-millionaire CEO Bobby Kotick has thus far been too much of a coward to put out a statement of its own, hiding behind subordinates instead.

Recently, a senior developer on World of Warcraft posted a series of tweets reacting to the lawsuit (via TheGamer), joining many other Blizzard employees in expressing their disgust with the reports. Additionally, he noted that development on World of Warcraft has effectively ceased due to the upheaval. "Activision's response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they're rendered unable to keep making a great game," Jeff Hamilton noted. "I find Activision's corporate response wholly unacceptable. I don't stand by it, any of it. It is evil to usurp a victim's story into a rhetorical bludgeon, and it is abhorrent to reply to these accusations with anything other than a well-thought-out plan to correct these abuses."

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In discussions off and on the record with both current and former Blizzard staff, all of them echoed Hamilton's sentiment to me that Activision's response was lacking. Compliance Officer Fran Townsend's statement heartlessly dismissed victims report as "out of context" or "old," while talking about how great her experience has been, from the gold-plated ivory towers of Activision's board room.

CEO Bobby Kotick is paid to the tune of $150 million in bonuses, and has thus far been too much of a coward to address the turmoil.

Activision Blizzard continues to boast massive profits on the back of its pay-to-win mobile division King and its tried-and-tested Call of Duty franchise. Blizzard has seen its monthly active players decrease by almost a third in recent years, however. Activision's tendrils continue to infect the studio, cutting corners and imposing strict deadlines, trying to make Blizzard into something it isn't. A mass exodus of players from World of Warcraft to FFXIV has also been in the news cycle recently, after players reject the slide in quality in the game at large.

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is paid to the tune of $150 million in bonuses, and has thus far been too much of a coward to address the turmoil taking place within his own company. If nothing else, the robotic responses from Activision corporate, coupled with unnecessary mass layoffs, speak to a culture where staff are considered expendable cogs in an unfeeling money-making machine. Everybody deserves to feel safe at work, and Kotick and his executive leadership minions are responsible for a mass dereliction of duty right now.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

12 Comments
  • I know Kotick isn’t mister popular.
    But how have we leaped to “guilty as charged”?
    Only the people involved will know the truth. False accusations do happen. As do cover ups. All to easy to join the bandwagon. Let’s get our popcorn out and watch it unravel in a slow motion car crash way. It seems many US tech firms are battling their own employees aka activists. I have a friend who works at a company where one demographic is using company time to work on fertility! How is that a company issue? Worlds going to hell in a hand basket.
  • Mob rule is the now the way. Immediate judgement and demanded execution.
  • who's execution have i demanded? sounds like you're the one with the mob mentality kiddo.
  • To be clear, reading the court filing, this isn't a few cases, almost all women at the company have faced some form of harassment or bias going back at least a decade and per several former Blizzard developers, back at least twenty years. Yes they are guilty. The question is how guilty. The charges will only contain what the state believes it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result any verdict is likely to only address a small fraction of what actually went on.
  • So a corporation responds to a lawsuit by saying -- prepare to be shocked -- the lawsuit lacks merit? Yawn. As for this article, I can't think of worse reporting than to blindly spew outrage and shock at a standard corporate response without any effort to investigate whether the lawsuit's allegations are meritorious. To dismiss as "heartless" the statement that the allegations are old and out of context -- without investigating whether they are, in fact, old and out of context - is just laziness masquerading as journalism.
  • This was a suit brought by a state agency after a multi year investigation. You think they're making stuff up?
  • @ytrewq lot of tears in your comment for a multi-billion dollar corp, they don't care about you bro. i have investigated them, as i noted in a previous article. i spoke to several blizzard employees who have substantiated at least the pay gaps portion (demonstrable with performance data), although they did say they weren't aware of harassment - that doesn't mean it didn't happen. a multi-year investigation into this stuff, with evidence enough to create a courtroom battle out of it? this isn't twitter banter kiddo. either way, kotick is responsible for dereliction of duty to even allow things to get this way. morale was low even before this. and remained unaddressed. i know you're just here to troll and stroke your own bias to make yourself feel like you're part of a cool internet club tho. so idk why im even bothering to reply.
  • Sounds like just about every work place I've worked at.... Imagine this being unique...
  • Women have been pointing out that this is the culture for a long time. Glad you acknowledge it. It's past time to fix it.
  • "a culture where staff are considered expendable cogs in an unfeeling money-making machine." Welcome to the world of publicly traded corporations.
    Activision Blizzard will "re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic", by hiring an outside PR firm (or two) to polish this **** until it falls off the front pages, and continue to rake in the money, much to the delight of the corporate executives and shareholders. Once profits start to really fall, the executives will "move to the next phase of their careers" and jump to another studio/publisher, their stock options leveraged, and their bank accounts bulging. The actual developers? Laid off, burnt out, and broken. But, be honest. You WILL purchase their next game if it looks good won't you? Yeah. You will. Developers and talent are a dime a dozen in this highly "incestuous" industry where everybody has worked everywhere and most know each other. 100 Hour weeks are common, and they know it. Burn-out is also common. It's a viscious cycle with no end in sight as more and more people come into the industry, and more technology makes it easier for upper management to replace "Talent" with warm bodies to do the drone work. If you want to see where this industry is going, look at the Movie Industry where employment has fallen 40% in the last 10 years due to automation, virtual sets, and outsourcing to low-cost countries. Big Publishers are already pushing their studios to "outsource" as much of development as possible to drive profits (just like every other industry.) This cycle will continue unfortunately as new tech like AI make inroads into the industry and replace "Talent" with machinery.
  • your prediction about the outside PR firm was right on the money, per the CEO's announcement today i do not plan on giving blizzard anymore of my money, no. it makes me feel queasy thinking how much ive spent on WoW and other blizzard games over the years, given what was going on behind the scenes. we aren't halting coverage of their games here, though, per discussions with blizzard staff, who want to see their work celebrated (as it deserves to be) while highlighting the reality of what's going on within activision blizzard. you're also right about AI and outsourcing. it's a pretty grim future in general.
  • A lot of devs I've worked with have this idea that their work on AI and automation is to their benefit. They do not seem to realize that coding is a fixed task and at a certain point they are automating themselves out of jobs.