Blizzard is at an impasse

As my mom used to say, you reap what you sow

No one likes coming to terms with the fact that many of our heroes are monsters, but hey, here we are. Turns out one of the most beloved game studios of all time — so beloved, in fact, that they have their own convention every year — is home to some bad people. If only the women working there had been trying to tell us this for years, maybe this all could have been avoided.

Now it’s not just the victims of these bad players’ actions who are speaking up, but almost the entirety of Blizzard’s staff, as well as heads of other huge game companies like PlayStation and Xbox. Unlike other studios’ allegations and lawsuits that could be more easily swept under the rug, the skeletons in Blizzard’s closet are on full display for the world to see, and it has me wondering whether it means things are actually going to change for once.

Blizzard has been a tentpole of the games industry for decades, but now, they’re at an impasse, and their next move will determine the gaming landscape for years to come. Right now the biggest call to action is the removal of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, which would really be the bare minimum at this point, but definitely a step in the right direction.

The Orc statue outside of Blizzard's campus in Irvine

This is the best chance Blizzard has at showing their company and the public that they actually care about making a change. I’m not a business-minded person in the slightest, so I don’t know the nuance of how any of this works, but the way I see it is that anything other than getting rid of Kotick would be the final nail in the coffin for Blizzard. Maybe it’s that they’ve had plenty of senior developers jumping ship, or that they’re scared of a potential takeover, but at this point, there is no excuse.

The way I see it, there are two options — either Activision Blizzard removes Kotick at the very least, and hopefully continues to evaluate how the company is run and take out anyone else who is causing harm, or they… do nothing, I guess? It’s hard to believe that this could actually be the case considering the outcry and it being a generally terrible situation that needs to be amended, but unfortunately we’ve been let down before.

It’s just that if Blizzard refuses to make significant changes, I think it’s over for them. Admitting that they’re wrong and doing everything they can to fix the company culture they’ve created is the only way forward. Because those senior staff have been leaving huge projects in droves, without any sort of substantial change, I can’t see any other veteran game devs worth their salt wanting to jump in to take their spots anytime soon. Without that experienced staff, their games will suffer, simple as that.

This won’t just be a matter of public opinion of Blizzard, but a crumbling of the projects that have made the company successful to begin with, as well as potentially successful in the future.

A crowd of gamers at BlizzCon

It’s interesting looking back at Riot after the exposé about their workplace mistreatment went public in the summer of 2018. At first, there was some apprehension about whether any action was really taken, but from what I can understand as of now in 2021, the company has made huge strides to prevent the locker-room-bro culture from continuing, building up their female developers, and diversifying their teams quite a bit. From what I’ve heard from friends that work there, it’s not perfect — but it’s a genuinely nice place to work where they feel supported and heard.

And just look at how Riot is doing now. They now have multiple franchises that are absolutely killing it with some of the most popular games in the world, and now they’ve successfully broken into other types of media as well, like television. Correlation does not mean causation, but part of me has to wonder whether they’ve been able to excel so much over the past few years because they placed a greater focus on their employees’ wellbeing.

I want this same future for Blizzard. Saying that I want every game employee to be happy and healthy and feeling fulfilled by the work they’re doing should not have to feel like something out of a fairytale, but here we are. They have a choice to make, and an easy one from where I’m standing, but it’s only a matter of time before we see what path they’ve chosen, for better or for worse.

Noelle Warner