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Video game developers at Activision Blizzard say they'll walk out Wednesday

Employees at Activision Blizzard will hold a walkout Wednesday in protest of widespread harassment allegations across the company, a spokesperson on behalf of the group told Axios.

Why it matters: Walkouts are a drastic measure for developers in a largely non-unionized field, a testament to just how angry employees currently are.

  • The state of California filed a lawsuit last Tuesday over the "World of Warcraft" developer's allegedly sexist culture.
  • The suit was followed by an outpouring of current and former employees saying they’d been harassed or mistreated at the company.

Driving the news: The walkout will take place both virtually and in-person at Blizzard’s Irvine campus, with the virtual event running from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT and the in-person taking place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

  • The protesting workers say they “believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” according to a copy of a statement shared with Axios.

What’s happening: In public and internal messages, officials have called the suit “in many cases false,” though a company representative on Monday also told Kotaku that it takes “every allegation seriously” and “such conduct is abhorrent and will not be tolerated.”

  • Blizzard workers have been especially incensed over an internal message on Friday from Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Frances Townsend, who called the suit "distorted” and "untrue."
  • In an open letter to leadership on Monday calling the company’s response "abhorrent and insulting," workers demanded Townsend step down from the company’s women’s employee network.
  • As of Tuesday, signatures surpassed 2,600 current and former employees, a source told Axios.

What they’re saying: Every form of internal communication has been overtaken with talk of the lawsuit, according to two sources at the company who spoke to Axios anonymously.

  • One said that some Blizzard leaders have been vocal about supporting employees, but that top executives are still directly in "PR mode, crisis management, trying not to commit directly to things."
  • It’s "a lot of deer in headlights looks," they said.

Women across the company have been vocal in meetings this past week about allegations of assault, harassment and times when they felt disenfranchised and held back in their careers.

  • "That's something that we've never seen at Blizzard before. It's always been in the whisper network before now," the source said.
  • They say the issues are not a thing of the past: "It still makes me sad and mad — and of course I still know that these issues still continue despite the official response saying that they don’t," one employee told Axios. "It’s frustrating working in a place where you see so few women succeeding past mid level."

A group of roughly 300 employees across Activision Blizzard are spearheading the initiative, asking for several internal changes such as an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts.

  • "Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution," their statement reads.
  • Staff are asking Activision Blizzard to adopt new recruiting, hiring and promotion policies to improve representation across all employee levels. They are also asking for transparency around compensation and promotions, and an external audit of Activision Blizzard’s company’s reporting structure, HR department and executive team.
  • "It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues," the statement reads.

The big picture: Developers are learning to use labor tactics to fight for better working conditions and rights within their companies.

  • In 2019, more than 150 Riot Games employees staged a walkout — the first of its kind within the video game industry — to end forced arbitration, following a 2018 report uncovering widespread sexism and discrimination.
  • Blizzard employees are "following along people who have come before us, especially Riot, and what worked for them and what didn't," the source told Axios.

Asked about the possibility of unionization efforts, the employee told Axios that currently there is "no commitment to any sort of unionization right now."

  • "Those are not talks we're having," the source said. "We're really focused on trying to do good where we can for this specific issue. If we were to talk about unionization, it would be a much, much bigger issue and it would need its own space."

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