These last couple of weeks have been hard on Blizzard employees. More details on what’s been going on behind the scenes have been emerging each day since the lawsuit was filed.
In the US, the word “union” is often considered a dirty word. Companies hate the idea of employees joining unions. Some of the most recent cases include the likes of Amazon who have gone all out to discouraging employees to join a union. Through pressure and ca,paigning, Amazon managed to discourage employees from joining a union. In other words, employees eventually voted against their best interests.
Activision Blizzard has since employed the services of WilmerHale, the same legal firm used by Amazon to stop workers unionsing. Make of that what you will.
Former Blizzard employee Jeff Strain, who worked on Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 before forming ArenaNet and Undead Labs, is encouraging employees at developers to unionise.
A letter seen by IGN and sent to his employees at his new studio explains why he thinks it’s important.
The Activision Blizzard disclosures this week have left me disgusted and repulsed — but not at all surprised. I joined a very early stage Blizzard as a game programmer in 1996, when there were several dozen employees. I knew the three founders and senior leadership well, and hosted frequent dinners with them in my home. Over the next four years, I worked on the earliest versions of most of Blizzard’s iconic titles including StarCraft and Diablo, and I was briefly the team lead and lead programmer of World of Warcraft.
In 1998, after a cataclysmic meeting with one of the founders over our objections to dismembered and impaled female body parts in the beta version of Diablo, my wife and I began planning to leave Blizzard. Ultimately, I joined with a few like-minded colleagues and moved a thousand miles away from the Blizzard sphere of influence to start an independent studio.
My time at Blizzard left an indelible mark on my life and career that continues to this day. Most importantly, it showed me how abusive cultures can propagate and self-amplify over time; how “hardcore gamers only” is a smokescreen for “bro culture”; how fostering a sense of exceptionalism inhibits people from speaking up because they should just deal with it if they love the company and its games; and how passive leadership that turns a blind eye can ultimately be the most abusive thing of all.
He goes on to add why now is the time for change.
Unions were started in this country to protect workers from abusive, cruel, abhorrent, unacceptable and illegal treatment from companies. That’s their entire purpose. If this week does not show us that our industry colleagues — even the most entry-level QA tester — need true support and baseline protection, I can’t imagine how much worse it will have to get.
Jeff Strain is of course right. If companies have nothing to hide and treat their workers well, they have nothing to worry about.
A documentary now on Netflix called 9to5: The Story of a Movement is a must-watch to understand why it’s so important workers’ rights are protected. It highlights the struggle of women in the workplace through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It demonstrates how important joining a union can be to help fight for better pay and working conditions. Give it a watch if you can.