Employees at Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher Activision Blizzard made good on yesterday's threat to stage a walkout today, with around 200 workers protesting in front of Blizzard's main headquarters in Irvine, California.
The protest took place right outside Blizzard's campus, where employees who had just walked out of the office held up signs. “Unaccountable corporate bureaucrats are driving the best employees out of Activision Blizzard,” one sign said.
This moment was the latest escalation after a week of turmoil at the company, following a lawsuit by the state of California alleging a "frat boy" internal culture that routinely exploited and targeted women and people of color. The lawsuit has roiled the company's employees, and set off the latest industry-wide conversation about the conditions at game companies.
The night before the walkout, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick—the same CEO who recently pocketed a $155 million payout, and the same CEO who, in 2018, openly bragged about the company's "best in our history" financial results while laying off 800 employees—issued a statement calling the company's response to the lawsuit "tone deaf."
"I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days," said Kotick in the statement. "I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters—and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future."
Kotick announced it would hire the law firm WilmerHale to "conduct a review of our policies and procedures" and pointed employees towards a contact at WilmerHale to come forward with experiences "you believe violates our policies or in any way made you feel uncomfortable in the workplace." It also, vaguely, promised "employee support," "listening sessions," "personnel changes," a promise to have more diverse hiring candidates, and changes to "inappropriate" content in various games published by Activision Blizzard.
What Kotick did not promise, however, was to make good on many of the walkout's various and specific demands, including ending mandatory arbitration clauses in hiring contracts.
"While we are pleased to see that our collective voices—including an open letter with thousands of signatures from current employees—have convinced leadership to change the tone of their communications, this response fails to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns," reads a statement from the organizers behind the ongoing walkout.
Specifically, the organizers want employees to be part of picking the third-party who audits Activision Blizzard and "oversight in hiring and promotion policies." Their argument is that leaving those decisions to the company is what led to this tense moment in the first place.
"This is the beginning of an enduring movement in favor of better labor conditions for all employees, especially women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups," continued the statement.
Activision Blizzard, as a company, has otherwise been fairly quiet, amidst this turmoil. The official Twitter account for World of Warcraft did issue a statement supporting "the actions necessary to ensure we are providing an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment."