Blizzard’s sexual harassment scandal continues as more devs speak out

Blizzard’s sexual harassment scandal continues as more developers speak out. Blizzard has been under a spotlight for the past week, after more women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment against former game director Michael Zhang. Now, more developers have come forward to share their own disturbing stories. The full list of developers who have spoken out so far include her fellow colleagues and friends, the developers who have worked on Starcraft, Warcraft, and Overwatch. They have all shared their stories publicly, after many years of living in fear.

Blizzard’s reputation for treating its employees well has taken another hit. The latest controversy surrounds the company’s policy on sexual harassment and an ongoing lawsuit by a former developer who was fired for harassment. Blizzard’s employees are often considered among the best in the industry, but this year the company has experienced several high profile departures.

Blizzard has lost a lot of ground in recent weeks, and it’s not just due to the scandal over its handling of a reported sexual harassment case involving a number of its employees. The game developer’s biggest game, Overwatch, is still suffering from long load times, despite the addition of a new hero in Patch 1.22, and the past week has seen it launch a number of patches in response to criticism over the lack of content the game has received.

You think you're so smart.

Following a two-year investigation, California filed a harsh discrimination and harassment lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard last week. We covered both the “leaked” memoranda from inside Blizzard and Activision as well as official comments from former Blizzard executives like Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen last week and over the weekend, which were then challenged by hundreds of Blizzard employees who questioned the sincerity of the apologies. More have come forward since our previous article yesterday morning.

Joy Fields, a former Blizzard developer, penned a lengthy piece detailing harassment at the studio by multiple male developers, including one incident in which she named the Blizzard developer – Jeff Donais – and another in which she describes Blizzard employees in the office sharing photos of her from her days as a model.

“I think Blizzard’s recruiting methods contributed to this culture. More than anything else, hires were made based on a ‘cultural fit,’ and as we can see, the culture is poisonous and rife with sexual harassment and assault. For my part, I’m not sure whether my move to CDev was solely based on merit, since I was often informed by people around me that I was recruited only because of my physical appearance and the potential for sex. Imagine being constantly told you’re a trophy hire, only to be fired when Blizzard decides it’s time to reduce the budget.”

Ben Brode, the former Hearthstone CEO who left Blizzard in 2018 (to start a new business, not to “run away” from toxicity, as he claims), always appeared to be one of the more decent guys over there. His previous experiences at Blizzard — particularly, as a top developer who reported harassers and got them fired – impacted his viewpoint, but he acknowledged his privilege and understood why not every woman could come forward, he said on Twitter.

“One incident from years ago that I often recall is when a coworker confided in me about sexual harassment she had encountered. I asked if I could report it to HR, but she said no since it was a violation of trust. She was terrified and refused to go through the procedure. I attempted to tell her that her silence might lead to others being victims. I wanted to betray confidence and just report this jerk. I, on the other hand, did not. I’m still not sure whether I made the correct decision. However, I am well aware of how brave you must be in sharing these tales. And, after years of contemplation, I’ve come to understand her as well as those who don’t. What a frightening prospect it is to go into the unknown and say something about individuals and businesses that so many people admire. We aren’t always nice to these individuals. However, there is strength in numbers. There’s a reason we never heard about Bill Cosby until 60 women came out at the same time after all these years. The same goes for Weinstein, Lasseter, and the #MeToo movement. So, big fuckups to you, the individuals that inspire us all by sharing their experiences. And to those who don’t: I see you and I’m aware of your baggage. I understand why you are unable to.”

Former Blizzard employee Steph Paddock/Shaver and current World of Warcraft Lead Cinematic Narrative Designer Terran Gregory have given two different stories about how Blizzard dealt with men and women in crisis situations, implying that sexism existed even within the company. When Paddock/Shaver had a mental health crisis, Blizzard essentially “cut [her] down and [left her] for dead” and “more or less pushed her to quit the business for good,” Terran Gregory was “nurtured.” Gregory agrees. “As far as I can tell, this occurrence had no impact on my performance evaluations or future chances – and maybe above all, this is the example that should be set,” he adds, adding that he was out of work for four weeks due to the incident. This is feasible, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do so; I want everyone to be treated with the same dignity.”

Over the weekend, World of Warcraft Senior Systems Designer Jeff Hamilton posted in support of his female coworkers, stating that “almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out,” which corresponds to the company’s lack of posting on its numerous social media accounts. Blizzard, on the other hand, continues to organize the World of Warcraft Classic Arena Tournament. Icy-Veins noticed that WoW Classic lead producer Holly Longdale appeared on Venruki’s stream of the tournament to announce that the WoW Classic phase 2 Overlords of Outland patch will reportedly hit the PTR this week, though we’ll have to wait and see if that happens and whether Blizzard will try to get back to business as usual.

Meanwhile, a number of former devs, like Cher Scarlett, who is leading the gathering of more witnesses for the case, have advised gamers not to abandon Blizzard’s games, cancel their subscriptions, or stop watching streams.

“Over the weekend, I got many DMs from guys in the community informing me that they had canceled their WoW subscriptions and asked what they could do to assist. Don’t give up on the games. Keep an eye on the streams. This is a culture that extends beyond the studios. It’s in the neighborhood. Stop putting up with it. In the gaming community, every woman I know has been sexually harassed or attacked. Every single one of them. We had to spend a lot of time determining whether guys were “rapey” in order to determine whether or not we should hang out with them at esports events. I’m not just talking about random guys here; I’m also talking about esports athletes and streamers. Is he simply ‘wanting to hang out’ and ‘giving me a place to stay,’ or is he expecting me to return to the room and have sex with him? What if I decline? Will he make me do it? What do you picture after you witness a guy standing up for a lady or just being NICE TO HER? ‘White knight’ is a term used to describe a person who ‘Simp,’ she says, ‘She’s not going to fuck you.’ This kind of behavior is so common that it occurs right in front of our eyes and no one intervenes.”

Hear me out: It isn’t only the players that benefit from the games.

Boycotting the game won’t help much if the issue involves a significant part of the player population (basically, the folks you’re leaving behind).

Who will speak out for the victims if you leave?

July 26, 2021 — Cher Scarlett (@cherthedev)

Only the leaked letters from Brack and Fran Townsend to employees and the aggressive, unsigned press release from last week have been heard from J. Allen Brack or Bobby Kotick.

Additional reading:


In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault scandal, many games companies are facing similar allegations, and Blizzard has been no exception. It would seem that a lot of the allegations are due to a culture of sexism and gender discrimination, and several female developers have come out to say that they have been harassed by Blizzard staff and developers.. Read more about blizzard lawsuit response and let us know what you think.

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Greg Baskerville
Greg Baskerville
Gaming Blogger & Musician. Playing games since the Amiga days in the 1980's, and a handy guitarist.

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