A repeated greeting at today's Activision Blizzard walkout--the second one in less than six months--was the phrase "well here we are again."
Employees based near the company's Irvine HQ trickled back into the intersection of Alton Parkway and Blizzard Way, numbering over 150 strong in a last-minute gathering that organizers say was an entirely grassroots effort.
Less time to prepare meant less signs and less supplies for Activision Blizzard employees, but the mood and energy was clear: everyone assembled was angry at Activision Blizzard leadership--and particularly CEO Bobby Kotick--for continuing to dodge accountability for theirs and their subordinate's actions.
Activision Blizzard employees assembled today after a damning Wall Street Journal report alleged that not only had Kotick allegedly participated in exploitative, abusive behavior himself, he'd reportedly covered for underlings like Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting.
And for the last few months, while Kotick and company alleged that the company is working to make much-needed change (and slamming lawsuits filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing), they apparently failed to pay Blizzard co-president Jen Oneal an equal salary as her colleague and former Blizzard co-head Mike Ybarra.
Oneal's plight seemed to be top of mind for organizers and employees rallying under the banner "A Better ABK." Organizers speaking to Game Developer expressed sympathy for what she'd been through, with one developer saying they were "heartbroken" to hear her story.
Jessica Gonzalez, senior test analyst at Blizzard and one of the organizers of today's walkout, said today's revelation about how Activision Blizzard treated Oneal spoke to the fundamental flaws in company leadership, and called it a "slap in the face. Even at that level, they couldn't make it equitable or fair for the both of them to co-lead Blizzard," she said.
"If it's not coming from the top-down, how's that going to work [for us]?," she asked rhetorically. "If you're not going to hold yourself accountable, your employees will hold you accountable for the things that you say and commit to doing."
Shortly after employees began their walkout, Activision Blizzard's board of directors issued a statement backing Kotick's leadership, also stating that it "remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry." Kotick is a member of the board.
A Better ABK's organizers slammed that statement, explaining that it and a video sent around to employees this morning featuring a defensive statement from Kotick felt like a "tactical approach" for this crisis. "It just seems like they're doing the bare minimum to get people off his back until the next thing happens."
One of Gonzalez's fellow coordinators (who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal) also broke down how much more the board stands to benefit from Kotick's leadership based on company stock issued to employees. They explained that each board member received 250,000 shares, 10 times more than the 10,000 shares the highest-level employees could receive (and far more than junior employees, some of whom received less than 100 shares).
"Of course they're going to support him," the organizer explained. "What we need now is the voices of our employees being heard in these conversations. I'm heartened by the work being done locally at Blizzard....I really do think that we're hearing messages of support from our direct leads, but it often comes at odds with what's coming out of Activision Blizzard itself."
The organizer pointed out yet that Activision Blizzard has not responded to the four demands made by employees in July. Forced arbitration has apparently been ended in a "very small" amount of cases, but not company-wide. No independent third-party investigator has been brought in to review Activision Blizzard's policies, and no pay transparency has been put forth.
Activision Blizzard has scrambled to make some changes ever since the California DFEH filed its lawsuit in July, firing at least 20 employees and promising better benefits for contract workers, but the sentiment in the walkout was that its actions have been more about a cover-up and less about fundamental change.
Gonzalez said that internally, there've been references to a "third party" involved in the HR process that's been going on for the last few months. Workers have presumed that this third party was WilmerHale, the union-busting law firm that was publicly announced to be part of the company's cleanup strategy.
But according to Gonzalez, when employees ask if WilmerHale is involved in HR meetings, they don't get a response. "It's very hard to trust. We have little trust in our leadership to lead at the moment," she said.
But Gonzalez and other employees walking out seemed optimistic and energized--if only because of how many of their coworkers sprang into action today to take part in a work stoppage. They explained to us that the first walkout took an incredible amount of work from organizers, but today's efforts was "completely grassroots."
The first walkout's leaders apparently weren't even the ones to call for today's action. "People were crying out for this walkout...people demanded it," organizers explained.
It seems clear that if Activision Blizzard leadership's strategy is to play for the stakeholders, they risk alienating the employees who make their multimillion dollar games possible.
That will be especially true if any more damning revelations claw their way to the surface.