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Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

October 20, 2022

5 Min Read
A sign from an Activision Blizzard protest.

Activision Blizzard's labor dispute with QA workers at Blizzard Albany took a really weird turn this week. After the National Labor Relations Board gave the go-ahead for Game Workers Alliance Albany to hold a unionization vote (votes will be formally counted next month), newly-hired Activision Blizzard executive vice president of corporate affairs and chief communications officer
(and former board member) Lulu Cheng Meservey took to a read-only Slack channel to address Blizzard Albany.

Images of Meservey's message would make their way to social media. She would follow them with a series of social media posts that seem misguided at best and antagonistic at worst.

Nothing she wrote will surprise readers who've followed Activision Blizzard's response to unionization efforts at the company. Meservey wrote that while Activision Blizzard respects the NLRB process, it has the view that "people who work closely together should be able to make decisions like that collectively," and that "a handful of employees" should not decide the future of Albany-area game developers working on the Diablo series.

Lulu Cheng Meservey's message to Activision Blizzard employees softly condemning efforts to unionize at Blizzard Albany.

"We think a direct dialogue between company and employees is the most productive route," Meservey said. It's the same argument the company has given to press in response to continued labor action at different branches of Activision Blizzard, and it seems so uniform across corporate America that you can hear it repeated by executives at Chipotle and Starbucks.

Given how we've heard these comments before by Activision Blizzard leadership, I personally didn't find the message that outrageous. But Meservey's conduct afterward caught me by surprise.

In response to a tweet from journalist Matt Binder, Meservey wrote the following: "I’m curious what makes me right wing? Or is it not meant to be literal, but just an insult for defending the company’s position that employees should consider reasons they might want to stay independent instead of becoming union members?"

When pressed on this response by Binder, she replied: "Which part is right wing? Genuinely curious. Or do you mean that left wing is associated with unions, and so anything questions unions is therefore right wing?"

Then in response to another Twitter user commenting that Meservey worked for a 50-billion dollar company, Meservey wrote this: "We're closer to 60 billion dollars."

...what is going on here?

Activision Blizzard execs seem to like being combative

Debating whether Meservey's words and actions are "right-wing" is a useless exercise. It is true that a person can describe themselves as liberal or centrist and still be opposed to unions. Ideological purity tests are a waste of time, actions speak louder than beliefs, and individual politics can be all over the map.

The real question is: why is an Activision Blizzard executive picking a Twitter fight in the midst of a tense labor dispute?

I obviously don't expect that Activision Blizzard has any control over Meservey's personal Twitter account. I do expect that corporate leaders navigating a moment of crisis should recognize the impact of their words and how that might anger or intimidate employees.

Meservey's public tweets do not give an impression of such self-awareness.

Across social media, we've seen former Blizzard developers (non-Blizzard colleagues) express anxiety or frustration over Meservey's words. Jokes about the catchphrase of former Meta exec Sheryl Sandberg—"Lean In"—are bouncing around the community, and the phrase "gaslight gatekeep girlboss" (a snarky parody of corporate leaders who preach feminism but practice ruthlessness) has crossed our feeds as well. 

(Not for nothing, Sandberg herself has been linked to Activision Blizzard's mess thanks to her own scandals. What a world.)

Meservey joins Activision Blizzard chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao in being another corporate executive going on the offensive against organizing game developers. Where Bulatao warned employees to "consider the consequences," Meservey has chosen to pick fights on Twitter—fights she was never obligated to join in the first place. (Bulatao was also allegedly described as a "bully" during his time at the US State Department.)

To navigate a labor dispute like the one Activision Blizzard is facing, company leaders should be doing their best to take responsibility and assume leadership. Expressing empathy for the plight of their workers would go a lot further than snarky tweets. 

It's a lot harder to believe someone has concern for the fact that you're living paycheck to paycheck if they're jumping online to correct people about the market value of their employer.

Maybe this is what Activision Blizzard wants

Is this conduct what Meservey's bosses are looking for in executive hires? The former Substack exec made waves earlier this year for writing "If you’re a Twitter employee who’s considering resigning because you’re worried about Elon Musk pushing for less regulated speech…please do not come work here" earlier this year. Was that combativeness a trait that CEO Bobby Kotick and company were looking for?

You could even compare Meservey's tweets to the public figure she praised back at Substack: Elon Musk. Musk not only shoots off transphobic tweets and texts about bringing right-wing figures back onto Twitter, but he gets into it with his critics. 

All of this would be so much easier to write off if not for the fact that Activision Blizzard purportedly hired Meservey to create a culture of "creativity and excellence." How on Earth does this conduct foster such a culture? How can anyone feel inspired creatively if this is who they answer to? How can one achieve excellence if they don't feel they have the right to advocate for themselves and their coworkers?

If this is who Activision Blizzard is sending to have a "direct relationship" with developers...no wonder they want to head to the bargaining table.

We have reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment on Meservey's statements and will update this story when it responds.

Update: An Activision spokesperson provided the following statement in response to our request for comment, saying it was regarding "commentary about unions."

"Both the union and the company are allowed to share their perspectives on the pros and cons of unionization. We deeply respect the right of every eligible employee to decide whether to join a union and have their vote counted, which is why we have consistently believed that a small minority of employees shouldn’t get to choose on behalf of all their colleagues."

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About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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