Ongoing reports of toxicity and misconduct in the game industry have sparked conversations among game devs about the longstanding issue, and what their companies are doing to address it.
The Game Developers Conference asked developers to share their thoughts as part of the 10th annual State of the Game Industry Survey.
In July 2021, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard citing “numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.” Since then, various reports of systemic sexism, harassment, and other misconduct have surfaced about Activision Blizzard and other game companies—resulting in a larger conversation about toxicity and misconduct in the industry.
The response—or non-response—to toxicity in the wider game industry
At the time the State of the Game Industry survey was conducted, 38% of respondents said their companies reached out to them to start a conversation about how misconduct and toxicity are handled in the industry; 62% said their companies did nothing. This shows a growing number of workplaces in the industry have taken at least some initiative to root out toxicity, while also pointing out the industry has a way to go.
Note: This survey was conducted prior to the Wall Street Journal’s investigative report about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, Riot’s settlement, and Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
When asked about the response, some respondents said their companies held group discussions on misconduct or reminded employees how to report improper behavior. Other companies ignored the issue.
However, many respondents said their companies “don’t have those problems”—some because their studios were too small, they weren’t based in the US, their company had a “zero tolerance” policy, or it wasn’t something they’ve witnessed.
Vox Pop: How do you feel about your company’s response to recent events of misconduct and toxicity within the gaming industry?
“The studio did great. All levels of management addressed the situation. This behavior is not tolerated at the company.”
“Their initial response was poor but I think they have learned from that and are genuinely taking the issue seriously. I think we are seeing real change.”
“It was great, our leadership spoke up, made it very clear that we are always encouraged to reach out to anyone on the team about any concerns, and they also set extremely clear expectations that misconduct will not be tolerated. I feel safe at my current workplace, but I was sexually harassed at a previous workplace, so I know the industry has a whole has a lot of work to do.”
“No one is surprised by the misconduct. We’ve all seen it or experienced it in some form in our career. Our company spoke to working harder to do better. They’ve started creating classes and inviting speakers to help inform and educate people.”
“Pretty good but as a member of a privileged class I am not comfortable saying the work is done—just because I haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. That said, I think the company is making good faith efforts to continually address the matter.”
“This is a very North American focus right now. Studios in Thailand are not focused on these issues. At our company we take care to avoid these toxic conditions by creating an environment where people feel free to express their concerns. Employees are encouraged to speak to each other, their managers, and the co-founders if they have any issues. We have channels where people can easily discuss things in private. There have been a few cases where the actions of some of our employees towards other employees were out of line and we were able to resolve it internally. We also had a case where one of our employees was being sexually harassed by an employee from another business that we share an office space with. We reached out to that business and made sure they understood the actions of their employee were not acceptable and things were resolved.”
“Is tepid lipservice a thing?”
“Abhorrent responses, claiming it never happened or that the victims were exaggerating. Disgusted at my executive leadership.”
“It has been miserable; pathetic, recalcitrant lip-service to change. My volunteer work as part of a DEI group has been promoted by corporate executives—who have no idea what that work has been about—as evidence that harassment and discrimination do not happen at our massive company. I helped found a DEI group because harassment and discrimination happen not just at our company but in our industry. Our company’s response to events of misconduct and toxicity has shown me that our corporate leaders are unaware and incompetent or, at the very worst, protective of making sure the malice should continue to occur because they think it’s fine.”
"It's been woefully inadequate. My studio has had a lot of issues addressing this in the past, and they continue to be totally silent on it now."
"They bury it and pretend it isn't a problem and act like they are different. There continue to be people harassed and silenced. They are quietly forced to leave while the harassers are promoted and protected."
“Sorta half-baked. The official line is, ‘This doesn’t usually happen here, and our HR department really is fair about giving people justice.’ But I know several people in the studio who have tolerated more than they probably should have. I don’t have confidence in our studio leadership.”
“It has been entirely performative from what I have witnessed. I have personally been on the receiving end of misconduct, toxicity, and retaliation for speaking out against such things at my company, and I know several current and former coworkers who have experienced similar things. My repeated efforts to enact positive change at my company through the official channels have not resulted in anything tangible or noticeable at large.”
“I’ve had to force them to make internal statements. We were affected directly by the Blizzard misconduct and still we opted to say nothing. My faith in big companies to do the ‘right’ thing is non-existent.”
“I think that it is inappropriate for studio leaders to take a public stance on other studio’s situations and even more inappropriate to make public statements about any politicized or socioeconomic trends. Those are personal beliefs that should not be shared as representatives of companies.”
“They could have at least said something, even if they thought it didn’t apply to them. I don’t even know how I would raise a complaint if I needed to.”
These results are part of the 10th annual State of the Game Industry Survey, revealing trends in the industry ahead of GDC 2022, which will be held in-person and virtually at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention Center from March 21 to 25 and virtually March 21 to April 1.
The full survey, which includes more insight into the game development community’s thoughts on permanent remote work options, Steam Deck, and so much more, can be downloaded for free here.
GDC returns in-person to San Francisco, March 21-25—registration is open! For more information on GDC 2022, including our virtual options, be sure to visit our website and follow the #GDC22 hashtag on social media.