The Game Awards producer and host Geoff Keighley has stated that Activision Blizzard will not be part of the show’s 2021 ceremonies.
Speaking to The Washington Post on December 3rd, Keighly said he was considering how best to “navigate” the controversial company’s involvement with the upcoming ceremony, especially in light of Activision Blizzard president Rob Kostich’s seat on The Game Awards’ advisory board.
“We want to support employees and developers,” Keighley told the news outlet, adding that he supported those coming forward with their allegations, yet did not wish to diminish developers’ opportunities to have their games in the spotlight. “We have to think very carefully about how to proceed here.”
However, Keighley did confirm that Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 would not be shown at this year’s show.
24 hours later, Keighley further confirmed Activision Blizzard’s psuedo-absence, tweeting “Beyond its nominations, I can confirm that Activision|Blizzard will not be a part of this year’s #TheGameAwards.”
“#TheGameAwards is a time of celebration for this industry, the biggest form of entertainment in the world,” he continued. “There is no place for abuse, harassment or predatory practices in any company or any community.”
He added, “I also realize we have a big platform which can accelerate and inspire change. We are committed to that, but we all need to work together to build a better and a more inclusive environment so everyone feels safe to build the world’s best games. All of us are accountable to this standard. Incredible games — and the talented developers who build them — are who we want to celebrate.”
For those unfamiliar, earlier this year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) concluded a two year investigation into the company earlier which, in turn, led to the filing of a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the video game publisher.
The lawsuit alleges that female employees not only saw less pay and were promoted less often, but also had to endure a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” that saw heavy in-office drinking, regular harassment of women in the workplace, and their concerns mocked with the creation of the now infamous Cosby Suite.
A female Activision employee is also alleged to have committed suicide on a company trip after being sexually harassed by a supervisor and having previously endured male co-workers spreading pictures of her vagina at a company holiday party.
Activision Blizzard stated publicly that the report contained “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal Activision email by now-former executive Frances Townsend described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.” This was seemingly the final straw, as almost 1,000 staff led a walkout in July and made demands.
In response, CEO Bobby Kotick released a statement admitting the company’s initial response was “quite frankly, tone deaf.” He then promised that hiring managers would have “diverse candidate slates for all open positions,” and that references to developers accused of inappropriate behavior would be removed from Activision Blizzard games.
Kotick also stated a third-party law firm would review of their policies and procedures. Nonetheless, staff rejected the response as not addressing their concerns.
At the time, employee representatives called for an end to forced arbitration for all employees, worker participation in hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency, and employees choosing a third party HR company to audit Activision Blizzard. Employees also rejected the law firm, fearing they would be biased in favor of Activison Blizzard.
The situation has only grown more wild in the months since, with more lawsuits being filed against Activision Blizzard and the publisher even being accused of destroying relevant documents. They also made agreed to establish an $18 million victims fund in order to settle one lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The DFEH objected to the EEOC settlement for hindering their own case, as they considered signed waivers and sealed documents to be “effective destruction” of evidence. The EEOC struck back, claiming the DFEH had their own conflict of interest.
Two attorneys handing the DFEH case against Activision Blizzard had previously worked for the EEOC’s investigation into Activision Blizzard. The DFEH had hired new attorneys after being informed of this by the EEOC previously. Attorney Richard Hoeg tweeted that, if true, it “might even provide Activision with its own defense to the oroginal [sic] suit.”
The accusations also led Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack to step down, replaced by both Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal in a cooperative role. However, the latter was eventually revealed to have been sexually harassed while at Activision, was paid less than her male counterpart Ybarra, and wanted to quit. She ultimately would on November 2nd.
As pressure mounted from employees, the public, publishers, and developers, Kotick announced a new zero-tolerance harassment policy and diverse hiring goals for Activision Blizzard, the latter of which presents a five-year period to ensure that one-third of the company’s workforce be female or non-binary.
Kotick also reduced his own compensation – not just his salary – to its legal minimum. Under California law, this would be $62,500 a year, with no bonuses or equity. However, after Kotick did so, The Wall Street Journal published even more allegations of harassment made against Activision Blizzard, including some made against Kotick himself.
These included claims he knew about many incidents of abuse and failed to notify the board of directors or investors while defending some staff who had been accused and that he allegedly leaving a threatening voicemail to an assistant in 2006 saying he would have her killed, the latter of which was settled out of court, with Activision spokeswoman Helaine Klasky stating Kotick quickly apologized for the “obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail.”
Further, in 2007 Kotick was allegedly sued by a flight attendant who worked on his co-owned private jet after he allegedly fired her for complaining to the jet’s co-owner that one if its pilots had sexually harassed her. While Kotick denied the allegations and claimed he would not have even had the power to have the attendant fired, an arbitrator stated in sworn testimony that Kotick told the attendant and her attorneys “I’m going to destroy you.”
Following this latest report and motivated by the alleged hypocrisy by Kotick, staff organized a second walkout. They also called for Kotick to step down.
In spite of this, the board of directors released a joint statement in support of Kotick, vouching for him to remain in power to make Activision Blizzard “the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry.”
This would come if he fails to solve the “cultural problems” at Activision Blizzard “with speed.”
What do you make of Activision Blizzard’s limited presence at the The Game Awards 2021? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!