Former Blizzard developer issues open letter calling for industry unionization
Former Blizzard developer Jeff Strain is calling for the game industry to unionize after allegations of sexual harassment and assault at the company.
Editor’s Note: A lawsuit has been filed against Activision Blizzard by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges the company has engaged in abuse, discrimination and retaliation against its female employees. Activision Blizzard has denied these allegations. Full details of the Activision Blizzard trial (content warning: rape, suicide, abuse, harassment) are updated as new information becomes available.
Content Disclaimer: The following article and links contain references to rape, suicide, verbal abuse, sexual assault, harassment, and in-game dismemberment.
An old Snow storm developer has spoken out in favor of the unionization of employees of video game developers. Discussions about gaming industry unions have been going on for some time now, with the conversation resuming following a lawsuit filed by a California state agency against Activision Blizzard last week. The lawsuit detailed the findings of a two-year investigation, including multiple testimonies of alleged sexual harassment, assault and discrimination within the publisher.
As a result of the allegations, World of warcraft gamers staged an in-game protest to demand better from Blizzard, and Ubisoft employees wrote an open letter supporting Activision workers who went on strike earlier this week. As acts of protest take place, many are calling on video game developers to unionize in order to better protect their staff from the kind of abuse Activision Blizzard has allegedly fostered.
Yesterday, IGN posted an open letter from Jeff Strain, a former senior Blizzard employee who later co-founded ArenaNet (developer of the Guild wars series) and Undead Labs (State of decomposition). In the letter, Strain said the current allegations against Activision Blizzard did not surprise him and that the first environmental signs alleged in the lawsuit were present even during his work at Blizzard in the late 1990s.
“In 1998, after a cataclysmic encounter with one of the Founders over our objections to dismembered and impaled female body parts in the Diablo beta, my wife and I began to consider leaving Blizzard. […] My time at Blizzard […] showed me how abusive cultures can spread and grow over time; how “hardcore gamers only” is a smokescreen for “brother culture”; how fostering a feeling of exception prevents people from expressing themselves because they should simply face it if they like the business and its games; and how passive leadership that turns a blind eye can ultimately be the most abusive thing of all. “
Entitled “It’s time“, Strain’s letter calls on employees in the video game industry to unionize, saying:”If this week doesn’t show us that our colleagues in industry […] need real support and basic protection i can’t imagine how much worse it will have to be. He added that he invites his own employees to unionize and encouraged other companies in the industry to do the same.
“I am an entrepreneur and a veteran of three successful independent studio start-ups. I am very familiar with the financial, legal, contractual and organizational aspects of game development. I also know that I have nothing to fear from the game. unionization, just like any company that compensates its employees fairly and equitably, provides quality health insurance, demonstrates respect and civility to women, POCs, LGBTQ + employees, and supports healthy and full lives . […] The giants of this industry have shown us this week that we cannot trust them to moderate and manage the wealth and power that players and fans have given them. “
Sexual harassment and discrimination within the video game industry are not the only factors driving the growing demand for unionization. Over the past few years, many reports have emerged from companies like CD Projekt Red encouraging employees to “crack”, pushing long working hours to release large-scale games as quickly as possible. While some recent games have garnered praise for being developed without resorting to these measures, this is probably still a widespread problem..
These issues have been pervasive in the industry for years, if not decades, leading many to believe that it is high time for game developers to form unions to protect themselves and their peers. Only time will tell if calls to action like Strain’s open letter will lead to any substantial change, either in Snow storm or in the gaming industry as a whole.
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