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Senior Blizzard alums express regret for ‘culture that fostered harassment, inequality’

Fans push back, saying Blizzard founder and top writer are responsible, too

Gamescom 2018
A cosplayer portraying a World of Warcraft demon hunter at Gamescom 2018.
Photo by Christophe Gateau/picture alliance via Getty Images

Blizzard Entertainment’s co-founder and a longtime writer who helped create the Warcraft universe, neither of whom work for the company today, gave statements this weekend expressing regret and contrition for a workplace culture that California authorities allege exposed employees to continuous gender-based discrimination and harassment.

Chris Metzen, until 2016 Blizzard’s vice president for story and franchise development, and Mike Morhaime, the publisher’s chief executive until 2018, are the most senior Blizzard officers, past or present, to comment on the lawsuit that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing brought last week against Activision Blizzard.

The company itself gave a lengthy statement on Thursday but has otherwise remained silent — including any official communication from its studios’ and game franchises’ social media accounts since the news broke.

On Saturday, Metzen wrote, “I offer you my very deepest apologies for the part I played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference.”

“The fact that so many women were mistreated and were not supported means we let them down,” Morhaime said the same day. “In addition, we did not succeed in making it feel safe for people to tell their truth.”

Morhaime is currently the founder and chief executive of Dreamhaven, a games publisher established in September 2020. In 2018 Metzen founded Warchief Gaming, and earlier this spring it raised $1.2 million in a Kickstarter campaign for a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition campaign setting.

Though many of Metzen and Morhaime’s social media followers communicated sympathy and support in response to the two statements, several other users pushed back, asking why Metzen and Morhaime weren’t more aware and proactive about Blizzard’s alleged discrimination.

The lawsuit, first reported on Thursday by Bloomberg Law, followed a two-year investigation by California authorities that alleged a “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” inside Activision Blizzard. Women at the company comprise about 20% of the workforce, the complaint says, and they were subjected to sexual innuendo and advances, jokes about rape, and office rituals in which male employees drank alcohol and prowled the workspace to “engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees.”

California DFEH also says women at Activision Blizzard missed promotions because of the possibility they might become pregnant and take maternity leave, were criticized for leaving work to get their children at daycare, and were even kicked out of rooms set aside for mothers to pump breast milk so that male colleagues could use the space for meetings.

Activision’s statement on Thursday hit back at state regulators, saying the lawsuit “includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Additionally, the company called the DFEH “reprehensible” for including in its complaint the circumstances of a female employee’s death by suicide, a matter Activision Blizzard said “has no bearing whatsoever on this case.”

“We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people,” the company said.

Internal emails, reported Friday morning, do not express the same confidence. “These allegations are deeply disturbing,” said Robert Kostich, Activision’s president. “There is zero tolerance for this type of behavior in our workplace or, frankly, in our society.”

“The allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling,” Blizzard president J. Allen Brack reportedly said in an email to employees. “[T]he behavior detailed in the allegations is completely unacceptable.”

Blizzard’s Brian Holinka, the lead combat systems designer for World of Warcraft, joined Warcraft narrative lead Steve Dnauser in expressing outrage and regret over the lawsuit and its allegations.

“I’m unhappy with the corporate response up to this point,” Holinka wrote on Twitter. “I don’t feel it represents me or what I believe in. Many of us have said this internally. It feels worth saying publicly.”

Jeff Hamilton, a senior systems designer at Blizzard, said this weekend that “almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out.”

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