Activision’s logo was suspiciously absent from the Call of Duty: Vanguard reveal trailer, raising questions if it was due to the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.
At 0:28 in the reveal trailer, we see “Call of Duty Presents.” Odd phrasing being the franchise owner is Activision. Yet, at the end of the trailer, there is no trace of Activision’s logo. Only those of Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, and Beenox. It could also be argued there is a suspiciously large gap between the first two’s logos.
This may not seem a big deal at first; the legal text at the bottom in that section of the trail notes Activision, and it is mostly known Activision is the publisher of the franchise. However, Activision’s logo was more prominently displayed at the end of the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War reveal trailer.
It is entirely possible the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard (and its subsequent fallout) made putting Activision’s logo in the game trailer an issue (but not the legal information), or even objections from the developers.
When asked about “diversity issues” by Venture Beat‘s gaming news division (GamesBeat), Sledgehammer Games’ Studio Head Aaron Halon was asked how the studio was supporting developers. Halon emphasized they were listening to the team, “make the culture the best place to come work,” and not just “pay lip service.”
Halon also revealed that the studio had not lost any staff since the lawsuit, and had been focused on the studio’s culture since August 2019 via Kaleidoscope; an internal DE&I group (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). They ensure that the company’s values “are tangible and trackable rather than just words on a page.” A permanent DE&I manager is also a sign of ongoing investment into such schemes.
Chief Operating Officer Andy Wilson was asked if the company had been able to “move the needle on diversity”? Wilson stated that they have “significantly increased the proportion of women on the team.”
“Rather than just hiring for the sake of diversity,” Wilson explains “we have to make sure that we’re a safe space for people and a progressive studio from a policy point of view. All of those things wrap up together.”
As previously reported, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing concluded a two year investigation. Their findings lead to a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for “frat boy” style sexual harassment, which may have led to one woman who committed suicide on a company trip, and discrimination for women being paid less and promoted less frequently and after longer periods of time.
Activision Blizzard stated that while “there is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind,” they felt the Californian report “ includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” An internal email from Activision executive Frances Townsend described the allegations as “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
In response, almost 1,000 current and former Activision Blizzard employees signed an open letter condemning the response as “abhorrent and insulting.” It also called for official statements “that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.”
Staff led a walkout on July 28th; listing demands including ending mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, adopting policies to improve representation at all levels of the company, publishing pay data to show women are paid and promoted fairly, and hiring a third party to audit the company’s executive and HR staff.
Sources claimed staff would not be punished for the walkout, and had paid time off. Kotick later stated that the company’s initial response was “tone deaf.”
Along with bringing in a law firm to conduct an immediate review of Activision Blizzard policies and procedures; Kotick stated the company would investigate all the claims, creating safe spaces for Listening Sessions organized by third parties, an immediate evaluation of managers and leaders, compliance resources for diverse hiring, and removing NPCs from World of Warcraft inspired by those named in the allegations.
The staff stated they were dissatisfied with Kotick’s response to the lawsuit; stating it did not address ending forced arbitration, workers involved in the oversight of hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency, or employee selection of a third party to audit the company processes and HR.
Further, almost 500 former and current Ubisoft employees announced their support for Activision Blizzard staff in an open letter; calling for new industry-wide rules and processes. Jeff Strain, a former Blizzard Entertainment developer and founder of Undead Labs, recently called for unionization of the video games industry.
An “alliance” of Activision Blizzard staff have demanded WilmerHale not be the third party auditing the company. This is due to an alleged conflict of interest, the law firms alleged “history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action,” and Avakian specializing in “protecting the wealthy and powerful.”
Coca-Cola and State Farm announced they were reassessing their partnerships with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, pulling their promotions from upcoming events. They join T-Mobile who pulled support from the Call of Duty league shortly after the controversy broke.
Frances Townsend, an Activision Blizzard executive, recently deleted her Twitter account after backlash against her tweet promoting “the problem with whistleblowing.”