When labor organizer Emma Kinema saw a tweet pop up on her feed saying that California is suing Activision Blizzard for workplace harassment, she said she felt heartened.
To her recollection, it's the first time such a large state agency has targeted a big player in gaming to try to fix a toxic culture problem that has plagued the industry for years. But it wasn't surprising to Kinema. For over five years, she's been working with the Communications Workers of America to organize gaming workers and calls this type of discriminatory culture "pervasive."
"There will always be a thousand more stories than the ones we're seeing on Twitter now, in this case now, in the press now," she said. "It's so prevalent, this just broad culture of sexism and discrimination and racism."
"I don't think I've ever interacted with any organizing committee or group of workers who were interested in making change that this wasn't like in the top three issues they wanted to address," she added.
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Santa Monica-based company this week after a two-year investigation that found male workers and bosses tormented women and executives didn't seriously deal with complaints.
The lawsuit alleges women were subjected to "cube crawls" where male employees drink "copious" amounts of alcohol and crawl to various cubicles in the office and "often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees," including groping them.
For its part, Activision Blizzard released a statement in response accusing the agency of using distorted and false descriptions.
The CWA is behind the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, which is aimed at unionizing tech and gaming companies and helping workers push back on issues like poor workplace culture. The campaign has been piling up wins of late, including helping to form the Alphabet Workers Union, which Kinema said has won disputes on issues around pay discrimination at the Google parent company; unionizing location software company Mapbox and helping app development company Glitch ratify the first ever collective bargaining agreement in the U.S. tech industry.
Gaming specifically, however, has proven a tougher nut for CODE's unionization efforts to crack. Kinema said that is due in part to the industry's sometimes brutal working conditions that contribute to frequent employee turnover, which in turn makes sustained labor organizing difficult.
Only 20% of Activision employees are women, representative of a lopsided reality across the industry.
Kinema said the Activision Blizzard lawsuit is "a big step forward and very valuable" in getting people to pay attention to what has become a rampant issue in gaming.
"The thing I really want to see," she said, "is actual systemic change within workplaces," including practices like prioritizing diversity in hiring, retention and promotion and lower tolerance for overt racism and misogyny.
The maker of World of Warcraft and Diablo, Activision Blizzard fostered a pervasive "frat boy" culture where women employees were subjected to constant sexual harassment, lower pay and retaliation, according to a lawsuit filed this week by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The agency sued the game company on Tuesday after conducting a two-year investigation into the Santa Monica-based company's workplace culture that found male workers and bosses tormented women and executives didn't seriously deal with complaints.
In the office, women were subjected to "cube crawls" where male employees drink "copious" amounts of alcohol and crawl to various cubicles in the office and "often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees," including groping them, the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court stated.
The complaint said male employees "proudly" came into work hungover and played video games at the office, delegating their work to female employees. The behavior also included engaging in banter about their sexual encounters, talking openly about female bodies and joking about rape.
"Female employees almost universally confirmed that working for (Activision) was akin to working in a frat house, which invariably involved male employees drinking and subjecting female employees to sexual harassment with no repercussion," the complaint stated.
Women employees have to fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by both their male colleagues and supervisors. The lawsuit cited one example where a woman employee, who was subjected to harassment, took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor.
The top leadership of the 9,500-employee company is exclusively white males, the lawsuit states, and very few women ever reach top roles and those who do, earn less than their male counterparts.
Women make up 20% of the company's workforce.
Despite complaints made to the company's human resources department and executives, remedial measures weren't even taken, according to the complaint. The women who complained were retaliated against, including being passed over for work on projects, transferred to other units and selected for layoffs.
The state agency is seeking an injunction forcing compliance with workplace protections as well as unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay and lost wages and benefits for female employees.
In a statement, the company accused the agency of using distorted and false descriptions of Blizzard's past.
"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind," a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard said. "We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue."
The problem of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at tech companies is not new. The Communication Workers of America is behind an effort launched last year to unionize video game and tech companies for working conditions as well as ethics and culture.
In-game purchases enhance the gaming experience and create profit for game developers. But what if they were also an investment for gamers?
Los Angeles-based game technology studio Mythical Games is trying to make that happen by bringing NFTs into the gaming world. As blockchain technology and the gaming industry both see a surge in interest, their combination may have been inevitable.
Mythical, started three years ago with the explicit purpose of making blockchain a part of gaming, is one of several companies distributing NFTs through video games, along with Chain Games and B-Side Games.
Nicole Yang, the company's VP of marketing, said the company initially struggled to figure out how to even explain blockchain – the underlying technology that verifies crypto transactions – to consumers. Now, there's "an insane amount of energy and awareness" around the technology and NFTs.
On Wednesday, Mythical announced it raised a $75 million Series B round, bringing the total amount raised to $120 million. The round, led by WestCap, will be used to grow "Blankos Block Party" — the company's first game — as well as expand to more gaming platforms and develop future projects.
"Blankos Block Party" is an open-world party game where players can play mini games with friends and create their own levels. The Open Beta version of the game is available to download for PC.
Blankos are designed by Mythical Games in collaboration with artists and can be compared to collectible vinyl toys.
What separates Blankos from similar party games is that each playable character, called a Blanko, is a unique NFT owned by the player, with the potential to appreciate in value. Blankos are designed by Mythical Games in collaboration with artists and can be compared to collectible vinyl toys. Other items owned in the game, such as clothing, are also sold as NFTs. Current Blanko players collectively own more than 100,000 NFTs, and there is no limit to how many a single player can possess.
To make a profit, players can resell their Blankos within the company's "Mythical Marketplace," which recently went into alpha testing. Yang said said certain factors can contribute to the appreciation of a Blanko's value, including when it was created, the scarcity of the model and what the Blanko has done in the game. The NFTs are sold on the EOS.IO blockchain and use the Proof of Authority algorithm to validate each transaction.
Some, including influential blockchain site Cyptopedia, have raised concerns that integrating gaming with blockchain could cause game developers to focus more on the investment opportunity and less on quality of gameplay.
Yang said gameplay is their priority, and that players could come into the game with no intention of touching the blockchain and still have a fulfilling gaming experience.
"I think there's this intersection of people that are gamers that are going to come into it, which we've definitely seen," she added. "[And] we have people that are more on this game entrepreneurship side, who maybe are less engaged with the core gameplay of the product but very interested in the NFT aspect of it. For us, it's a welcome space."
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