While the community response to the recent Activision Blizzard harassment lawsuit filed by the state of California has been largely supportive, this incident also sadly serves as the latest reminder that fan entitlement is capable of hijacking far more meaningful conversations.
In case you missed it, the state of California recently filed a lawsuit against game publisher/developer Activision Blizzard following a two-year investigation into the company’s practices and policies. I highly recommend that you read the full investigation report or one of the many excellent breakdowns of that investigation that have since been published, but the very short explanation of this situation is that Activision Blizzard is being accused of fostering a work environment that is beyond horrifying. Since the initial findings of that investigation have been published, numerous current and former Activision Blizzard employees have stepped forward to support these claims and share their own, similar stories.
Recently, over 2,000 Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter directed to the company’s management which is intended to both share their support for their fellow employees as well as call out Activision Blizzard executives for their response (and, in some cases, lack of response) to this situation. The letter specifically names Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer Frances Townsend who recently sent an email in which she downplayed the validity of these investigations and stated that “we cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees.” The letter calls for Townsend to step down as Executive Sponsor of the ABK Employee Women’s Network.
This letter isn’t the only way that Activision Blizzard employees have recently responded to management and these investigations, though. A recent report suggests that the Overwatch team is delaying the release of future content in response to this situation, while another report notes that work on World of Warcraft has pretty much stopped at the moment for the same reason. The Hearthstone team also recently decided to delay their final card reveal stream for the game’s upcoming United in Stormwind expansion. When asked why the team made the decision to delay the reveal, Hearthstone‘s developer Dean “Iksar” Ayala stated that “having any celebration is a hard sell right now” and that “our focus has been on supporting each other and planning action for how we can make our work a better place for everyone.”
A recent report from Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier also reveals that Activision Blizzard employees have even organized a formal strike in response to this situation.
Again, it does seem that many fans understand the reasons behind these actions and support them just as they support the Activision Blizzard employees who are going through something incredibly difficult (and, in many cases, may have been for quite some time). However, a tragically vocal group of gamers who call themselves fans of Activision Blizzard games have also been registering their disappointment that Activision Blizzard employees have decided to delay updates for those games in response to this matter. In some cases, those “fans” have even begun to target members of the company on social media. We will not be amplifying those specific voices for hopefully obvious reasons, but Activision Blizzard employees are starting to respond to these recent reactions.
Many of those upset at Activision Blizzard for these delays tend to fall back on the same series of arguments. They say that they’re being punished for what happened at the company and that Activision Blizzard’s employees are being unprofessional by delaying this content as part of their response. Some just say that they do not care about all this internal “drama” and just want to play these games.
Many of you reading this undoubtedly already know that these objections are morally wrong, but since we seem to be talking about a group of gamers who are unable or unwilling to process basic empathy and understanding, let’s instead take a page out of their book for a moment and focus on the games.
For too long, the video game industry has enjoyed a veil of anonymity that allows them to easily hide the human cost of games. While “crunch” is the biggest example of this tragic industry standard, it has to be said that even some of the most prolific and successful video game creators in the history of the industry often do not get to enjoy the recognition afforded to creators in other mediums. Too often, individuals in the video game industry are only afforded an identity when something goes wrong.
As we’re seeing right now, one of the most consistent problems with that approach is that too many gamers don’t associate games with the people who make them. That obviously leads to the dehumanization of video game industry employees, but it also means that some fans fail to understand how working conditions such as those described in this Activision Blizzard investigation can directly lead to the botched launch of Warcraft 3 Reforged, World of Warcraft‘s recent struggles, Hearthstone‘s consistency issues, and the loss of notable employees who are not as easily replaceable as Blizzard sometimes seems to think that too many of their employees are. As has been the case since this investigation was published, though, Activision Blizzard’s own employees are describing the extent of this problem better than most.
That’s the thing I’ll never understand. There’s a level of ignorance piled atop this fundamentally inhuman argument that doesn’t even make sense if you’re looking at this from a purely selfish perspective.
The quality of some of Blizzard’s games over the last few years has been in decline, and many of those games’ fans have not hesitated to voice their frustrations about that decline. Now that the curtain has been pulled back and we see just what those employees have been having to deal with atop those often hostile fan reactions, this should, at the very least, be a moment to put the pieces together and understand that too many Activision Blizzard employees have been forced to work in conditions that make it nearly impossible for them to do their jobs effectively and still feel like human beings.
Instead, we have a group of gamers acting like neckbeard Veruca Salts by looking at this information and deciding to cry out “Don’t care how, we want it now.”
When we talk about fan entitlement, the conversation is often focused on reactions to shows like Masters of the Universe: Revelation or movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi where some fans feel like they’ve been creatively denied the storylines, characters, and moments they think they deserved. As we’re seeing in this instance, though, fan entitlement is rarely ever about people concerned about the quality of a product, no matter how much they say that’s what it’s about. It’s really about their inability to understand and emphasize with so many of the members of various creative industries and understand that there are humans at the heart of these products who need, if not your support, then your understanding, especially when it comes to these matters that keep them from just doing the jobs that these people claim they should be doing.
Fan entitlement isn’t about actual fans; it’s about entitlement.