One summer day in 2018, employees of the video game maker Blizzard Entertainment opened their email to find a brusque message from the chief executive officer, Mike Morhaime. It said the company parted ways with Ben Kilgore, the chief technology officer and Morhaime’s heir apparent. The email didn’t give a reason, but employees immediately began to gossip. Kilgore presided over the most notorious group of sexist drinkers at the Irvine, California, headquarters, where sexism and drinking were rampant, current and former employees said.
Shortly afterward, they got a supposed explanation during a large staff meeting. Derek Ingalls, now head of the technology department, was asked why his former boss had left. Ingalls told a brief story that concluded with a strange piece of advice: “Don’t sleep with your assistant. But if you’re going to sleep with your assistant, don’t stop.”
Some male employees began to see women at the conventions not just as customers but as groupies. One woman who worked there recalled a conversation in which one of Blizzard’s top executives told a group of his staff that young women—both fans and colleagues—saw them as superstars, and why shouldn’t they benefit sexually from that?
A byproduct of these changes was the release last year of Blizzard’s first bad game, Warcraft III: Reforged. It was the result of mismanagement and financial pressures from Activision, according to people who worked on the game. Developers on the project wrote in an internal postmortem reviewed by Bloomberg that they were suffering from “exhaustion, anxiety, depression and more,” mirroring some of the stories and complaints that followed in the lawsuit.
Activision Blizzard said it aims to preserve Blizzard’s “unique identity” while ensuring a safe and fair work environment. It recently awarded equity to every employee, the spokesman said.
However, a recent revision to the performance review system forces managers to give more frequent negative reviews, which will result in less generous bonuses and profit share for Blizzard employees, three people familiar with the change said. Several women said they fear this will give managers more opportunities to discriminate in conscious and unconscious ways—and that it will further empower the company’s supposed rock stars.