Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard fires more than 20 employees

Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard fires more than 20 developers and supervisors – and 20 other staff face disciplinary action – over sexual harassment and ‘frat boy’ culture

  • In the suit, the gaming giant behind Call of Duty is accused of having a sexist ‘frat boy culture’ where female staff are ‘groped’ by male coworkers 
  • Female employees also allege they were subjected to ‘jokes about rape’ 
  • The accusations included photos showing the inside of an Activision Blizzard developer’s hotel room allegedly dubbed the ‘Cosby suite’ among staff 
  • The company’s chief compliance officer said ‘more than 20 individuals have exited and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action 

More than 20 employees of ‘Call of Duty’ maker Activision Blizzard have ‘exited’ the gaming giant, the company said in a staff email, following accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination against women.

In the suit, the gaming giant behind Call of Duty and Candy Crush is accused of having a sexist ‘frat boy culture’ where female staff are ‘groped’ by male coworkers and subjected to ‘jokes about rape’. 

The accusations included photos showing the inside of an Activision Blizzard developer’s hotel room allegedly dubbed the ‘Cosby suite’ among staff in a nod to previously convicted rapist Bill Cosby. 

In August, the California-based videogame maker had promised a review of its practices following employee walks out over management’s initial dismissal of a state lawsuit that described a ‘pervasive frat boy workplace culture’.

In an email sent to staff Tuesday, the company’s chief compliance officer Fran Townsend said ‘more than 20 individuals have exited Activision Blizzard and more than 20 individuals faced other types of disciplinary action’ over concerns reported both recently and a few years ago.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that more than 20 employees had been fired, including game developers and a few supervisors.

Activision Blizzard promised change with a management shakeup following the long-running allegations of following accusations of harassment and discrimination against women

Photos have surfaced showing the inside of an Activision Blizzard developer’s hotel room allegedly dubbed the ‘Cosby suite’. One image (above) purportedly shows a group of male developers reclining on a bed and posing with a framed photo of the disgraced comedian

Activision also said it would expand its compliance team as it fields an increasing number of complaints and aims ‘to build a more accountable workplace and culture’.

Reports could be filed anonymously, the company said in the staff email, adding it would ‘not hesitate to terminate or discipline’ anyone found violating its policies.

Activision’s latest shakeup comes amid growing complaints about the treatment of women in the gaming industry in recent years.

According to the ongoing lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, women make up only about 20 percent of Activision’s staff and ‘very few women ever reach top roles at the company’.

In addition to reviewing workplace conditions, Activision has pledged to examine its depiction of women in its popular games.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission launched a separate, federal investigation last month into whether the company had properly disclosed harassment and discrimination claims to investors.

That same month, Activision and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reached an agreement over settling claims, with the company to pay $18million into a compensation fund.

In July after the suit was filed, controversial photos were released, reportedly taken inside the booze-filled room of former World of Warcraft developer and senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi at the company’s BlizzCon event back in 2013.    

The emergence of the photos, obtained by Kotaku, cast new light on one of the most shocking allegations made in the suit.

The complaint alleges that ‘Afrasiabi was so known to engage in the harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the ‘Crosby Suite’ after alleged rapist Bill Crosby.’ 

Cosby’s last name is misspelled in the suit.    

Several photos posted on Afrasiabi’s now-deleted social media pages, and shared with Kotaku by a former developer at Blizzard, reference his room’s nickname.

A screenshot of a Facebook group chat, posted by Afrasiabi in November 2013 and obtained by Kotaku, reveals the title of the chat was: ‘BlizzCon Cosby Crew.’ 

As well as Afrasiabi, social media accounts appearing to belong to Blizzard lead game designer Cory Stockton, World of Warcraft level designer Jesse McCree, former Blizzard designer David Kosak and former Blizzard developer Greg Street are also in the chat.

Kosak writes: ‘I am gathering the hot chixx for the Coz.’

‘Bring em,’ replies Afrasiabi.

Kosak later adds: ‘You can’t marry ALL of them Alex.’

Afrasiabi disagrees, telling him: ‘I can, I’m Middle Eastern.’

McCree chimes in saying: ‘You misspelled f**k’, later telling Street to ‘come up to the cos’. 

Stockton commented on the Facebook post of the image, writing: ‘Possibly the greatest group chat in the history of mankind.’ 

Other photos from Afrasiabi’s hotel room purportedly show numerous different people posing with the Cosby photo, reported Kotaku.

A screenshot of a Facebook group chat posted by Afrasiabi in November 2013 reveals the title of the chat was: ‘BlizzCon Cosby Crew’

One of the men in the group chat – Greg Street – posted this statement on Twitter saying he was ’embarrassed’ about the name of the room and claiming he did not know about the allegations against Cosby at the time

In one of the images, a group of women are seen sitting on the bed with the portrait with one of the women appearing to have her hand on another woman’s breast, the outlet reported. 

Another photo shows the suite filled with alcohol, with the caption reading: ‘Cosby Suite in effect.’  

Afrasiabi, Stockton and McCree didn’t respond to Kotaku’s request for comment while Street and Kosak declined. 

Street has since posted a statement on Twitter saying the Cosby Suite was a ‘green room at BlizzCon that many of us at the time used to take a break and relax during the convention.’

He said he was ’embarrassed’ about the name of the room and claimed he did not know about the allegations against Cosby at the time.   

‘I am embarrassed at the nickname of the room, given all that we know now,’ he said.

‘At the time in 2013, it was nothing more to me than a silly reference to an old-flea market portrait.

‘I wasn’t even aware of Cosby’s reputation until after I left Blizzard and the allegations became more well-known, and I certainly would not have tweeted about the suite if I thought it was something terrible at the time.’

Former World of Warcraft developer and senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi (above) was referenced in a lawsuit brought against Activision Blizzard last week accusing him of abusing his position of power to sexually harass female staff

In the suit, the gaming giant behind Call of Duty and Candy Crush is accused of having a sexist ‘frat boy culture’ where female staff are ‘groped’ by male coworkers and subjected to ‘jokes about rape’

The ‘Cosby Suite’ was given as an example of Afrasiabi’s alleged behavior, with the suit describing him as ‘a harasser’ (above) who ‘was permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions’ because of his seniority

Afrasiabi’s behavior was allegedly known to the company’s executives – including Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack (above), the suit claims

Employees of the video game company Activision Blizzard hold a walkout Wednesday 

In a follow-up tweet, Street claimed the room was named after a rug in a hotel room at an event prior to Blizzcon ‘that looked like a sweater from the Cosby show.’ 

Street also said his ‘heart goes out to anyone at Blizzard who has experienced harassment or discrimination at the company’ and insisted he ‘never saw or experienced any of the harassment’ described in the suit.  

However two sources told Kotaku that the ‘boy’s club’ would gather around Cosby’s photo because of the allegations about him.  

‘It was such a boy’s club that creating something like the ‘Cosby Suite’ was seen as funny,’ one source said. 

Other sources claimed the name of the suite was a reference to Cosby’s iconic sweaters and the dated appearance of either the hotel room or a boardroom at the company’s main office. 

The photo of Afrasiabi’s hotel room shows minimal decor with blank white walls.  

Another former Blizzard staffer told Kotaku there was no ugly boardroom.  

Back in 2013, when the photos were taken, numerous allegations of rape and sexual assault had been made against Cosby by multiple women.

In Augst , it was announced that J. Allen Brack was leaving the company in a letter from president of parent firm Activision Blizzard President Daniel Alegre to employees.

Brack, among other members of the companies top brass, was accused of ignoring employees’ repeated complaints over discrimination and sexual harassment.

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