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Internal Activision Blizzard petition rebukes “abhorrent, insulting” leadership

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In the wake of a sexual harassment and pay-disparity lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard, an internal petition has begun circulating at the gaming company. Its text, as independently verified by multiple outlets, comes down against leadership’s public and private response to the suit’s allegations.

Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier and Kotaku’s Ethan Gach reprinted content from the same petition, and both reporters claim that the petition has racked up “over 1,000 signatures” from current and former Activision Blizzard staffers as of press time. The petition begins by describing a public company statement offered in the wake of July 20’s lawsuit, and a private, staffwide memo sent by Activision executive vice president Frances Townsend, as “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.”

“We will not be silenced”

Activision Blizzard’s statements from lawyers and executives last week alleged that the California State’s lawsuit’s allegations were “distorted, and in many cases false,” and the petition aims its words squarely at that characterization. The letter argues that such a corporate response “creates a company atmosphere that disbelieves victims” and “casts doubt on our organizations’ ability to hold abusers accountable for their actions and foster a safe environment for victims to come forward in the future.”

The petition continues:

Our company executives have claimed that actions will be taken to protect us, but in the face of legal action—and the troubling official responses that followed—we no longer trust that our leaders will place employee safety above their own interests. To claim this is a “truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit,” while seeing so many current and former employees speak out about their own experiences regarding harassment and abuse, is simply unacceptable.

It concludes with a call for the company to make public statements that acknowledge “the seriousness of these allegations” and for Townsend to “step down” from her position at the Activision Blizzard King Employee Women’s Network. “We will not be silenced, we will not stand aside, and we will not give up until the company we love is a workplace we can all feel proud to be a part of again,” the petition adds in closing. “We will be the change.”

After the lawsuit was filed, many former Activision Blizzard staffers used social media to add their own allegations to the public record and confirm their individual contributions to the California State investigation. In one of the longest and most detailed lists of recent public allegations, a former Blizzard staffer (and creator of the company’s first internal “Women@Blizzard” mailing list) alleged the following:

  • A repeated experiment proved that a project director would turn down ideas proposed by a woman, then would approve the same ideas as offered by male colleagues days later.
  • A senior white male engineer had a reputation for unsnapping women’s undergarments through their shirts at the workplace, and concerned staffers were told to “get over it” as they watched said engineer get “repeatedly promoted and rewarded.”
  • Leadership refused a staffer’s use of Blizzard branding to create an “It Gets Better” video that supported LGBTQIA youth—and was told “We won’t be doing that, here.”

“You told me to stick to what I’m good at”

The linked thread points to other public allegations made by former staffers, which range from individual allegations to larger complaints about staffwide culture at Blizzard and Activision. One of these is a reply to former Blizzard executive Chris Metzen, who used Twitter to distance himself from Alex Afrasiabi—himself a former leader of the World of Warcraft team, who is named in the California State lawsuit as an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment and assault. The reply to Metzen, from ex-Blizzard staffer Connie Griffith, alleged that “you are the one who told me I should stick to what I’m good at, which was apparently taking notes and organizing meetings. Way to mentor junior female talent.”

Speaking of Afrasiabi, an unearthed video from BlizzCon 2010 began circulating shortly after the lawsuit was filed. It showed Afrasiabi, current Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, and other WoW leadership responding to a woman’s question about wanting characters in the game that “don’t look like they stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.” The all-male panel responded with multiple jokes disparaging the question, with one in particular asking, “which catalog would you like them to step out of?”

This video’s recirculation prompted one of the panel’s members, former WoW lead designer Greg Street, to acknowledge the video on Twitter and reply flatly, “Look, it was a shitty answer at the time, and it certainly hasn’t aged well. I wish I had said something better back then.” He proceeded to insist that, “no doubt, that won’t be my last shitty answer,” then doubled down and claimed that “the only way to get better is to [talk to players] a lot,” without acknowledging one key allegation brought up again and again in the wake of the Golden State lawsuit: that Blizzard leadership often failed to listen to, acknowledge, and make space for women’s concerns—and even retaliated against those who did so.

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Valve moves Dota 2 International to Romania, adds mask-and-vax rules

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Valve announced this week that its prestigious Dota 2 tournament The International will require all attendees to be fully masked and vaccinated for entry.

As noted on the Dota 2 site, anyone attending the October competition at the National Arena in Bucharest, Romania, must be at least 10 days out from their final vaccination, and attendees will need to present proof of inoculation (which must be in either English or Romanian) along with a photo ID to gain access to the event grounds and tournament arena. All attendees must also wear a mask and proof-of-vaccination wristband along with their registration badges. Additional safety protocols will be put into place throughout the tournament.

Now in its tenth year, The International gathers together the best Dota 2 teams from around the globe to compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool.  But over the past year, Valve has not had an easy time with COVID-related restrictions for its annual tournament. The company’s initial plans to hold The International 10 in Stockholm were scrapped earlier this summer after the Swedish Sports Federation decided not to include esports in its officially recognized body—a move that meant anyone traveling for the tournament would be denied an entry visa.

Valve’s subsequent requests for the Swedish government to intervene were denied, with the company announcing the move to Romania in July. (2020’s tournament, which was also planned to be held in Stockholm, was indefinitely delayed in April 2020 over safety concerns amidst the global pandemic.)

The move to make The International a fully-vaccinated, fully-masked tournament is just the latest in a growing trend of gaming events tightening up COVID restrictions. For instance, this summer’s PAX West in Seattle required attendees to present either proof-of-vaccination or a negative PCR test for entry, as well as wearing a vaccination-proof wristband along with their registration badges.

The International 10’s group stage, which doesn’t appear to be open to the public, will be held October 7-10, while the main stage tournament event (the only stage Valve is selling tickets for) will be split between two midweeks running from October 12-15. The finals are scheduled to be held on October 16 and 17. Tickets for the main stage will go on sale September 22, and those are sold in three separate two-day bundles.

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RIP Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of UK’s famed ZX Spectrum gaming computer

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Enlarge / Sir Clive Sinclair holding the world’s smallest television screen when it was created by Sinclair Radionics in 1977.

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Sir Clive Sinclair, the namesake of a British electronics manufacturer who helped pioneer Europe’s microcomputing boom, is dead at the age of 81.

His company, Sinclair Radionics, is arguably best known around the world for 1982’s ZX Spectrum, an early example of a computer capable of multi-color, real-time graphics. The device dominated the UK and other European territories in the early 1980s. This computer was a major processing step up from black-and-white Spectrum computers like ZX80 and ZX81, and it debuted in a configuration priced as low as £125. American readers probably best know this platform thanks to popular and ambitious ZX Spectrum games from the little developer Ultimate: Play The Game. That company eventually rebranded itself as Rareware and turned into a ’90s powerhouse on Nintendo consoles.

Yet before his name became interminably linked to gaming history, Sinclair’s rise to running his own electronics manufacturing company largely resembles the stories of American electronics pioneers who began as garage hobbyists. A BBC documentary, Clive Sinclair: The Pace Setters, chronicles the inventor’s rise, which began with him selling one-at-a-time radio kits via mail order in the 1960s.

As the documentary is region-locked, many readers will have to settle on this BBC text version of its highlights, which follows Sinclair’s rise as a maker of British pocket calculators and portable TVs before redirecting his efforts to personal computers. During this time, an effort to get the British government to back Sinclair as a formally supported PC maker, especially as the government began bullishly promoting computer access in homes and schools, fell apart. Instead, rival computer manufacturer Curry became a “BBC Micro” partner. Sinclair and Spectrum fired back with the more powerful ZX Spectrum, which went on to sell over 5 million units. Sadly, the rest of his career didn’t reach the same heights, and it was largely marked by botched efforts to launch electric modes of transport, including the famous failure that was the pod-like C5 “car.”

For a charming Clive-on-Clive conversation, check out this 1990 interview with longtime British TV host Clive Anderson (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), complete with the two men looking at and talking about various Spectrum inventions over the years—including, incredibly, Sinclair’s failed C5.

Sir Clive Sinclair talks about his product history in 1990.

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Battlefield 2042 joins recent game-delay frenzy, moves to November

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Enlarge / This looks fun.

Battlefield 2042 has been delayed from its initial October 22 release date, though it will still launch this year, EA announced today. The multiplayer-only shooter will now hit stores on November 19, the publisher said in a statement.

Citing the complications of developing games in a work-from-home environment during a global pandemic—by now a familiar challenge for the countless game makers that have had to delay other high-profile 2021 games—DICE assured fans that the team is working on finishing touches rather than dealing with any kind of development trouble. The developer also reiterated that there would be updates later this month regarding 2042‘s open beta. In other words, this is pandemic business as usual.

After Battlefield 2042‘s reveal during EA’s June E3 news blitz, the publisher announced that the game will feature three modes, none of which are battle royale-related. “All-Out Warfare,” the traditional BF deathmatch mode, is finally upgrading to 128 players on current-gen consoles and PC. “Battlefield Portal” is a mashup game that lets players customize matches with elements of Battlefield 1942, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and Battlefield 3 inside 2042 maps. “Hazard Zone” is an alleged squad-based mode that EA has thus far been mum on. Today’s announcement didn’t specify whether all three modes would launch with the game.

As far as the seemingly endless train of 2021 delays is concerned, DICE’s isn’t as bad as it could be. Earlier this week, Techland confirmed its long-in-production Dying Light 2 is being pushed back to February 2, while Ubisoft announced this week that its guitar-instruction game Rocksmith+ is shifting to 2022. Sony also recently announced that Horizon Forbidden West will move to February 28 from its original “late 2021” launch.

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