Activision walkout
Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Getty Images

Gaming’s rotten core doesn’t stop at Activision Blizzard

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re taking a look at the sexual harassment suit filed against Sony’s PlayStation, the 10th anniversary of indie darling Journey, and the debate over Harry Potter spinoff Hogwarts Legacy.

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit was just the beginning

So far, the video game industry’s reckoning over sexual harassment and discrimination has rocked major third-party publishers and developers like Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, Riot Games and select smaller studios.

Major platform holders like Microsoft and Sony, on the other hand, have remained absent from the conversation. That’s mostly because those companies’ gaming divisions are just one part of much larger global organizations with supposedly more rigorous standards and accountability practices, as well as healthier workplace cultures.

That image is now falling apart, at least for Sony. New details about a lawsuit that first made headlines back in November emerged last week, including the addition of accounts from eight more women who are current or former PlayStation employees, according to Axios.

  • Emma Majo, a former IT security analyst, alleged in a class-action suit filed last fall that PlayStation fostered a hostile workplace toward women, in particular when it came to promotions and the handling of HR complaints.
  • Sony challenged Majo’s assertions, asking the court to toss the lawsuit and claiming her descriptions of PlayStation lacked evidence to form “the basis of any widespread intentional discrimation.”
  • Majo’s lawyers have now filed eight more accounts, strengthening Majo’s claims and putting pressure on Sony to respond to and answer for a longer list of specific allegations. “I believe Sony is not equipped to appropriately handle toxic environments,” former program manager Kara Johnson wrote.

Meanwhile, the Activision Blizzard saga continues. While the lawsuit against Sony heats up, the legal troubles of Activision Blizzard are poised to set a precedent for how courts, state agencies and regulators handle similar issues across the industry.

  • Activision Blizzard’s issues were so severe and so deep-rooted that the company began to face immediate repercussions. Dozens of employees were fired or resigned following employee protests, major games like Overwatch 2 were delayed and the company’s executive leadership has seen significant changes.
  • Activision Blizzard has been combating California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing over details like whether to include temporary workers, but a trial date is now set for February 2023, and the company has done little of late to try to mend its image.
  • That’s primarily because a damning Wall Street Journal investigation about CEO Bobby Kotick instigated a sale of Activision Blizzard to Microsoft in a landmark deal worth nearly $70 billion earlier this year. The onus is now on the Xbox-maker to try to get the deal closed, integrate the studios and clean up the colossal mess Kotick has made.

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has become a rallying cry. Since last summer, when details of California’s discrimination suit against the Call of Duty publisher were made public, the game industry’s long-simmering sexism has taken center stage alongside calls for better labor practices and potential unionization.

We don’t know too many more details about the lawsuit against Sony, and the company has not yet responded to the new allegations, with a hearing to settle the company’s request to dismiss the suit set for next month.

But what the Activision Blizzard saga has made clear is that one person’s experience is hardly ever an isolated incident, and that the game industry’s rotten core isn’t limited to just a handful of companies. The sexism and harassment issues plaguing game developers worldwide are an endemic element to the practice of making video games at companies big and small, no matter how experienced or well-established the studio is.

— Nick Statt


“The reality is: human beings, unfortunately, are giant babies in the virtual world. No matter how old you are, even if you’re in your 70s, if we move you from Earth and into a virtual space, [that person] would become a giant baby. A baby doesn’t know what is a good moral value versus what is a bad moral value. The baby only knows: if I’m in a new environment, I’m going to try to push the buttons and see what kind of feedback I can get, and babies are great at looking for maximum feedback.” —Thatgamecompany co-founder Jenova Chen reflected on the online multiplayer in the studio’s seminal indie game Journey, which turned 10 on Sunday, in an excellent interview with The Verge.


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In other news

The mobile gaming boom continues., the firm previously known as App Annie, said mobile gaming generated $116 billion last year, representing 64% of global spending on in-app content. Hypercasual games remain the most popular on smartphones.

Xbox’s sustainability promise. Microsoft said it plans to make all Xbox consoles, games and accessories 100% recyclable by 2030. The company also asked Xbox owners to use the device’s energy-saver mode, which consumes 20 times less power than standby.

The cost of exiting the Russian market. The game industry is shutting down a $3.4 billion market by pulling products and services from Russia during the war in Ukraine, reported.

Game companies condemn Texas’ anti-trans bill. A number of prominent video game publishers and developers have joined the Human Rights Campaign in calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to abandon discriminatory legislation targeting gender-affirming health care for teens.

HBO Max and Discovery+ plan to merge. The great streaming service consolidation continues, with Warner Bros. planning to combine the two services in the long term as part of the Discovery and WarnerMedia merger.

Private equity companies aim to buy Nielsen for $15 billion. The bid could be finalized within the next few weeks, according to The Wall Street Journal.

CD sales are rising for the first time since 2004. Time is a flat circle, and apparently it’s shiny and made out of plastic: Record labels sold $584 million worth of CDs last year, which happens to be the first year-over-year increase since the heydays of file sharing.

Sonos is getting ready to launch a new speaker. Heavily redacted FCC filings show that the device is elongated and that it can be placed on two sides. A successor to the long-gone Play:3, perhaps?

Hogwarts Legacy’s troubled legacy

One of the most controversial games of 2022, the Harry Potter spinoff Hogwarts Legacy, is getting a gameplay spotlight during a PlayStation State of Play event on Thursday. That sets the stage for perhaps the fiercest debate yet on whether the game should be treated as a standalone entry in the Wizarding World or as a tacit endorsement of the Harry Potter franchise’s increasingly toxic creator.

Developer Avalanche Software has said the game itself is not affiliated with author J.K. Rowling, who has garnered immense criticism in recent years for transphobic statements and her stance on transgender rights policy. But Rowling’s presence, and her financial stake in all things Harry Potter, looms large over the franchise’s film spinoffs, video games, theme parks and merchandise.

It’s already proving difficult for Hogwarts Legacy to escape its association with Rowling and what she now stands for. Last year, Avalanche said it had parted ways with lead designer Troy Leavitt, whose YouTube channel had been filled with years-old videos espousing support for the anti-feminist Gamergate campaign and other reactionary causes. Bloomberg reported last year that Avalanche developers were feeling dismayed that their work, years in the making, might be overshadowed by Rowling's far-right shift, despite adding features like trans-inclusive character creation.

What we see on Thursday and the reaction it inspires among fans and critics could very well determine whether Hogwarts Legacy can stand on its own merits, or whether it remains trapped under Rowling’s shadow after all.


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