Sexism in the gaming industry: the Activision Blizzard lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg – Screen Shot
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Sexism in the gaming industry: the Activision Blizzard lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg

We may be far from the 1950s but we still have mountains to climb to tackle the sexism and misogyny ingrained in our society. Arguably, nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace. Although the Equal Pay Act has been in force in the UK since 1975, women still earn, on average, a staggering 19.8 per cent less than men. Not only are women subject to receiving less pay, but they’re also significantly more likely to face sex discrimination and harassment at work.

Instances of sexism can, of course, occur across all sectors. However, the gaming industry, which has repeatedly been reported to facilitate a ‘frat boy’ and misogynistic work environment, is the latest to rear its ugly head. The company in question? Activision Blizzard—the company responsible for releasing major titles such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit

Bloomberg first reported the complaint on 20 July 2021, portraying the workplace at Activision Blizzard as explicitly discriminatory towards women—particularly, though not exclusively, towards women of colour. The report highlighted how the company’s leadership is “exclusively male and white” to the point where no woman has ever been named president or CEO.

The filing also stated that “women were subjected to numerous sexual comments and advances, grouping and unwanted physical touching, and other forms of harassment” at the company’s studio. It went on to state that “female employees working for the World of Warcraft team noted that male employees and superiors would hit on them, make derogatory comments about rate, and otherwise engage in demanding behaviour.”

A former chief officer of Activision Blizzard is also being accused of “grouping inebriated female employees at company events and was known for making hiring decisions based on female applicants’ looks.” The suit further claimed that complaints to human resources staff, as well as executives, including Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, “were treated in a perfunctory and dismissive manner and not kept confidential,” which resulted in staff who claimed being “subjected to retaliation, included but not limited to being deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs.”

Allegedly, women of colour were “particularly vulnerable targets” of discrimination. The suit highlighted that an “African American employee who worked in information technology” was made by her manager to “write a one-page summary” of how she would spend the time off she requested, which no one else was made to do. Likewise, it was argued that other women in the company were assigned to lower-level roles, paid less and passed over for promotion “in favour of male counterparts who lacked the same experience or qualifications but who were friends with the male head of unit.”

Activision Blizzard has vigorously denied the claims when they were made. This, understandably, frustrated both a large number of employees of the company, as well as the wider gaming community. In response, more than 1,500 former and current employees of the gaming company, which is valued at just over 65 billion dollars, have signed a letter condemning its response to the lawsuit alleging the ‘frat boy’ culture of the company. Ignoring such matters is exactly what serves as a breeding ground for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sexism in the gaming industry

Make no mistake, this is not an isolated incident. The lawsuit against Activision Blizzard is just one of many instances which bring to light the blatant misogyny and sexism within the gaming industry. Keza MacDonald from The Guardian highlights that over the last few years, hundreds of women have spoken out about the manipulative and predatory behaviour they’ve experienced in their careers in the gaming industry. An investigation conducted in 2018 found that five former employees at Riot Games sued the company over workplace harassment and discrimination, and hundreds more joined walkouts to protest.

MacDonald goes on to state how, even when victims are brave enough to speak out, they are often faced with significant obstacles to overcome. She wrote, “The backlash can be immense. Stories abound of HR departments working much harder to protect companies than the well-being of employees, of complainants having to band together in groups for fear of corporate reprisal, and a gauntlet of social media abuse for those who take their accusations public. And while sexual abuse is at least sometimes taken seriously, some everyday aggressions and obstacles that many women experience day-to-day are brushed off.”

Sadly, workplace sexism is not solely limited to the gaming industry either. As MacDonald states, women are subjected to sexism in tech, film, politics, media… the list goes on. However, for gaming in particular, a toxic confluence of worker disempowerment and a male-dominated managerial class can make it especially unwelcoming for women or those from marginalised genders. Award-winning narrative designer and workers’ rights activist, Megnha Jayanth, believes the “industry sits at the intersection of the worst of the casting couch, predatory networking culture of the entertainment industries, and the unregulated boys-club mentality of Silicon Valley.”

Cloud gaming is set to be the future of the gaming industry, here’s how

Video games are a huge influence when it comes to cultural trends and insights. Harbouring the potential to redefine sex education among teenagers, such games have essentially reshaped our lives over the pandemic by providing us with much-needed comforts of escapism. As consumers increasingly demand cloud-based services, it is inevitable for the gaming industry to follow suitultimately paving the way for the next generation of gamers with the concept of ‘cloud gaming’.

What is cloud gaming?

Imagine logging into your Netflix account just to play games—that is cloud gaming for you! While traditional games run ‘on-premises’ by inserting a game cartridge or disc into a console or by downloading software onto individual systems, cloud gaming allows games to be stored directly on remote servers. The visual interface is then streamed directly onto the user’s device, similar to how content-streaming platforms like Netflix works.

“While media-streaming platforms move the physical hard drive and downloaded data to the cloud, cloud games essentially move the entire console to the clouds,” explained TechStory. All you need to play games on the cloud is a piece of hardware that supports cloud gaming with a strong internet connection. Such platforms have the capability of offering a wide range of games such as video, web and mobile games.

The on-demand gaming service was first demonstrated by G-cluster in 2000 and has been a coveted sensation ever since with a significant amount of the gaming population already having moved from disc-based games to digitally downloaded ones. A recent report further found a majority of gaming platforms with streaming infrastructure—such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform—having at least one of their games available on the cloud.

A double-edged sword

With a market poised to generate $1.4 billion in revenue this year, cloud gaming has immense opportunities for growth. The innovation expands the flexibility of the media-streaming industry and disrupts gaming to foster an attractive market for both consumers and game developers.

For consumers, cloud gaming offers an on-demand gaming experience without the burden of downloading and installing software on their personal devices. Accessible at any time and location, the innovation eliminates the traditional limitations of hardware requirementsthereby making cloud-based games a smoother pick-up-and-play experience. It also closes the gap between billions of gamers using low-spec devices and millions of players with high-spec ones.

In terms of the industry, cloud gaming has the potential of offering a stronger level of cybersecurity than downloaded games, given the fact that they store information on remote servers and virtual storage spaces. The innovation significantly reduces bandwidth costs for companies and enables developers to make games which pull in significant numbers of microtransactions across the gaming population.

Cloud gaming’s untapped opportunities, however, come with a number of challenges and infrastructure issues that prevent developers from fully embracing it. The availability of high-speed broadband and internet access is critical if cloud gaming is to provide the premium mobile experience needed to convince consumers. “Gaming service providers must make significant investment in both data centers and server farms across various locations in order to seamlessly host and stream software to what could be a global player base,” advised Lexology. Such investments are far more than costs associated with the traditional gaming model itself.

Another concern is regarding access to personal user data. Traditional gaming can be used almost anonymously without any concern on how a user’s data may be recorded and repurposed. In terms of cloud gaming, however, companies will have much greater access to data, accessible on the tip of their fingers. “The success of cloud gaming is using this data responsibly and in compliance with data protection legislation which may be more of a challenge for small developers and publishers,” Lexology concluded.

As for the users, the fact that the service is entirely dependent on their internet connection makes up one of the major drawbacks. These services can be unreliable as a drop in connection would interrupt the stream, hampering an enjoyable gaming experience. Nobody wants to watch a lagging, 144p Black Mirror episode now, do they?

The coveted way forward

The global market for cloud gaming is expected to grow by $4.50 billion between 2021 and 2025. Despite the challenges faced by the industry, cloud gaming is now seeing more major players on the scene than ever before.

In 2019, Google released its in-house cloud gaming service, Stadia, while Microsoft released Xbox Cloud Gaming in 2020 as part of its wider Xbox games service, powered by Microsoft Azure. Amazon has also released its own cloud gaming platform recently called Luna, powered by Amazon Web Services. Even Facebook has jumped on the bandwagonproducing its own cloud gaming platform focusing on mobile games.

As we increasingly brace for a cloud-first generation, consumers would undoubtedly seek out primary sources of entertainment on such virtual platforms. “Subscription-based gaming services will soon become a commonplace as Netflix, as consumers negate the need to download or buy a game,” reported TechStory. Although the cloud gaming industry is still in its infancy, it is hailed as the future of gamingset to redefine the creation, distribution and consumption of games for an era seeking out new experiences. And it so seems that Google Stadia has already gotten a headstart into this future.