With the world, for the most part, attempting to return to normality, the question of mandates: masks, vaccines, and quarantining, are often left up to companies and individuals to decide what the right course is to take. The gaming industry is no exception as people begin to return to the office. In an ironic twist, given the amount of trouble Activision Blizzard has been in recently, the company higher-ups apparently had decided to lay down some rules prior to their workers going back to work.
What followed is a crazy mess we will endeavor to straighten out. Starting Friday of last week and bleed over into this week has been a dizzying tug-o-war of executives changing course amid demands made by the A Better ABK on ABK Workers Alliance. You might recall the alliance started in response to the allegations of heinous sexual harassment and misconduct leveled at Activision Blizzard and Bobby Kotick, the head of the company. The goal of the alliance was to help the employee who were victims of Activision Blizzard in hopes of creating a better workplace.
Not always the voice of the people
While the survivors of Activision Blizzard await their day in court, A Better ABK has also come under fire for not always representing the wishes or needs of those they are supposed to be advocating for. One case of this took place last year when Raven Software laid off several QA’s with no warning days before Christmas, resulting in a strike among the workers. Some who knew of the negotiations behind the scenes were rather unhappy with how A Better ABK chose to deal with the strike and called them out for not talking with the people they were speaking for.
Thursday, March 31, 2022, Jessica Gonzalez, the founder of A Better ABK, and former Activision Blizzard employee, posted up on her personal Twitter account, an email from Brian Bulatao, the current CAO of the company.
In the email, Bulatao stated that Activision Blizzard was lifting its vaccination policies for those returning to the office. He did acknowledge that the situation was constantly changing. So, given the current caseloads and reopening of other business, employees of Activision Blizzard would no longer be required to be fully vaccinated before returning to the office.
Immediate backlash hits.
The backlash from some employees was immediate. By Friday, April 1, 2022, the A Better ABK’s Twitter account had posted a response. “Due to the new RTO policy around no longer mandating vaccination requirements in regards to the ongoing pandemic, a group of ABK employees will be conducting a walkout on Monday April 4 at 10am PDT,” it stated.
The group had three demands:
1. An immediate reversal to lifting the vaccine requirement
2. Remote work should be offered as a permanent solution
3. The decision to work remote or in office should be made by each individual employee
Bulatao sent out clarification about the company’s policies. He said “for the majority of our employees, we are still operating under a voluntary return to office opportunity. Although we are not on a company-wide basis requiring vaccinations to enter our buildings in the US, it is still up to the leaders of Activision Publishing, Blizzard, and King to determine the processes and policies that work best for their employees and locations based on local conditions and risk.”
A representative from A Better ABK told Polygon that there had been feedback sessions with workers prior to the change. “At the end of which they decided to mandate the vaccine for workers coming into office,” they said. “This was the agreement under which people agreed to come back. This recent change was not run by any employees before being announced.”
Following the backlash Activision Blizzard received, Blizzard’s chief Mike Ybarra sent out an email to his staff. According to a tweet by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, they will still continue to require vaccinations for the next few months. Additionally, around 80% of the employees in three offices have already uploaded their proof of vaccination.
Keep on walking
Due to the threat of yet another walk out, the fourth in 9 months, the leadership of Activision Blizzard caved, in part, to the demands of ABK Workers Alliance. They walked back the immediate lifting of the vaccine mandates. The email stated that studios will create their own policies.
While applauded by the ABK Workers Alliance, it did not curtail their demands or plans to walk out. In another statement posted on Twitter, they said “As our leadership pushes for more employees to return to office, it is imperative that we consider the needs of our employees [sic] health and safety, and provide permanent work from home solutions for employees. In light of this, we have updated our demands:
- Make working from home an open and equitable option for all employees.
- Reverse the lifting of the vaccine mandates for all other studios who haven’t yet walked it back.”
This narrative is somewhat confusing, as some commenters noted. On the one hand it demands that people be fully vaccinated. It also requires the option for everyone who doesn’t feel safe be allowed to work from home. Still others once again mentioned that the ABK Workers Alliance doesn’t necessarily speak for the employees as a whole.
The walk apparently took place as planned on Monday, April 4. A few streamers posted they would be “walking out digitally” by canceling their streams. Other than that, the movement didn’t stop the presses by any means. ABK Workers Alliance did not keep track of the numbers. Therefore, at this time, the amount of those who participated is unknown.
Riot follows suit
Activision Blizzard is not the only publisher drawing fire for their mandate decisions. Just yesterday, Riot Games announced they are lifting mask and vaccination mandates for workers returning to the Los Angeles campus. It will continue to follow safety instructions provided by the health authorities.
It also acknowledged that some workers have chosen to resign. “While we hate to lose valuable team members, we’ve always expected some Rioters would choose to leave because they wanted to work remotely on a permanent basis,” a spokesperson from Riot told Waypoint.
This story is ongoing, and we will update it as information continues to come available.