The last few years have been a rollercoaster ride in the gaming industry, as dozens of reports about toxic working conditions and sexual harassment sprung up from multiple companies. Activision Blizzard has dominated headlines lately, but another major publisher, Riot Games, has finally come to a $100 million settlement regarding a gender discrimination lawsuit filed back in 2018.
What Happened — In November 2018, two Riot Games employees, Melanie McCracken and Jess Negrón, filed a lawsuit that alleged both gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the studio, best known for making League of Legends.
In the wake of the lawsuit, a bombshell report came out of Kotaku with even more details about the situation at Riot. The article laid out multiple instances of harassment, with sources pointing toward a wealth of excuses for why women weren’t given positions they interviewed for, including having “too much ego,” or not being “gamer enough.” The months following saw two inquiries into Riot from California state agencies.
Fast-forward two years, and the company has reached a settlement for $100 million, paying $80 million to the members of the lawsuit and $20 million toward the plaintiffs’ legal fees. Cecilia D’Anastasio, author of the Kotaku exposé, notes on Twitter that “The $100 million will go to 1,065 women employees and 1,300 contract workers, per new DFEH statement.”
The settlement is by far one of the biggest steps taken in the industry to address toxicity and harassment, and it’s literally ten times more than what Riot agreed to pay in 2019. While the settlement alone is huge, there are other steps taken that are equally, if not even more important.
What’s Next For Riot — As part of the settlement, Riot Games will also introduce a variety of workplace policy reforms. This includes greater transparency on pay scales for employees and a policy that requires the presence of a woman or member of an underrepresented community on employment selection panels.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Riot will be monitored for three years by a third party, which will look at Human Resources complaints, how the complaints are handled, and whether employees of all genders are being paid fairly. This third party has to be agreed upon by both Riot Games and the Department of Fair Housing and Employment in California.
Most surprisingly, this whole settlement, and all of the ensuing details, feel like an attempt by Riot to at least somewhat recognize the mistakes it’s made. A statement released by the company says, “We hope that this settlement properly acknowledges those who had negative experiences at Riot and demonstrates our desire to lead by example in bringing more accountability and equality to the games industry.”
There’s certainly more work to do, and it’s not like this settlement suddenly fixes everything. However, it’s a vital first step to making the change that needs to happen. This feels especially true while other companies, like Activision, continue to try and downplay the allegations while others, like Ubisoft, have yet to make any truly substantial changes.
What This Means for the Industry — The pressure is now on the other big companies to start making changes. Riot Games is a massive publisher, especially with the continuing popularity of League of Legends and its expanding universe, which includes the hit animated series Arcane on Netflix. Board members and shareholders at other major companies should be looking at this outcome and evaluating the happenings at their own companies.
In November 2021, Activision Blizzard said it would pay $18 million to settle its harassment lawsuit. In the wake of Riot Games’ settlement that seems like a paltry sum, especially considering the dozens of stories that have come out of the publisher over the last several months. Riot’s settlement sets a precedent that others can look to, especially in terms of creating workplace changes and assigning a third-party watchdog.
Companies like Activision and Ubisoft simply can’t keep going on like nothing’s happened, especially considering those same companies are also under investigation by the very same DFEH. Change is starting to happen, and Riot’s settlement is likely just the first domino in a series.