Activision's paying a paltry $18 million for its harassment problem

Employees of the video game company, Activision Blizzard, hold a walkout and protest rally to denoun...


The fine Activision Blizzard will pay to settle a workplace discrimination suit.


Activision Blizzard yesterday announced that it settled a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The federal agency began investigating the game maker in 2018 over allegations of gender-based discrimination and harassment, an issue that has kept the developer of games like Call of Duty under the spotlight since regulators in California lobbed similar complaints against the company in July.

Toxic culture — As part of this settlement, Activision has agreed to pay $18 million to create a fund to “compensate and make amends to eligible claimants,” according to a press release. Activision and King Games were named as defendants in the lawsuit, as well as 10 unnamed individuals who likely worked at the developer.

We don’t know much about the claims in this lawsuit as it was settled just as the EEOC announced the case and before it had a chance to go to trial. But in California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has alleged that leadership created a “frat boy workplace culture” where men treated women reprehensibly. That lawsuit remains ongoing, though the company has said it has reformed its corporate culture in recent years. Protests by employees suggest otherwise, though.

Protesters outside Activision Blizzard’s California office in July 2021.DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Wrist slap — Of course, an $18 million settlement is peanuts for one of the world’s largest game developers, which generated $22 billion in revenue for the 2018-2020 period it was under investigation. And CEO Bobby Kotick is still set to get paid $154 million for 2021. Any boycotts by gamers themselves seem unlikely (boycotts almost never work anyway).

If the board of directors wanted to send a signal, it could push Kotick to resign. That seems unlikely given the settlement. Another option for reform is for employees to unionize. It’s uncommon in highly skilled fields like software development, but organized labor could bargain for new policies, like mandatory harassment training (though the EEOC settlement says it will upgrade its training).