World of Warcraft Developer Blizzard Entertainment is working to make its business and games more inclusive and welcoming, including “immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that don’t suit our world,” the studio said on Tuesday. The statement comes a week after California announced it was suing Blizzard and its parent company, Activision Blizzard, for sex discrimination and sexual harassment of its employees.
“The past days have been a time of reflection for the World of Warcraft team, spent in conversation and contemplation, full of sadness, pain and anger, but also hope and resolution, ”said Blizzard in a statement attributed to the World of Warcraft team.
Posted on social media and on the game’s website, the statement appears to be the first public commentary regarding the lawsuit – although it does not explicitly or even indirectly refer to the lawsuit – which was made by a production team at the within Activision Blizzard. This contrasts with the company’s corporate communications department, which released a statement on Wednesday that vehemently denied the lawsuit’s allegations. It is a statement that, it is no coincidence, many current and former employees have found “obnoxious and insulting.”
Several former Blizzard employees, including former executives such as senior vice president Chris Metzen and president and co-founder Mike Morhaime, have spoken over the past week on the allegations made in the lawsuit. In statements posted on social media – statements with a distinctly different tone to Activision Blizzard’s official comments – Metzen and Morhaime apologized for their role in creating what the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing describes now as a “frat boy” culture.
“I can tell you that almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity is unfolding,” Jeff Hamilton, lead system designer on the game, said in a Twitter thread on Saturday.
In his statement, the World of Warcraft The team said they were seeking “guidance” from team members in “internal work to protect marginalized groups and hold those who threaten them accountable.” The team added, “We also want to take immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world. This work is in progress and you will see several such changes in both Shadowlands and WoW Classic in the coming days.
Blizzard’s statement did not provide any further information about these “references”. We have contacted the studio for comment, and will update this article with any details we receive. But it is possible that the inappropriate references in question include non-player characters and elements in World of Warcraft who are named after Alex Afrasiabi, who worked on the game at Blizzard from 2004 to 2020 and is named a serial stalker in the California lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that Afrasiabi, former senior creative director of World of Warcraft, “Was authorized to engage in gross sexual harassment with little or no repercussions.” Kotaku reported Thursday that “at least two NPCs,” Marshal Afrasiabi and Lord Afrasastraz, currently bear the developer’s name, as well as “a number of items.” As a result of the claims in the lawsuit – including the allegations that Afrasiabi “continued to make unwanted advances to female employees” after receiving a sanction amounting to a “slap on the wrist” – many World of Warcraft players staged in-game protests and asked Blizzard to remove all references to Afrasiabi from the game.
Activision Blizzard employs over 9,000 people in its subsidiaries, including Blizzard Entertainment; mobile game developer King; Major league game; and Activision studios such as Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, Toys for Bob and Treyarch. Hundreds of employees, led by a group within Blizzard, announced Tuesday that they plan to conduct a work stoppage on Wednesday to protest the company’s response to the lawsuit and demand changes from the direction. The walkout will take place on the Blizzard campus in Irvine, Calif., As well as virtually.