Discontent is brewing at Blizzard Entertainment, the Irvine, California-based developer of game franchises like Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft. Internal tensions over pay have been laid bare in a report by Bloomberg News.
What’s happened? Since Friday, Blizzard employees have been sharing details of their compensation anonymously on a spreadsheet. The document, which Bloomberg reviewed, apparently reveals large wage gaps between senior staff and others.
Why was the spreadsheet started? Last year, an internal survey at the company concluded that the majority of employees were unhappy with their pay, according to Bloomberg. Management promised a study to ensure fair pay, which it implemented last month. Many employees were unhappy with the results, and took to Slack channels to say so. The spreadsheet was created against that backdrop.
What kind of pay are we talking? It varies by role, of course. Bloomberg reports that some producers and engineers make well over $100,000 a year, while game testers and customer service workers can be close to minimum wage. Most of the raises implemented last month are below 10% — less than employees were expecting.
The context here is the massive compensation at the top of the company. Bloomberg’s reporter tweeted out the spreadsheet cells purportedly showing what Bobby Kotick, CEO of Blizzard’s parent company Activision Blizzard, made in 2019: $30,756,731. That’s a large sum by the standards of the whole entertainment industry, let alone gaming.
Does this reflect an industry-wide issue? Yes and no. Vast pay gaps, and occupational hazards like unpaid overtime, are rife in game companies. Interest in unionization is growing in this largely non-union industry.
Yet even by these standards, Blizzard has developed a reputation for egregious labor practices. Bloomberg reports that some employees have resorted to fasting or given up on having kids in order to get by on their meager wages. Last year, Activision Blizzard laid off almost 800 employees shortly after announcing a record year of revenue; this wasn’t its first major round of lay-offs. Bloomberg was told that remaining staff had to shoulder extra responsibilities without a pay rise, even as Kotick and other senior executives received massive pay checks.
What does Blizzard say? In a statement to Bloomberg, Activision Blizzard spokeswoman Jessica Taylor said, “Our goal has always been to ensure we compensate our employees fairly and competitively. We are constantly reviewing compensation philosophies to better recognize the talent of our highest performers and keep us competitive in the industry, all with the aim of rewarding and investing more in top employees.”
The bottom line: Gaming is now a $150-billion industry, central to pop culture and thoroughly covered by the media. As it grows, workers are re-evaluating their worth within it.
(Image at top: Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth – Visions of N’Zoth.”)