Video Game Consumerism: Who Do Boycotts Really Hurt?

Since news broke late last month regarding the class-action lawsuit brought forward against Activision-Blizzard, many of the company’s own fans and players have taken to the internet to protest the company’s actions. This should not be taken lightly; the allegations of rampant harassment, abuse, and discrimination outlined in the lawsuit are troubling, at best, to put it lightly. 

Over the last two weeks, the hashtag #boycottblizzard has remained trending on social media platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and even the famed live streaming platform Twitch which has allowed many video game influencers to rise to fame. Last weekend, I was able to reconnect with an old friend of mine from high school who has since gone on to attend graduate school for video game development. For the sake of my friend’s anonymity, he will henceforth be referred to as “Matt.”

Amidst our conversation, much of which was spent mutually catching one another up to speed on our respective lives, I asked Matt a simple question:

“How do you feel about millions of Blizzard’s fanbase boycotting the company as a result of its class-action lawsuit?”

Matt’s response was along the lines of the following:

“I’m all for players boycotting the company if that’s what they truly wish to do, but I don’t see how it will do anything to help resolve the issues outlined in the lawsuit.”

Intrigued, I pried further. “Who will the boycott harm,” I asked Matt, “if not the company?”

What followed was Matt explaining his own subjective philosophy — one of staunch pro-capitalist consumerism — and how, in no one’s opinion but his own, he believed that the #boycottblizzard trend would do little (if anything) to help hold the company of Activision-Blizzard, its leadership, and the employees outlined in its lawsuit as the primary perpetrators fully accountable. “That’s what the law is for,” Matt said, “but on an individual level, the boycott will only really harm Blizzard’s ground floor employees.”

This caused me to stop and reflect. Was Matt right in this sentiment? It led me to think about how previous boycotts of certain development studios or games have impacted the greater video game industry. For reference, some historical boycotts in this sector include:

While any large-scale boycott of a major well-known brand can serve as a means to draw attention to widespread issues pertaining to the brand’s employees or internal culture, in this particular case, the attention already is — and has been — on Blizzard and its reactionary responses to its lawsuit. It led me to ask myself the question as to whether or not the #boycottblizzard movement would do more to harm the company’s bottom line than it would the job security and wellbeing of its employees?

“I’m all for material consumerism,” Matt told me, “and I fully believe that the monetary power of consumers far outweighs their social influence. Personally, I won’t boycott Blizzard because I like playing the games their studio has created,” Matt continued, “but if someone else believes that the best use of their time and money is to not use it in support of any specific company, they are fully within their rights to do so.”

Indeed, like any major corporation, Blizzard’s leaders and executive management are far better off financially than its lower-level employees. Between annual raises, stock options, and performance bonuses — on top of 7-figure salaries — boycotting Blizzard would do little to harm the bottom line of the employees who had fostered a culture that allowed such broad abuse and harassment to take place. 

Granted that, if enough of the company’s millions of annual monthly players opt to boycott Blizzard, it would have a significant impact on the company’s own bottom line. However, would that impact do more harm to the company’s innocent employees rather than the ones who must be held accountable for the lawsuit’s allegations? Similarly, if an employee at Blizzard has opted to remain at the company in the hopes that the lawsuit will bring about necessary change across all levels of the organization, but does not support the company itself due to the allegations brought forth in its lawsuit, how — if at all — could they boycott the company without risking their own financial wellbeing?

Earlier this week, one Blizzard employee was interviewed on this topic by Axios. She stated that, while she understands the reasoning behind the boycott and the desire for more of the company’s fans to join it, a company and its shareholders losing money does little to force organizational change and more to harm its employees.

“It’s harmful [to] the people who work there,” the employee said, “who pour their lives into the game and are determined to make [the company] (and all game studios frankly) better places…we can’t fix these problems if we’re unemployed and we can’t elevate women if we’re boycotting all the work they’ve done and are doing.”

Another employee told Axios that they believe the boycott won’t be effective because the number of people who “care enough to get involved” are far fewer than many might initially believe.

“Even if a critical mass were reached,” the employee told Axios, “it’s more likely to result in layoffs on the [development] teams than any change in opinion or compensation at the top.”

In this regard, perhaps these employees are correct in their belief that #boycottblizzard will only serve to bring more harm to its innocent employees, rather than the ones (both past and present) who must be held accountable for their actions. As such, the best course of action may be to not boycott Blizzard or its products, but to support the employees and the initiatives they have sparked in their ongoing fight for internal systemic change at the company.

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