Video games are a worldwide hobby, a giant global industry, and enjoyed by people from all backgrounds. Many people who grew up playing video games hope to be a part of the industry at some point. However, the industry has faced criticism for years over systemic discrimination that limits the opportunities available to women and people of color. Despite calls for inclusivity in gaming that have been ringing out for years, this problem still persists. A new diversity initiative proposed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) looks to improve hiring practices, but is getting push back from one of the biggest companies in gaming.
A number of companies in the video game industry have had to grapple with toxicity and discrimination both in the workplace and with regard to hiring practices. Sometimes action is taken to improve conditions, such as Ubisoft’s move to hire a Diversity and Inclusion VP in the wake of allegations of misconduct by senior staff members. Yet more often than not, the story tends to repeat itself, time and again.
The AFL-CIO’s proposal to Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts is seeking a more diverse candidate pool be considered for all jobs, at all levels of the two companies. In its proposal, the AFL-CIO compares this initiative to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” requiring teams to interview at least one non-white candidate for an available coaching opportunity. Lawyers for Activision Blizzard have deemed this proposal to be “an unworkable encroachment on the company’s ability to compete for new talent in a highly competitive, fast-moving market.” In other words, it would slow down Activision’s ability to make a profit.
“A diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance.” reads a portion of the letter penned by the AFL-CIO, something echoed by, and already in practice in the film industry. Despite Activision Blizzard waffling on something that at the very least should be easy to consider, EA will take the proposal to its Board of Directors stating “EA believes that a diverse and inclusive workforce is key to our success… EA is committed to attracting diverse, dynamic talent – prioritizing inclusive values and practices at every step of the employee journey.”
Whether or not an initiative like this would ultimately be successful remains to be seen. The NFL’s Rooney Rule often leads to tokenism in the interview process before another white coach is chosen. There are only two black head coaches in the NFL, when black men make up over 70% of the total number of players on the field. Despite this, having the rule in place does put accountability on NFL teams who don’t do their due diligence, and would have the same effect if applied to Activision Blizzard and EA.
The gaming industry has had a problem for some time with diversity and inclusion, plagued by toxic work environments, and toxic player bases. While companies are trying to do better, like Rocksteady Studios addressing sexual harassment of female employees, there is a lot of work still to be done. Activision Blizzard saying that diversity initiatives are “unworkable” shows that progress is not being made fast enough.