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Activision Blizzard Employees Strike, Fans Call for Boycott

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(Bloomberg) -- Hundreds of people showed up Wednesday outside an office of Activision Blizzard Inc. in Southern California to demonstrate their support of a sexual harassment lawsuit and to protest the video game maker’s insufficient response.

Employees and other demonstrators gathered on the sidewalks at the corporate campus of Blizzard Entertainment, the maker of Diablo and Warcraft games that was at the center of the lawsuit filed by a California state agency.

Refreshments and a food truck were on hand at the scene in Irvine, California, as passerbys in cars honked their horns and protesters chanted, “Every voice matters.” One called for the firing of Bobby Kotick, the Activision Blizzard chief executive officer, an attendee wrote on Twitter.

Elsewhere online, fans sought to organize a boycott of Activision games in solidarity with employees. “You can support #ActiBlizzWalkout by not playing their titles,” Twitter user Shannon wrote. The post garnered more than 2,300 retweets and over 5,000 likes. In the comments, other users suggested not logging into games or uninstalling them.

Last week, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision, detailing accusations of sexual harassment and assault, as well as a culture in which women faced unequal pay and retaliation. The employees are protesting the company’s responses to the sexual discrimination lawsuit and are demanding more equitable treatment for underrepresented workers.

On Tuesday, Kotick sent an all-staff letter in response to the walkout, calling the company’s recent actions “tone deaf.” In the CEO’s email, he said the company hired the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of its polices and promised “swift action” to stamp out harassment.

Employees responded with their own letter, saying Kotick failed to address concerns about employment contracts containing forced arbitration clauses and a lack of pay transparency.

“We know there are a variety of topics that need to be considered,” a spokesman for Activision wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday. “The leadership team at Activision Blizzard is also committed to long-lasting change, listening and continuing the important work to create a safe and inclusive workplace that we can all be proud of.”

Activision shares were up 1.3% Wednesday afternoon, along with the Nasdaq. They were down 9.5% this year through Tuesday.

It’s been a turbulent year for Activision and Kotick. Earlier this summer, a number of shareholder groups claimed that Kotick is overpaid, but the company still gained shareholder approval of its executives’ compensation. The company is set to report financial results next Tuesday.

A prolonged dispute with employees could result in delays of Activision games, wrote Matthew Kanterman, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

If managed properly, Activision should be able to minimize damage to its business, said David Cole, an analyst at DFC Intelligence. However, Cole adds, the whole ordeal may end up earning Activision a place on consumer lists of “most hated companies.”

(Updates with reporting from the protest starting in the first paragraph.)

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