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Former Blizzard dev and Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain calls for unionisation

Former Blizzard developer, ArenaNet co-founder, and Undead Labs founder Jeff Strain has called for unionisation, following reports of harassment and abuse at Activision Blizzard.

In a letter to Undead Labs employees, and shared with IGN, Strain said that he was not surprised about the allegations against Activision Blizzard, saying that he left Blizzard due to the company’s culture.

“The Activision Blizzard disclosures this week have left me disgusted and repulsed — but not at all surprised,” said Strain.

“In 1998, after a cataclysmic meeting with one of the founders over our objections to dismembered and impaled female body parts in the beta version of Diablo, my wife and I began planning to leave Blizzard. Ultimately, I joined with a few like-minded colleagues and moved a thousand miles away from the Blizzard sphere of influence to start an independent studio.”

Strain joined Blizzard in 1996, and went on to work on StarCraft and Diablo, and was team lead and lead programmer on World of Warcraft.

“My time at Blizzard left an indelible mark on my life and career that continues to this day. Most importantly, it showed me how abusive cultures can propagate and self-amplify over time; how “hardcore gamers only” is a smokescreen for “bro culture”; how fostering a sense of exceptionalism inhibits people from speaking up because they should just deal with it if they love the company and its games; and how passive leadership that turns a blind eye can ultimately be the most abusive thing of all.”

Strain also noted that these problems are not unique to Blizzard, noting that while progress has been made over his 25 year career,  the industry nonetheless has “chronic issues.”

“We need unionization, said Strain. “Unions were started in this country to protect workers from abusive, cruel, abhorrent, unacceptable and illegal treatment from companies. That’s their entire purpose. If this week does not show us that our industry colleagues — even the most entry-level QA tester — need true support and baseline protection, I can’t imagine how much worse it will have to get.”

Strain encouraged his own employees to unionise, and endorsed an industry-wide adoption of unions.

“I also encourage the leadership of game-industry companies, large and small, corporate and independent, to join me in endorsing and advocating for unionization as a concrete, actionable step toward improving our industry. “

About Chris Wallace

Chris is a freelancer writer and was MCV/DEVELOP's staff writer from November 2019 until May 2022. He joined the team after graduating from Cardiff University with a Master's degree in Magazine Journalism. He can be found on Twitter at @wallacec42, where he mostly explores his obsession with the Life is Strange series, for which he refuses to apologise.

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