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Pushback against sexual harassment in the gaming industry grows with high-profile resignations – CBC.ca

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Montreal-based designer Tanya X. Short has been in the gaming industry for over a decade. She remembers what it was like starting out in a company as one of the few women in the room. 

“I had internalized so many things as completely normal. But it took me many years to realize that there were uncomfortable assumptions being made; that I was subconsciously altering my behaviour,” said Short. 

Accord to a 2019 study from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, the gaming industry contributes $4.5 billion to Canada’s GDP annually. But as lucrative as the business is, in the past few weeks an ugly side to the industry has emerged with a wave of women sharing stories of harassment and mistreatment. 

These stories paint a picture of toxic workplaces where allegations of sexual harassment are commonplace. Some of the stories have involved one of Canada’s biggest gaming employers, Ubisoft.  

The Paris-based company was the focus of a report from the gaming news site Kotaku containing disturbing allegations of sexual harassment in the Toronto office. Other reports soon followed

On June 11, Yannis Mallat, president of Ubisoft Canada, resigned. In Paris, Serge Hascoet, the company’s chief creative officer, and Cecile Cornet, the global head of human resources, stepped down. In Toronto, Maxime Beland, the vice-president of editorial, resigned and an unnamed employee was fired. 

Ubisoft Canada President Yannis Mallat at an event launching a studio in Winnipeg in 2019. Mallat resigned on July 11, following a series of harassment claims. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A new #Metoo moment in gaming

The accounts emerging from Ubisoft are part of a larger moment in the gaming community. For weeks now on the Twitch streaming site, community members and players have been sharing stories of sexual assault and harassment. One streamer went so far as to create a spreadsheet to track all the accusations and responses.

Montreal’s Marie-Michelle Pepin is a character artist, who creates 3D models of characters for video games. She joined the chorus of voices in late June posting on Twitter a thread about being objectified and intimidated when she began her career. “I even wondered if I picked the wrong industry,” she told CBC News.

University of British Columbia professor Jennifer Jenson studies gender and the gaming industry. She connects the new wave of allegations to the wider protests against anti-Black racism and the push for Indigenous rights.

“I think it opened this space for people to be able to talk about the harms that they have experienced in a way that wasn’t available before,” she said.

Jennifer Jenson studies the gaming industry and gender at the University of British Columbia. She says the dismissals at Ubisoft are scratching the surface of what is an endemic problem. (CBC News)

Already, a critical mass of voices is pushing companies to respond. 

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot addressed the accusations in a post titled, “Change starts today” where he wrote about transforming Ubisoft’s human resources processes and improving manager accountability. 

Tanya X. Short (middle) has been in the gaming industry for over a decade. Above she poses with the co-founders of her company KitFox Games, Jongwoo Kim and Xin Ran Liu. (Kitfox Games)

But Tanya X. Short, now CEO of her own indie game studio Kitfox Games in Montreal, said victims can’t always look to human resources departments for help. 

“I can tell you that no matter the size of a corporation HR is always there to protect the company and they are almost legally obligated to their shareholders to calculate the value of the harasser versus the victim,” she said.

CBC News asked to speak with Ubisoft Canada about the recent allegations and reports on workplace culture. Ubisoft said they had no further comment while investigations are ongoing. 

Jenson said the dismissals are just scratching the surface.

The problem, she suggests, is a workplace culture that hasn’t kept pace with the changing demographics of the audience. As the customer base for video games becomes more diverse, a 2019 survey from the U.S.-based International Game Developers Association found only 24 per cent of development staff identified as female. 

Inside the workplace of the Ubisoft Montreal studio; the company has promised changes to its human resources policies following sexual harassment allegations. (CBC News)

The stock market punished Ubisoft following news of the resignations and Short said the industry is slowly starting to realize safer and more equitable work environments make for better results.

She points to conversations around crunch, the gaming industry practice of pushing employees to meet deadlines with long stretches of overtime and few breaks.  

Ten years ago, many people in the industry saw crunch as a necessary part of the business. Today, she said the industry is talking about it publicly and viewpoints are changing.

WATCH | Montreal game designer Osama Dorias explains the toll of crunch:

Video game designer Osama Dorias describes the personal toll of working extreme overtime a.k.a. “crunch.” 3:10

Short hopes the same will be the case for toxic and hostile behaviour around women and employees from marginalized genders working in game development.   

As a member of Pixelles, a group dedicated to helping women in the industry, Short said many barriers put females at a disadvantage, such as the lack of flexible work schedules.  

Structural changes

While CEOs of major companies talk about addressing the allegations by making fundamental changes, finding a way forward won’t necessarily be easy, Jenson said. 

“Everyone has to start almost from scratch,” she said. “They need all kinds of things, starting with education. That creates opportunities for growth and change that aren’t present.”

Short said larger studios might be tempted to just do some public relations work in order to avoid as little structural change as possible.

That’s why she said conversations around unionization in game developer circles are getting louder. In an industry where some employees don’t feel they can turn to HR, Short said they need to turn to each other.

“Unions are not beholden to the shareholders of the company; they are concerned with you as a person. That’s the best way forward for employees to band together and really find justice together,” she said. 

If you have a story to share about working in the gaming industry you can contact Eli Glasner at eli.glasner@cbc.ca

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Amazon, Apple not to charge extra for lossless music

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Amazon.com Inc and Apple Inc will let users stream high-quality lossless audio at no extra charge, as they explore new ways to keep subscribers tuned in to their services amid intense competition.

Amazon Music, which so far charged a premium for lossless audio, became the first major music service on Monday to upgrade its subscribers to the format.

Lossless is a higher quality audio format that preserves every detail of the original audio file without compressing the quality while streaming.

American rapper Jay-Z’s Tidal was among the first to roll out the technology, charging $19.99 per month for lossless music.

The e-commerce giant’s Amazon Music Unlimited with lossless music will cost less than half that at the industry standard price of $9.99 per month.

Separately, Apple said subscribers would be able to listen to its entire music catalog of more than 75 million songs by next month in the lossless format at no additional cost.

 

(Reporting by Eva Mathews and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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Cyberattack exposes lack of required defenses on U.S. pipelines

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The shutdown of the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline by a ransomware attack highlights a systemic vulnerability: Pipeline operators have no requirement to implement cyber defenses.

The U.S. government has had robust, compulsory cybersecurity protocols for most of the power grid for about 10 years to prevent debilitating hacks by criminals or state actors.

But the country’s 2.7 million miles (4.3 million km) of oil, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines have only voluntary measures, which leaves security up to the individual operators, experts said.

“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” Richard Glick, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said.

Protections could include requirements for encryption, multifactor authentication, backup systems, personnel training and segmenting networks so access to the most sensitive elements can be restricted.

FERC’s authority to impose cyber standards on the electric grid came from a 2005 law but it does not extend to pipelines.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline and source of nearly half the supply on the East Coast, has been shut since Friday after a ransomware attack the FBI attributed to DarkSide, a group cyber experts believe is based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

The outage has led to higher gasoline prices in the U.S. South and worries about wider shortages and potential price gouging ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Colonial did not immediately respond to a query about whether cybersecurity standards should be mandatory.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbying group said it was talking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Energy Department and others to understand the threat and mitigate risk.

THIN STAFFING

Cyber oversight of pipelines falls to the TSA, an office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has provided voluntary security guidelines to pipeline companies.

The General Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said in a 2019 report that the TSA only had six full-time employees in its pipeline security branch through 2018, which limited the office’s reviews of cybersecurity practices.

The TSA said it has since expanded staff to 34 positions on pipeline and cybersecurity. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it supports mandatory protections.

When asked by reporters whether the Biden administration would put in place rules, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was discussing administrative and legislative options to “raise the cyber hygiene across the country.”

President Joe Biden is hoping Congress will pass a $2.3 billion infrastructure package, and pipeline requirements could be put into that legislation. But experts said there was no quick fix.

“The hard part is who do you tell what to do and what do you tell them to do,” Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat, said on Wednesday they have reintroduced legislation requiring the Department of Energy to ensure the security of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Such legislation could get folded into a wider bill.

The power grid is regulated by FERC, and mostly organized into nonprofit regional organizations. That made it relatively easy for legislators to put forward the 2005 law that allows FERC to approve mandatory cyber measures.

A range of public and private companies own pipelines. They mostly operate independently and lack a robust federal regulator.

Their oversight falls under different laws depending on what they carry. Products include crude oil, fuels, water, hazardous liquids and – potentially – carbon dioxide for burial underground to control climate change. This diversity could make it harder for legislators to impose a unified requirement.

Tristan Abbey, a former aide to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who worked at the White House national security council under former President Donald Trump, said Congress is both the best and worst way to tackle the problem.

“Legislation may be necessary when jurisdiction is ambiguous and agencies lack resources,” said Abbey, now president of Comarus Analytics LLC.

But a bill should not be seen as a magic wand, he said.

“Standards may be part of the answer, but federal regulations need to mesh with state requirements without stifling innovation.”

 

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)

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U.S. senator asks firms about sales of hard disk drives to Huawei

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A senior Republican U.S. senator on Tuesday asked the chief executives of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Seagate Technology, and Western Digital Corp if the companies are improperly supplying Huawei with foreign-produced hard disk drives.

Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said a 2020 U.S. Commerce Department regulation sought to “tighten Huawei’s ability to procure items that are the direct product of specified U.S. technology or software, such as hard disk drives.”

He said he was engaged “in a fact-finding process… about whether leading global suppliers of hard disk drives are complying” with the regulation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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