Activision Blizzard announced a big win for its part-time developers today as it battles an ongoing union push at one of the big studios behind Call of Duty: Warzone. Contract QA staff across the company will be converted to full-time, and also see their minimum hourly rate raised to $20. That’s a big deal for some of the game industry’s most poorly treated workers, but in a twist the new raises won’t apply to the workers currently unionizing.
“I’m pleased to announce that we are converting all US-based temporary and contingent QA workers to full time employees (FTEs),” Activision Publishing CEO Josh Taub told staff in an email that the company later provided to news outlets. “We are increasing their hourly rate to a minimum of $20/hr and providing access to full company benefits, and they will be eligible to participate in the company’s bonus program.”
A similar email was sent out to Blizzard staff by the Overwatch maker’s president, Mike Ybarra. “Our ability to deliver great games at the ‘Blizzard quality’ level our players expect is vital to ensuring we exceed player expectations,” he wrote. The move affects 90 part-time staff across Blizzard’s Irvine, Austin, and Albany offices, and 1,100 QA testers total across the entire company, Activision Blizzard said.
Notably, however, the pay changes won’t apply the company’s QA workers who are currently trying to unionize “due to legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg.
The move to full-time comes nine months after allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and worker mistreatment first surfaced at the Call of Duty publisher, and just a few months into its fight to prevent QA staff at its Raven Software studio in Wisconsin from unionizing. Developers there organized with the Communication Workers Of America in January and requested Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize their union, but the company refused. Instead, the company opted to force a vote with the National Labor Relations Board and is currently requesting it include everyone at the studio rather than just QA staff, an outcome that would likely doom unionization.
Activision Blizzard said today’s announcement had nothing to do with those labor efforts. “This conversion of nearly 1,100 QA workers at Activision and Blizzard does not have any relation to the petition pending at Raven studio,” a spokesperson told Gamesindustry.biz. “The Raven situation is limited to Raven. The testers whose contracts weren’t extended were welcome then, and now, to apply for any jobs at the company.”
A spokesperson for the CWA disagreed, however. “Make no mistake, all credit for Activision Blizzard’s latest move to give all temporary and contingent QA team members full-time employment and a raise should go to the workers who have been organizing, mobilizing and speaking out,” secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “It’s especially galling then that Activision has excluded Raven Software QA workers, who have been at the forefront of this effort, from these benefits. The company’s assertion that the National Labor Relations Act prevents them from including Raven workers is clearly an effort to divide workers and undermine their effort to form a union.”
Warzone and other Call of Duty games have been criticized by fans in recent months for performance and quality issues. Organizing workers at Raven said last year that development efforts would be hampered by Activision Blizzard’s decision to lay off over a dozen QA staff in late January rather than convert them to full time.
The company is also currently awaiting a shareholder vote to approve its recently announced sale to Microsoft for $69 billion. The tech giant said it would not get in the way of any potential unionization agreement that is reached in the meantime. The FTC, which also has to approve the acquisition, will reportedly factor the potential impact on workers’ ability to unionize into its decision.
Update: 4/7/22, 3:47 p.m. ET: Added statement from CWA and more context around Raven QA being excluded from Activision’s new $20 minimum hourly rate.