Thirty-four quality assurance testers at Raven Software, the Activision Blizzard studio in charge of its massively popular battle royale, Call of Duty: Warzone, announced today that they are unionizing after weeks of striking over recently announced layoffs in their department. Calling themselves the Game Workers Alliance, they’re asking the embattled publisher which recently announced a historic sale to Microsoft to voluntarily recognize the union.
“Today, I am proud to join with a supermajority of my fellow workers to build our union, Game Workers Alliance (CWA),” Becka Aigner, QA functional tester II at Raven, said in a press release. “In the video game industry, specifically Raven QA, people are passionate about their jobs and the content they are creating. We want to make sure that the passion from these workers is accurately reflected in our workplace and the content we make. Our union is how our collective voices can be heard by leadership.”
Game Workers Alliance has formed with the support of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees by the Communications Workers of America. It currently has the support of 78% of eligible workers, a representative of CWA told Polygon. QA testers have historically been overworked and underpaid at Activision Blizzard, as they are at most game companies. Game Workers Alliance has given management by January 25 to voluntarily recognize the union before it files for an election with the National Labor Review Board.
“We ask that Activision Blizzard management respect Raven QA workers by voluntarily recognizing CWA’s representation without hesitation,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a press release. “A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger. Voluntary recognition is the rational way forward.”
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Kotaku in an email the company is “carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA, which seeks to organize around three dozen of the company’s nearly 10,000 employees.”
The formation of Game Workers Alliance comes seven weeks into a strike that began on December 6, shortly after Activision Blizzard management announced it would be laying off 12 testers in Raven Software’s Quality Assurance department at the end of January 2022 rather than converting them to full time. The third work stoppage since a California lawsuit last summer alleged widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at the publisher, workers raised over $350,000 for a strike fund to support its efforts. In the meantime, fans of Warzone and other Call of Duty games have faced a growing number of bugs and performance issues while management has reportedly declined to meet with striking workers to discuss their demands.
Around the same time the strike began, Activision Blizzard chief administrative officer, Brian Bulatao, sent a company-wide email trying to discourage employees from unionizing. “[We] believe that direct dialogue between management and employees is essential to the success of Activision Blizzard,” he wrote at the time.
The Raven QA union comes on the heels of the announcement of a $68.7 billion deal for Microsoft to acquire Activision Blizzard which is set to wrap by mid-2023 at the latest. In recent SEC filings as part of the sale, the publisher claimed that there weren’t any strikes currently going on at the company.
Asked in an interview yesterday what he thought about worker organizing, soon-to-be head of Activision Blizzard, current Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer, said he doesn’t know much about unions. “I’ll say we’ll be having conversations about what empowers them to do their best work, which as you can imagine in a creative industry, is the most important thing for us,” he told The Washington Post.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update: 1/21/22, 12:48 p.m. ET: Added timeline for when GWA will seek a vote with the NLRB.