Several Call of Duty developers have revealed to Kotaku that Activision Blizzard’s internal unwillingness to directly respond to the recently announced Raven Software layoffs was what ultimately sparked the just-revealed, broader labor organizing effort at the troubled publisher.
On Friday, Activision Blizzard informed a total of 20 Raven Software game testers that they’d no longer have jobs after January 28, despite their “good standing” status. The company painted the layoffs as part of a larger move to convert 500 contractors to full-time employees, which did little to quell employee discontent. This culminated on Monday, when 60 employees at Raven Software walked off their jobs to demand the reinstatement of their laid-off colleagues. QA workers and staff from other Activision studios had joined in solidarity.
Multiple sources told Kotaku that attempts to contact Activision management directly had been met with silence.
One Raven Software tester told Kotaku: “The layoffs at Raven...were the tipping point. A lot of energy has been building for this [unionization] movement for a while now, and what happened to us and our response to it was a catalyst that really got things moving.”
Today, World of Warcraft UI developer Valentine Powell revealed that unionization efforts with CODE-CWA had been planned for months. Indeed, an anonymous Raven source told Kotaku that they believed unionization was inevitable.
However, an Activision source told Kotaku that, based on discussions they’d witnessed in company Slack, last Friday’s Raven Software layoffs were the “spark” that finally set off this week’s unprecedented wave of open organizing.
It’s clear that the organizers recognized the precariousness of their own positions in what had happened to the testers. As one developer from Activision Austin told Kotaku, “The reason there is solidarity with Raven is because it’s a reminder that unless we stick together...we are all disposable.”
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This is all happening during a busy time for Raven. The latest Call of Duty Warzone map just went live yesterday, and players have already spotted several severe bugs in the latest update, which Raven Software is currently addressing despite the upheaval.
It appears that Activision is making up for its newfound shortage of Warzone developers by bringing in staff from elsewhere.
According to the Austin-based developer Kotaku spoke with, around 60 Activision Austin employees had been moved from Call of Duty: Vanguard to work on Call of Duty: Warzone due to a supposed lack of personnel. They were then horrified to learn, last Friday, that Vanguard’s testers were being laid off.
“It just made me feel like a tool [used] to hurt others,” the developer told Kotaku. “If I didn’t like it, [then I felt] I should do something.”
While the push to reinstate the laid-off workers is the primary concern for Raven’s striking testers, they’re also participating in the union drive alongside their Activision Blizzard King colleagues.
The Raven source said that outside contractors are eligible to sign union cards. Despite being told that they would not be paid during the strike, the organizers’ morale remains high. They were especially encouraged by the amount of money that the strike fund has raised. As of the time of writing, A Better ABK’s GoFundMe has raised over $164,000.
According to one tester at Raven Software: “This show of love and solidarity has meant the world to us, and we can’t thank people enough.”
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As for Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and his management team, they may go down in history for being so incompetent that they set off the first full-fledged unionization drive at an American “AAA” video game studio.