Developers at the Boston-based gaming studio Proletariat announced plans to unionize on Tuesday. If successful, roughly 60 employees there who worked on World of Warcraft’s new Dragonflight expansion would join the growing ranks of organized labor across parent company Activision Blizzard and beyond.
Update 1/24/23 1:24 p.m. ET: CWA and the Proletariat Workers Alliance withdrew their petition to unionize today, accusing management of making a free and fair election impossible.
Original story follows.
The group, called the Proletariat Workers Alliance, is unionizing with the Communications Workers of America and says it has a supermajority of support among qualifying staff at the studio. While it has filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board, it’s also calling on Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize the union in a break with the Call of Duty publishers’ attempts to stall and sabotage similar efforts at its other studios.
“Everyone in the video game industry knows Activision Blizzard’s reputation for creating a hostile work environment, so earlier this year, when we heard that Blizzard was planning to acquire Proletariat, we started to discuss how we could protect the great culture we have created here,” Dustin Yost, a software engineer at the studio, said in a press release. “By forming a union and negotiating a contract, we can make sure that we are able to continue doing our best work and create innovative experiences at the frontier of game development.”
The Proletariat Workers Alliance would be unique among gaming unions for representing all non-management staff at the studio, rather than just quality assurance staff as is the case at Raven Software, Blizzard Albany, and unionization efforts currently underway at Microsoft’s Bethesda studios. The Proletariat developers list flexible PTO, optional remote work, no mandatory overtime, and policies fostering diversity, equality and inclusion among the demands they plan to negotiate at the bargaining table if the union drive is successful.
“Our top priority remains our employees, and we value the contributions the talented Proletariat team made since joining Blizzard this summer,” a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Kotaku in an email. “We received the petition on Wednesday and will provide a response to the NLRB in the coming days.”
Activision Blizzard didn’t immediately confirm whether it would voluntarily recognize the union or try to fight it as it has previous efforts within the company. The publisher recently tried to block Blizzard Albany’s union on the grounds that allowing only QA to unionize would hurt the development of games like Diablo IV. Ultimately, the NLRB didn’t buy it, but in Proletariat’s case those concerns would be moot anyway since a studio-wide vote is exactly what the workers are asking for.
Proletariat was founded in 2012 by former Zynga, Insomniac Games, and Harmonix developers, funded by venture capital and investments from companies like Take-Two. It’s best-known release prior to joining Blizzard was Spellbreak, a free-to-play magic shooter that came out in 2020. The game was eventually shut down this past June, however, and Proletariat was acquired to work on World of Warcraft the following month.
“At Proletariat, we have always emphasized looking out for each other as people, and we’re committed to preserving what is best about our studio,” James Van Nuland, an associate game producer at Proletariat, said today. “We are in this together.”
Update 1/9/23 4:47 p.m. ET: Proletariat studio leadership confirmed in a new blog post that the company will demand a full NLRB election. “The Proletariat leadership is and has always been pro-worker,” management wrote, but wants to make sure employees are “informed and educated” before they decide instead of voluntarily recognizing the new union. Here’s the full statement:
On December 27, 2022, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed a petition to exclusively represent a number of Proletariat’s employees as part of their union.
Since then, we have come to understand that many of our employees prefer to have an anonymous vote. To that end, we filed our formal position to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) earlier today, and requested an anonymous voting process to take place. Besides being the fairest option, this also allows employees to get all the information and various points of view. This is an important decision, everyone deserves some time to process it and to better understand its potential impacts.
The Proletariat leadership is and has always been pro-worker. In fact, the Proletariat name was inspired by the founders’ dissatisfaction as workers in the industry. They wanted everyone to share in the success and ownership of the studio, and to be treated fairly. That included everyone from the most senior to first-time developers, regardless of if they were a manager or an individual contributor, across the full range of disciplines that made up the company. For the past 10 years, we’ve worked hard to build a great place to work, and we’re often told by employees who leave, stay, or return, that this is the best place they’ve ever worked.
Our top priority right now is to keep our employees informed and educated, and Proletariat leadership is committed to having voluntary open discussions with the team members about what is happening. We will support all team members in the lead up to and through the voting process.
The Proletariat Leadership Team
Update 1/10/22 10:00 a.m. ET: In response to Activision and Proletariat managements’ decision, the Proletariat Workers Alliance has released its own statement calling the push for a formal election despite a supermajority of staff signing union cards as “right out of the union-busting playbook.”
Update 12/28/22 12:26 p.m. ET: Added comment from Activision Blizzard.