In A First In Gaming, Activision’s ‘Call of Duty’ Testers Vote To Form A Union
The new push for work fairness comes after PR disasters and legal pressure forced management to address accusations of toxic and sexist practices
After years of stories regarding sexual misconduct allegations and unfair workplace conditions at gaming studios, a small group of quality assurance testers have accomplished an industry-first. Raven Software’s QA team has just voted to create their own union, and it is recognised by the National Labor Relations Board.
We are looking forward to voting for – and winning – our union.— Game Workers Alliance 💙#WeAreGWA (@WeAreGWA) April 23, 2022
The vote, which passed 19-3, affects the 28-strong workforce that help develop and update the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise. Known as the ‘Game Workers Alliance’, the new push for work fairness at Activision-Blizzard’s studios comes after PR disasters and legal pressure forced management to address accusations of sexist, misogynistic practices, many of which were ignored by top brass including CEO Bobby Kotick.
While a burgeoning movement had started to flare up in mid-2021, COD studio Raven Software’s teams led the charge with a massive walkout last November, where some of today’s unionizers banded together to protest unfair layoffs at the company.
These developments were followed by support from The Communications Workers of America, one of the largest unions in the U.S., which helped the workers organise and vote for better rights at their jobs.
“Our biggest hope is that our union serves as inspiration for the growing movement of workers organizing at video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us,” workers in the new union said in a statement.
What Does This Mean For The Gaming Industry?
For starters, the vote itself was quite unique and it created a considerable splash online with Twitch streams and Twitter discussions flaring up as the vote was being counted. Despite the modest size of the union itself, the outreach has been massive, with a tiny group somehow winning out against a massive $71B+ market cap industry giant.
It’s particularly heartening to see this at a time when Starbucks baristas across the U.S. have been campaigning for unionized coffee shops, and buckling under the effect of expensive union-busting campaigns. While the ripple effect is yet to be observed, Raven’s QA team has certainly accomplished something historic this week.
Game development, despite its positive, fun veneer, is easily one of the most harsh and exploitative creative industries on the planet. A May 2021 article by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier explains this in great detail, taking time to pick apart how frequent layoffs, inhuman deadlines, and toxic management practices seem to affect many companies that we regularly purchase titles from:
“All together, the video game industry has shed hundreds of jobs since the beginning of the year. At first glance, it may seem like economic consequences of recalibrating after a deadly pandemic. But the video game industry is richer than it’s ever been, estimated to have brought in a whopping $180 billion in revenue last year, according to IDC data, far surpassing the global film business.
In fact, in games, instability is the norm,” The industry is constantly beset by studio closures and mass layoffs. A 2017 survey by the International Game Developers Association found that game workers had an average of 2.2 employers in the previous five years.”
With chants of unionization sounding from across gaming forums across the internet, perhaps it’s time for a revolution in the way games are made. Not every side of that coin seems to be fun, after all.
(Featured Image Credits: Raven Software, Activision-Blizzard, @WeAreGWA/Twitter)