Activision Blizzard Hire Experienced Equity Officer & Increase QA Pay

After last-month's lay-offs at Raven Software, and following Activision's acquisition by Microsoft, QA testers are seeking to form the first-ever Union for a publically traded North American game developer. Now, Activision Blizzard have denied their request and are seeking to reorganize the studio.
Raven software union
Raven Software employees are seeking to Unionize. | © Raven Software

After the shocking layoffs of QA Testers over at Raven Software late last year – for which we called for the boycott of Warzone's Caldera map – a 34-person unit of testers are forming a union, as reported by Bloomberg. The Union, now named the Game Workers Alliance Union (GWA), are seeking voluntary recognition from Activision, and if recognised will become the first union to operate for the protection of worker's rights at a publicly traded games publisher in the United States.

It goes without saying that this is huge news, with Jason Schreier – whom broke the story for Bloomberg – noting that "for years, people from across the video game industry have proposed organizing as a solution to unhealthy work environments". The unionizing of workers against Activision is of no surprise, either, after a disastrous 2021 for Activision.

This article details an evolving story at Activision Blizzard, and thus we are continually updating it with all of the latest developments. We will label all updates, with the original article down below.

[UPDATE: April 12, 2022]

Activision Spokesperson Responds to Our Request for Comment

Regarding this article's April 8, 2022 update, EarlyGame has received an update from Activision on the situation and a response to our request for comment. The initial email, provided to us later on April 8, reiterated the same press release given to other outlets such as Polygon (detailed below).

However, in an email send late on April 11, an Activision spokesperson provided us with the following statement:

The minimum salary and contractual change will be applicable to all US-based temporary and contingent QA workers at Activision and Blizzard. (Call of Duty, WoW, Overwatch, and all other franchises under Activision Publishing And Blizzard).

Nothing is more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of our teams, and so we are continuing to invest heavily in a renewed focus on the employee experience. Over the last three years, we have implemented initiatives to enhance our workplace culture, and will continue that work throughout 2022. Our goal is to set the new standard in the industry, and beyond, and be a company everyone can be proud to work for.

A few hours after receiving this email, Activision Blizzard announced via Twitter the appointment of Kristen Hines as the company's new Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer. In the press release, Activision stated that Hines' role at the company will be to "strengthen work underway with the company’s leadership team and its Employee Resource Groups to implement programs and policies that foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace environment".

Hines previously worked for Accenture, where she held a similar position and led the Global Inclusion, Diversity and Equity practice. She seems to be a very experienced HR person, and said that she is "looking forward to leading the company's efforts to further build a workplace that values transparency, equity, and inclusivity".

This is a fantastic step for the company, which has been embattled by not just the Raven Software QA Tester scandal late last year and early this year, but historic sexual harassment and discrimination allegations. Until recently, Activision Blizzard was considered a pretty rough place to work (especially as a woman), so we hope that these steps will continue to strengthen the quality of life seen at the publisher.

[UPDATE: April 8, 2022]

Activision Blizzard Make All US-Based QA Testers Full-Time & Issue Pay Rises

After months of negotiations and the refusal by Activision Blizzard to recognize a Union formed by a conglomeration of QA Testers at the company, the publisher is finally taking positive action. In an announcement issued by the company on Thursday, April 7, Activision confirmed that they will be converting all US-Based Quality Assurance Testers to full time contracts and issuing a pay rise.

The news, broken by Jason Schreier of Bloomberg, sees more than 1000 US-Based employees provided with full-time contracts and given an hourly pay rate of at least $20 USD. It was confirmed when Activision Blizzard informed staff of the changes via email on Thursday.

In a statement to Polygon, an Activision spokesperson said that in light of "ambitious plans for the future" the company is "refining how [their] development teams work together". Quality Assurance testing is part of that shift, and is – as put by the spokesperson – "critical to [Activision's] development success." They then went on to confirm the changes:

I’m pleased to announce that we are converting all US-based temporary and contingent QA workers to full time employees (FTEs). 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.

This change follows the conversion of nearly 500 temporary and contingent workers to permanent full-time employees at Activision Publishing’s studios, and other ongoing conversions that have taken place in the past few months.

It is unclear whether absolutely all Activision Blizzard QA Testers are getting these changes, regardless of the game that they are working on. At least in the short term, this does not seem to be the case, with Jason Schreier revealing on Twitter that Activision will not be providing these raises to the Raven Software QA who Unionized, due to "legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act".


[UPDATE: January 27, 2022]

Voluntary Recognition Denied By Activision Blizzard, Who Seek Reorganization of Raven Software

Quality Assurance Testers seeking to Unionize have had their voluntary recognition request effectively denied by Activision Blizzard, after the company failed to meet the given deadline. The story, as described elsewhere in this article, was broken by Bloomberg, after 34 QA Testers at Raven Software, based in Madison, Wisconsin (USA), submitted a request for the voluntary recognition of GWA.

Seeing as the deadline, set for 6PM ET on Tuesday, January 25, has now been passed without a response, the GWA will proceed to file with the National Labor Relations Board. If the claims made in the request are true, and the workers have more than 50 percent of the votes within Raven Software's QA Department, then Activision Blizzard will be forced to bargain with the group.

Following the conclusion of the deadline, before which no response was given from Activision Blizzard, Raven Software's studio head sent an email to staff. In the email, Brian Raffel said the following:

After carefully reviewing and considering the CWA’s initial request of the company, we worked quickly to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would have led to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement...

In the following text, Raffel goes on to claim that Raven Software are dedicated to building a workplace where "each eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard". If workers are unionizing, though, it certainly seems that they are displeased with recent actions taken by Raven Software and associated publisher Activision Blizzard.

In response to Raven Software's response, and their denial of voluntary recognition, the GWA went on to express confidence in their next move: "We are proud to file with the NLRB as we enjoy supermajority support for our union and know that together, we will gain the formal legal recognition we have earned".

In addition to what seems like the denial of Union action, Raven Software have also established that they will continue plans to reorganize the department. Studio head Brain Raffel said, in the same email to staff, that he is "excited to share that our QA colleagues will embed directly within various teams across the studio, including Animation, Art, Design, Audio, Production and Engineering". Specific details are scarce at this point, however.

It does seem a little odd for this particular piece of information to be shared in an email sent out regarding pending union action. The term "reorganization" is often associated with the laying off of staff within companies like Raven Software and Activision Blizzard. Both companies are known to have taken such action in the past, and we hope that this is not the implication of such a reorganization.

[ORIGINAL ARTICLE – 25 January, 2022]

In the wake of massive sexual harassment and discrimination allegations against the games publisher, Activision Blizzard has been faced with ongoing legal action for alleged breaches of California workplace law. The accusations levelled mainly revolve around the treatment of women within the organization, and alleged discrimination that has been claimed to limit women's ability to score high-level positions and promotions.

Why Would Raven Software QA Testers Unionize?

Mere days before the launch of Warzone's new Caldera Map, a major expansion for Activision's flagship Call of Duty free-to-play Battle Royale game, about a dozen QA Testing staff were laid off. It is still relatively unknown why these staff were laid off, but the decision spurred a Staff Walkout, and a number of protests from other Raven Software staff. This was particularly prevalent in members of the QA team.

Quality Assurance, or QA, is the process of testing games and ruling out bugs and other software issues that may be present within a game. It is one of the most important processes in a game's development cycle, as it guarantees a higher level of polish and a consumer product that is of a higher standard and quality. Thus, to have QA Testers laid off mere days before a major game release was quite shocking news, as it fed into ongoing problems with games publishers using the players themselves as glorified QA Testers.

With Microsoft now taking up the helm at Activision Blizzard, it seems increasingly unlikely that a union movement like the GWA could be successful in the future. The company has a history of dismissing employees who have organized. All this being said, it is still within Activision's hands at this stage as to whether they will voluntarily recognize the GWA's union status.

A spokesperson from Activision spoke to Bloomberg, saying that Activision "Deeply respect[s] the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union" and that the company is in the process of reviewing the GWA's request. If there is no response, then the GWA will file with the National Labor Board Association. This would be something that Activision will be keen to avoid.

It is well known that game developers, and in-particular QA Testers, are subject to insane levels of overtime, and expected to work extremely hard for pay that is often not substantial. It was only a matter of time until such a movement popped up, and if successful, this will be a huge win for the games industry as a whole – because, after all, it's the people, not the companies themselves, that make video games. Without those people, we wouldn't have the games we all love and enjoy.