Today, Raven Software, the Activision Blizzard company most known for its game “Call of Duty,” announced its first union. The Game Workers Alliance was launched by Raven Software testers, with the help of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), to improve the conditions of video game workers by making the industry a more sustainable, fair environment where transparency is indispensable, beyond the confines of its organization. A 34-member team calls on management to recognize their union during a time already characterized by change. On Tuesday, Microsoft purchased Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, making it one of the most expensive tech purchases ever made.
Since the historic acquisition by Activision Blizzard, the company has been embroiled in scandals, including an investigation by the SEC and sexual harassment allegations. In-house employee groups like the ABK Workers Alliance laid the groundwork for employee solidarity. A walkout at Raven Software, a Wisconsin-based studio that laid off 12 contractors at the outset of December, has lasted five weeks.
“At that moment, we realized they were not considering the challenges we face in our day-to-day work and the role we play as QA in the games industry. So at that time, Raven quality assurance decided to strike to express our position that we are not just disposable parts of the industry. When we did, it became very evident that there was majority support within our department for a union.”
With the help of social media, the ABK Workers Alliance raised over $370,000 for strike-related wages. Activision Blizzard has been struck three times in the last two years, the CWA said, after it filed suit over claims of sexual harassment and misconduct. Still, about 20 workers remain on strike, Rongstad said.
“Currently, we don’t know how long [the strike will last], as we have not spoken directly with senior management about the 12 people who were let go, which is unfortunate,” said Raven Software’s Rongstad, who joined the company in September 2020. However, to prevent future incidents like this, we hope to complete our unionization and get voluntary recognition.
Rightstad added that the union would not change its plans to pursue recognition despite Microsoft’s planned acquisition.
Gaming doesn’t have a precedent for workers to organize with this level of vigour, despite the industry being notorious for overworking employees or laying off workers in large numbers due to studio closures. However, Vodeo Games, which produced the indie title Beast Breaker only a month ago, formally united with the CWA as the first gaming union in North America.
Activision Blizzard has yet to announce whether or not it will voluntarily recognize the Game Workers Alliance. It will be unnecessary for Activision Blizzard to hold a union election if they choose to recognize the union. By conducting an election through the National Labor Relations Board, the association can force the company to identify them.
We gained voluntary recognition since we had a supermajority. So hopefully, they will voluntarily recognize the union and demonstrate their support for workers’ rights, said Rongstad. “We’re confident we’ll win,” he added.