QA testers at Raven Software, a subsidiary of video game development giant Activision Blizzard, began voting this week for union certification through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Eligible workers have until May 20 to vote and the official count will take place on May 23 via videoconference. Citing issues with pay, hours, job stability and respect, nearly 30 QA workers went public with their union with the Communications Workers of America as the Game Workers Alliance (CWA) in January . The effort came on the heels of a wave of tech and gaming worker unions organized by the CWA’s CODE-CWA campaign that ushered in the first certified tabletop gaming worker union at Paizo, the company behind the successes Pathfinder and Starfinder, as well as the first certified union of video game workers in North America at independent studio Vodeo Games.
The union’s announcement follows months of petitions, strikes and layoffs at Activision Blizzard. In response to the union’s announcement, Raven Software and Activision Blizzard quickly launched an aggressive anti-union campaign aimed at smashing workers’ solidarity and their chances of winning. In March, Raven Software management announced plans to reorganize QA testers from an isolated department to what is known as “integrated testing” where they would be integrated into other studio departments. Shortly after, Activision Blizzard challenged the definition of the worker unit, saying the unit should include the entire Raven Software studio of more than 200 workers – a claim which, if accepted by the NLRB, would would immediately drop its support level below the majority required to gain union certification. . After several rounds of hearings, the NLRB decided in late April that the QA testers workers’ unit was valid and that voting would begin in May.
In another attempt to demoralize Raven QA workers, Activision Blizzard announced plans in April to transfer thousands of temporary, part-time game testers to full-time positions with pay raises — excluding unionized workers at Raven Software. The company cited NLRB restrictions to justify its exclusion of unionized workers, but in reality offering wage increases or benefits to non-unionized workers ahead of a union vote is a very common union busting tactic and has recently been used against the union. Starbucks organization. efforts. It is clear that this wage increase is a desperate attempt to bribe workers not to organize in an atmosphere of labor activism under the banner “A Better ABK” and union organizing by the Communications Workers of America. Any concession from the boss, including this one, is the result of labor organizing.
The rise of workers in the game development industry is a rapidly growing front in the struggle to organize new industries. The labor organization in the video game industry isn’t just notable for its poor working conditions – it also has strong ties to the US State Department, intelligence services, and the Department of Defense. . Activision Blizzard itself is known for its wildly successful Call of Duty franchise, which injects imperialist and pro-war propaganda directly into the heart of mass media and youth culture. In 2021, news broke that Activision Blizzard had welcomed a former CIA operations director into a senior position within the company.
The gaming industry as a whole has a long history of working directly with the US State Department and working closely with weapons manufacturers. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Defense has only become more involved in the gaming industry and youth gaming culture through Twitch streaming recruitment targeting children and highlighting children’s games. competitive esports in its recruiting materials for high school students.
Video games play a crucial role in modern culture, eclipsing revenue from the film, sports and music industries. Even the White House has acknowledged this wave of video game organizing with President Biden and Vice President Harris hosting a member of gaming union CODE-CWA at a meeting with other union organizers. If Raven QA testers win their next union vote on May 23, the Communications Workers of America’s efforts to organize the gaming industry will mark a new milestone and claim territory at the heart of major corporate game development.