Gaming

Activision employee group forms union, a first in video games – OCRegister


By Jason Schreier | Bloomberg

Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard will come with an unexpected and perhaps unwelcome addition: a small group of unionized workers.

About three dozen people who work for an Activision-owned studio agreed to form the Game Workers Alliance Union, representatives for the group said Friday. They asked Activision to voluntarily recognize their union status. It would be the first union at a publicly-traded video game publisher.

The group is composed of 34 quality assurance testers at Activision’s Wisconsin-based Raven Software, a team responsible for ensuring new content for Call of Duty games runs smoothly and without errors. It’s part of the Communications Workers of America, the largest union in the media industry.

A spokesman for Activision said the company is reviewing the request for recognition.

“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

For years, people from across the video game industry have proposed organizing as a solution to unhealthy work environments. Burnout is a prevalent issue in gaming, brought on by a culture of overwork, sexism and little job security. Employers have not embraced workers’ flirtations with unionizing, but last month, employees of a small independent studio called Vodeo Games became the first to organize in North America.

Read more: Blizzard turned game developers into rock stars, misbehavior followed

Activision has been mired in scandal since California sued the company last summer for claims of sexual harassment and discrimination. Workers at the company began handing out union cards last month, triggering a warning from management that employees should “take time to consider the consequences of your signature on the binding legal document presented to you.”

Workers at Activision’s Raven Software went on strikes starting Dec. 6 in protest of the company’s intent to dismiss a dozen contract testers. Quality assurance testers are generally paid the least of any game developers and are sometimes treated as disposable. At Raven, testers are frequently asked to work overtime and have talked of going nights and weekends for months straight.

The Activision spokesman said the company has over the past couple of years raised minimum compensation for Raven testers by 41%, extended paid time off and expanded medical benefits access to workers and their spouses.

Microsoft said this week that it will acquire Activision for $68.7 billion. Unionization at big tech companies like Microsoft is rare. When a 38-person group of Microsoft bug testers organized in 2014, the company eventually dismissed them.

Management at Activision hasn’t acknowledged the Raven strike or responded to specific requests from the workers, representatives for the Game Workers Alliance Union said.

“It’s extremely important that workers have a real seat at the table to positively shape the company going forward,” Brent Reel, quality assurance lead at Raven, said in a statement.



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