On the 3rd of December 2021, Raven Software had announced that they would be laying off 12 employees from their Quality Assurance Department. This department is responsible for the QA testing of Call of Duty: Warzone.
This sparked a company wide strike in solidarity of the workers as they were in good standing with the company and were not given proper explanations, leading to the impression that these terminations were unjust and unlawful.
As several of these employees relocated to Wisconsin to work in the studio, the lack of support from Raven Software and contract termination left these individuals in a precarious situation, spurring the ABK Worker’s Alliance to take action.
On the 6th of January 2022, Gameindustry.biz stated that an Activision spokesperson informed them that “Raven Software’s management has been speaking to employees”, in what would have supposedly been the first instance of contact since the start of the strike 3 weeks prior.
Despite this, several individuals associated with the ABK Workers Alliance and the Raven employees have stated that no such direct contact had been made.
The conflicting messages from both parties indicate that the matter is far from resolution. As of writing this article, Raven Software’s official twitter and Activision have still yet to come forward with an official statement.
Activision’s actions allegedly stem from efforts to restructure the studio, however Raven QA employees state that the department is severely under-staffed.
Furthermore, the lay-off of the 12 temporary workers seems contrary to the statement provided to gameindustry.biz.
We are growing our overall investment in development and operations resources and converting nearly 500 temporary workers to full-time employees across our studios, the largest conversion in Activision’s history.Activision Spokesperson to Gameindustry.biz, 2022, https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2022-01-05-raven-software-strike-continues-as-staff-report-no-response-from-activision-management
If this is the case, then one would assume that the 12 temporary workers in Raven QA would be included in the conversion. For what reason were they excluded?
Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance #ABetterABK
The ongoing situation at Raven QA is indicative of the much larger issue of the work culture across Activision companies. Ever since the July 20th, 2021 state lawsuit against Activision Blizzard over its “pervasive frat boy workplace culture”, it has been made plainly obvious that significant changes had to be made company policy and culture.
The ABK (Activision Blizzard King) Worker’s Alliance was formed with aim to provide a voice to employees under the company, improve representation, working conditions and transparency.
It has since helped push the rights of the employees and is currently aiding the ex-employees of Raven QA financially and are pushing for their reinstatement as employees.
I contacted Jessica Gonzalez, founder and organiser of the ABK Worker’s Alliance, and I was able to ask her several questions to obtain insight into the formation of the group, her perspective on the public view of game development and her opinion on the current trajectory of Activision leadership.
The key issues she identified were, that culture in Activision companies made it difficult to speak up as an employee hence the formation of the group, that public perception of game development is warped due to how secretive the industry can be and that workers have lost all faith in Bobby Kotick’s (current Activision CEO) leadership.
Employees were afraid to speak up and that’s why they were so thankful for my voice, some were on visas and didn’t want to risk unemployment.Jessica Gonzalez, 2022
We helped each other draft responses to HR when they started asking for “quick chats” and not allowing a support person. We were savvy to intimidation tactics.Jessica Gonzalez, 2022
Game companies focus on showing the consumer the product and that removes the people from the consumer, in result those consumers feels entitled to the content…Jessica Gonzalez, 2022
Workers have zero faith in Kotick’s leadership […] His main focus is money and deadlines which results in loss of polish in the games.Jessica Gonzalez, 2022
Read the full interview below.
Q: Was there any hinderance from Blizzard/Activision management/policy that made the formation ABK Worker’s Alliance difficult? Were employees initially hesitant to speak up? If so, how did you and the other founders overcome these obstacles?
A lot of people were in support of the ABK workers alliance because they were so sick and tired of being gaslit by leadership. I would say the only people that were trying to hinder any progressive efforts from the alliance were only those that benefit from the systems in place and saw our efforts for equality as oppression.
Employees were afraid to speak up and that’s why they were so thankful for my voice, some were on visas and didn’t want to risk employment. I was so tired of the industry and the way it treats it’s talent I pretty much stopped caring what the industry thought when I spoke up. It needed to be done. At the first walkout people were scared but we’ve come such a long way since. We know our rights and support each other.
We overcame the obstacles by communicating with each other and supporting each other. We didn’t give leadership the means to corner and silence individuals because we are a community. We helped each other draft responses to HR when they started asking for “quick chats” and not allowing a support person. We were savvy to intimidation tactics.
Q: Public perception of videogame development is lacklustre as I’ve seen from some of the negative reactions to the strike. Is this a prevalent issue or a vocal minority from your perspective? If the former, what is your message to the gaming community?
In particular, responses to the strike where Raven QA employees are being called lazy.
I think the video game industry had this secretive view on how games are developed. Rarely you see as a consumer how the sausage is made, and now that we’re having survivors come forward and share their stories of abuse people don’t want to believe it. Or rather, they feel we should be “lucky” to work in games. Raven QA are hard dedicated workers.
I hate this view on QA in games being unskilled labor. Unskilled labor is a classist view to pit laborers against each other so we don’t point fingers at our oppressors. Those saying that workers are lazy wouldn’t last a day in game dev.
Q: So would you say that the change begins in companies being more transparent? Or is the gaming community at large being blissfully ignorant despite available resources at their disposal?
I think it’s a little bit of both. Game companies focus on showing the consumer the end product and that removes the people from the consumer, in result those consumers feel entitled to the content, not knowing how many developers physically and mentally suffered to get that content into their hands; doing heavy crunch.
If consumers want a good product they should focus on better working conditions for the developers instead of also abusing the developers when they don’t like something about the game.
Q: As for my final question, from your perspective of the campaign do you think any change is going to be forthcoming under Bobby Kotick’s current leadership? I understand the group has (understandably) called for Kotick’s resignation. Will change happen soon?
Workers have zero faith in Kotick’s leadership. He’s led the company for 30 years and had some harassment and abuse issues in his past. His response to the lawsuit should show you where his values lie. This is not someone who should be leading a creative industry.
His main focus is money and deadlines which results in loss of polish in the games. He has some amazing IPs and continues to focus mainly on the call of duty franchise and getting new ones out quickly by any means. That hurts the developers.
People are leaving ABK because he is not leading responsibly.
It appears that despite being beset on all sides by criticism be it from fans, employees and even a governing body, Activision has still not made any meaningful changes to its attitude on its employees.
As this happens, players are continuing to encounter issues in Call of Duty: Warzone, citing issues with stability and graphical errors.
What do you think about the strike? Do you think that Activision is on a downward spiral? Can they recover? Go wild with your thoughts in the comment box!