On May 23, the studio behind the Call of Duty franchise, Raven Software, had voted 13-2 in favour of establishing a worker’s union. This is a landmark moment as they are the first worker’s union in the gaming industry!
This victory came after months of campaigning after Raven’s decision to lay-off a dozen quality assurance testers. Game Worker’s Alliance now seeks to uphold the rights of all employees of Raven Software and are the first step to a better industry.
The current issue with the industry is that consumer and shareholder demands are completely disconnected with the reality of game development. Consumers ask for more, shareholders want to cut costs and developers pay the expense.
The result? Underpaid employees with no job security result in maximum profit, sure. However, in the long term, game quality suffers as small, inexperienced teams cannot cope with tight deadlines and eventually, educated and experienced individuals will no longer see game development as a viable career.
Our focus is on improving the conditions of workers in the video game industry by making it a more sustainable, equitable place where transparency is paramount.Game Worker’s Alliance mission statement
This is what GWA hopes to remedy. In particular, Call of Duty: Warzone has seen its fair share of glitches, exploits and instability as a result of Raven’s mistreatment of their QA testers. Maintaining the Battle Royale is an astronomical task and it was clear that the QA team was understaffed and overworked.
The GWA will push Raven to retain more staff, ensure that ample assistance is given for their relocation and that they have enough resources to avoid Crunch conditions (compulsory overtime to meet deadlines). We hope that through this, passionate staff will remain physically and mentally healthy, so that they can continue putting genuine care into Warzone.
GWA is also pushing for better transparency, meaning that Raven management will need to make an effort in keeping employees informed of any company-wide issues. Therefore, valid reasons must be given for all decisions, which may reduce unjust lay-offs like those in December 2021.
There have been arguments made about how the ‘bureaucracy’ of a union may hinder the release schedules of games or perhaps even increase cost, but these claims are based off speculation and not on precedent; a given since GWA is the first games industry union.
Instead, I believe this has now started a trend. Employees of other studios may follow GWA’s example if needed. Idealistically, we’d like a future where game developers are less vulnerable to companies exploiting the lack of accountability and auditing to push abusive policy.
Studios also now see that a shift in employment policy is needed; they now must function under the assumption that employees have the option of unionizing if they do not open proper channels of negotiation and discussion.
Finally, with an improved working environment for developers, we may see a boost in motivation, mental health and physical health for game industry employees.
This all aims to make the industry more sustainable in the long-term and I believe it will benefit the quality of our games overall.
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