Call of Duty: Warzone testers form the first game industry union at a major US publisher

Characters take aim in Call of Duty: Warzone

Members of the quality assurance team at Raven Software, the studio now primarily known for its work on Call of Duty: Warzone, have announced the formation of the Game Workers Alliance, the first videogame industry union at a major US publisher. The group’s creation comes in collaboration with the Communication Workers of America, and follows weeks of strikes over publisher Activision Blizzard’s decision to end the contracts of a dozen QA workers at Raven.

“We ask that Activision Blizzard management respect Raven QA workers by voluntarily recognizing CWA’s representation without hesitation,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens says in a statement provided to Polygon. “A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger. Voluntary recognition is the rational way forward.”

The CWA reports that the Game Worker’s Alliance has the support of 78% of eligible Raven QA workers. In a public message on social media, GWA says that its principals include “realistic timelines” (meaning an end to crunch), transparent communication with leadership, equal treatment for QA employees along with other branches of development, and the empowerment of underrepresented voices.

“Activision Blizzard is carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA, which seeks to organize around three dozen of the company’s nearly 10,000 employees,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson tells us via email. “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.

“Across Activision Blizzard, we remain focused on listening closely to our employees and providing the improved pay, benefits and professional opportunities needed to attract and retain the world’s best talent. Over the past couple of years, this has included raising minimum compensation for Raven QA employees by 41%, extending paid time off, expanding access to medical benefits for employees and significant others, and transitioning more than 60% of temporary Raven QA staff into full-time employees.”

In July 2021, the state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging years of workplace discrimination and harassment. The story has since embroiled CEO Bobby Kotick and prompted the US federal government to open an investigation. It continues to unfold and to be of immense importance to the game industry. You can catch up on all the developments so far in this regularly updated explainer article.

Vodeo Workers United became the first videogame industry union in North America last year, representing a dozen workers spread across the US and Canada at indie studio Vodeo Games. Game Workers Alliance represents the first unionisation effort at a major US publisher, though unions at other big game companies – like Paradox – have formed in the industry internationally.