What is Raven? Founded in 1990, the developer is best known for its work on the Call of Duty franchise. It was acquired by Activision Blizzard for $12 million in 1997.
How did this all start? In December of last year, Activision Blizzard fired 12 quality assurance testers at Raven after eight months of unkept promises from management including increased wages, according to the union. In response, a group of Raven workers went on strike, demanding that the fired employees be rehired to full-time positions. The strike lasted seven weeks, and in January a group of 34 quality assurance testers at Raven formed a union, the Game Workers Alliance, with the help of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The group asked management to recognize them but were denied.
What issues are the union looking to address? According to the Game Workers Alliance webpage, problems include frequent “crunch” periods, “lack of income parity” with other teams, the expectation to relocate, and “continued cultural and ethical conflicts” at the company — apparently a reference to sexism scandals at Activision Blizzard.
In January of this year, two dozen quality assurance testers were told that they would be split into various departments across the studio. According to the play testers who spoke with The Post, that shakeup has caused their job duties to become unclear and inconsistent. “Some days we have more to do than we can ever possibly accomplish in a day, and other days we’re sitting around waiting to hear what we should work on. We aren’t all on the same page anymore,” said the Raven employee.
How does the union vote work? Last month, The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) mailed ballots to the quality assurance testers at Raven who were with the company during the pay period ending April 16. All ballots must be returned by May 20 to be counted, and on May 23, the Milwaukee office of the NLRB will count them during a live-streamed video conference. The proposed union needs affirmative votes from 50% plus one of the department staff, at which point Activision Blizzard would have to begin bargaining with the group in good faith.
What has the company said about this vote? In a company statement, Activision Blizzard said that it would review its legal options should a unionization vote pass. In a statement made to The Post on April 22, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George said:
While we respect the NLRB process, we are disappointed that a decision that could significantly impact the future of our entire studio will be made by fewer than 10 percent of our employees. We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals.
Previously, the company had said it attempted to negotiate with the CWA, but “unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement.”
Activision Blizzard has also contested the original union paperwork filing, claiming that any union at Raven would need to include all the studio’s employees. This was seen by pro-labor experts as a strategy to limit union support in Madison. Eventually, the NLRB rejected the company’s argument, declaring that the quality assurance testers could form their own bargaining unit.
Why is all this important? As we reported earlier this year, if recognized, the Game Workers Alliance will become the first union at a major North American video game company (although indie developer Vodeo set a precedent late last year by recognizing an employee union).
A recognized union at Raven would set a new precedent in American gaming production at a time when other industries are seeing similar swells in support for organized labor. Just last week, a group of grassroots labor organizers (including The Animation Guild) were invited to the White House to meet president Joe Biden and speak with vice president Kamala Harris and secretary of labor Marty Walsh.
Raven’s vote also comes as Activision Blizzard finds itself under incredible legal scrutiny on both coasts. Last week, the New York City Employees’ Retirement Fund and the teachers’ and firefighters’ pension funds sued the company for underpricing its shares ahead of a takeover by Microsoft Corporation.
There is also a pending harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the company in the state of California, filed last summer. That lawsuit said women employees at Activision Blizzard were paid less and discriminated against, and described a culture of sexual harassment. And just last week, the parents of an Activision Blizzard employee who took her own life during a work retreat in 2017 dropped their lawsuit against the company, but did so with prejudice, meaning it can be revived at a later date.
Pictured Above: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’