Game giant Activision Blizzard said Friday it will commence talks with Communications Workers of America union representatives to negotiate a contract on behalf of 27 quality-assurance employees at Raven Software, the studio that is the primary developer for the “Call of Duty” series.
The reversal comes amid Microsoft’s $69 billion pending bid for Activision Blizzard, announced in January. The companies have said they expect the deal — which would be the biggest-ever acquisition in the video-game business — to close by mid-2023.
Last week, Microsoft president Brad Smith announced a more receptive policy toward dealing with employee unionization efforts, to “avoid public disputes” that have beset other tech giants like Amazon and Google. “We are committed to creative and collaborative approaches with unions when employees wish to exercise their rights and Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal,” he wrote in a blog post.
On May 23, the QA team at Wisconsin-based Raven Software successfully formed a CWA-affiliated union called the Game Workers Alliance. The union said at the time, “We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract.”
On Friday, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick wrote in a memo to U.S. employees, “With the [Raven Software union] election having concluded, we will engage in good-faith negotiations to enter into a collective bargaining agreement.”
Previously, Activision Blizzard had refused to voluntarily recognize the Raven Software union. Last month, after the employees voted to unionize, company rep had said in a statement, “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees,” referring to the number of staffers who voted to unionize.
An open letter posted on the Game Workers Alliance’s website addressed to “Activision Blizzard leadership” says, in part, “Following the layoffs that began on December 3, 2021, it has become apparent that the current working conditions have become untenable. These firings came after eight months of assurances that restructuring and increased wages were being negotiated. All of the twelve employees were top performers, all of whom were crucial to the ongoing health of our title, ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ – which generates over five million dollars in revenue per day. This event is but one instance of the company breaking the trust it has requested of us — and is only one contributing factor that has led us to organizing.”
Here’s Kotick’s memo to staffers about recognizing the CWA-affiliated union:
I wanted to share the news that we will begin negotiations with the Communications Workers of America related to the 27 quality assurance employees at Raven Software, the majority of whom have chosen to be represented by this union. With the election having concluded, we will engage in good faith negotiations to enter into a collective bargaining agreement.
While first labor contracts can take some time to complete, we will meet CWA leaders at the bargaining table and work toward an agreement that supports the success of all our employees, that further strengthens our commitment to create the industry’s best, most welcoming and inclusive workplace, and enhances our ability to deliver world class games for our players.
We begin this process after major investments in our QA team members over the past couple years, including significantly increasing starting pay for QA specialists and converting over 1,100 U.S.-based temporary and contingent QA workers to full-time positions. This conversion is providing access to comprehensive company benefits for QA employees and their eligible dependents. In addition, we have expanded access to performance bonuses for QA employees and learning and development opportunities. We also have integrated QA more seamlessly into the game development process, increasing collaboration that results in better products for our players and more opportunities for our teams.
This is a time of great opportunity for our company. I want to thank you for the passion, skill, and commitment you bring each day to create great games, to embrace opportunities to make this the industry’s very best place to work, and to connect and engage our players around the world.