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Raven Software developers walk off the job to protest QA layoffs

Screenshot from a video game shows a paratrooper after jumping from an aircraft.
Enlarge / Taking the leap.

A group of developers at Call of Duty: Warzone developer Raven Software are walking off the job to protest what they see as unfair treatment of members of the quality assurance team who were let go unceremoniously late last week. In a public statement, the group of contractors and full-time employees says it will be “walking out with a singular demand: Every member of the QA team, including those terminated on Friday, must be offered full time positions.”

Wisconsin-based Raven, which has been a subsidiary of Activision for decades, laid off 12 contractors representing nearly 30 percent of the QA team on Friday, according to the statement. Further Raven QA contractors will be notified this week about whether they are being promoted to full-time positions or being laid off, according to a Washington Post report. The walkout is reportedly effective today, and those taking part vow to stay off the job until their colleagues’ positions are restored.

“These individuals were let go in ‘good standing,’ meaning they had not underperformed or committed any fireable offense,” the group’s statement notes. “These personnel cuts come after five weeks of overtime, and before an anticipated end of year crunch.”

In response to the walkout, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Polygon that “Activision Publishing is growing its overall investment in its development and operations resources. We are converting approximately 500 temporary workers to full-time employees in the coming months. Unfortunately, as part of this change, we also have notified 20 temporary workers across studios that their contracts would not be extended.”

“We support [the Raven employees’] right to express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation,” Activision Blizzard added in a statement to The Washington Post.

The Better ABK Workers Alliance—which has organized two previous temporary walkouts in protest of widespread harassment allegations across Activision Blizzard—today congratulated the company for promoting all temporary employees at fellow Call of Duty developer Treyarch to full-time positions.

“However, in light of recent events, there is no excuse for the company to lay off 30% of Raven’s QA department while simultaneously making all Treyarch [temporary employees] full-time employees,” the group continued in a follow-up tweet. “The termination of high-performing testers, while workload and profits are soaring, is an unacceptable action by the company and contradicts Raven’s goal of being an exemplary workplace in our industry.”

A common problem, an uncommon solution?

Many in the game industry are accustomed to the cycle of contract hiring and subsequent layoffs that surround a major game’s release. In one high-profile example, Activision Blizzard laid off nearly 800 employees in early 2019, shortly after announcing record earnings the year before. Similar examples are not hard to find across the industry.

The game industry’s constant cycle of layoffs and studio closures—and the turmoil that causes for developers who pinball from position to position—is at the center of Jason Schreier’s book Press Reset, which was released earlier this year. Some developers have started publicly agitating for union protections to help ameliorate these issues in the industry, though there’s been little to show so far in terms of fully unionized studios.

“The vast majority of game workers are in the industry because it’s our dream job, and working on games is our passion,” Game Workers Unite co-founder and Campaign to Organize Digital Employees lead organizer Emma Kinema told Ars Technica last year. “Unfortunately, that passion can open us up to exploitation by our bosses, because we are simply grateful or content to have the job we have.”

“Outsourcing firms, temporary employment schemes, and low-wage positions of all sorts [are] as essential to the industry as the more publicly visible developers at name-recognition studios,” Kinema continued. “The industry is not a single monolith, and we need to care about and organize all workers throughout the industry.”

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