Update: 12/7/21, 12:06 p.m. ET: Now in its second day, Activision Blizzard workers involved in the Raven walkout say QA from other studios have joined in from offices in Texas, Minnesota, and California, including at Blizzard’s Irvine campus.
“These workers are standing in solidarity with the statement Raven QA put forward yesterday,” the Activision Blizzard employee group ABetterABK wrote on Twitter today. Developers from the Overwatch and Call of Duty studios and others online are currently using the #WeAreRaven hashtag to voice their support for the protest.
Original story follows.
Quality assurance testers and other developers at Raven Software, the Activision studio in charge of the extremely lucrative free-to-play battle royale Call of Duty: Warzone, are walking out on the job today to protest surprise layoffs that were foisted on staff beginning last Friday. The group told Kotaku in a statement it has only one demand: give all QA testers, including those just laid off, full-time positions.
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“Those participating in this demonstration do so with the continued success of the studio at the forefront of their mind,” the group wrote. “The Raven QA department is essential to the day-to-day functioning of the studio as a whole. Terminating the contracts of high performing testers in a time of consistent work and profit puts the health of the studio at risk.”
Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update: 12/6/21, 11:42 a.m. ET: “Activision Publishing is growing its overall investment in its development and operations resources,” a spokesperson told Kotaku in an email. “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.”
Management at the Wisconsin-based studio informed QA staff at the end of last week that they would have meetings starting over the next month to decide which employees would get converted to full-time with raises and which ones would be laid off. As part of the first wave of meetings, 30 percent of Raven’s QA team saw their contracts terminated (effective January 28), while others await news of their fate as they head into the holiday season.
“These personnel cuts come after five weeks of overtime, and before an anticipated end of year crunch,” protesting Raven staff wrote.
The group said that every QA developer affected was in “good standing” with the company, and had been told, back when standard promotions and raises were not given out last March, that “positive departmental changes” were coming in the future. It also said the laid-off staff were central to the ongoing development and maintenance of Warzone, which generates millions in revenue every day and is currently set for a big update integrating it with the recently released Call of Duty: Vanguard. Some of those affected had even recently relocated to Wisconsin without financial assistance in preparation for the coming return to the office following covid-19 shutdowns.
This latest worker action is the third at Activision Blizzard in recent months, and the first to focus primarily on a major studio on the Call of Duty side of the business. Following the news of a California lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at the company over the summer, hundreds of staff staged a walkout demanding swift action by management. Despite major concessions from management in the months that followed, thousands of workers at Activision Blizzard called on CEO Bobby Kotick to resign in November following a bombshell report by The Wall Street Journal implicating him in the mistreatment.
As part of the ongoing labor actions at the company, staff were also able to win an increase to the minimum hourly rate for contract workers, additional paid time off, and slightly better benefits. These improvements would have overwhelmingly benefited QA testers specifically, often the lowest and most exploited rung on the game development ladder, especially at Activision Blizzard. At Raven at least, promises of better working conditions appear to have come at the expense of new cost-cutting measures, even as Activision Blizzard posted over $600 million in new profits last quarter.
Update: 12/6/21, 2:28 p.m. ET: According to the organizers of today’s walkout, 60 Raven employees have participated so far. But the group called the response from management so far disappointing.
“Leadership have repeatedly said that these are not “layoffs,” but a termination of a contract,” the group wrote. Alongside the walkout, Treyarch, which leads development on Call of Duty: Black Ops, announced that all of its contract workers would be converted to full-time.
Update: 12/6/21, 11:21 a.m. ET: The Raven QA team’s full statement is below:
On Friday December 3rd, 12 of Raven Software’s Quality Assurance testers were brought into individual meetings and informed that their contracts would be terminated on January 28th. These individuals were let go in “good standing,” meaning they had not underperformed or committed any fireable offense. The majority of those who were not let go on December 3rd are still unsure about the status of their employment. These personnel cuts come after five weeks of overtime, and before an anticipated end of year crunch. The QA team, which at this point in time mainly works on Call of Duty: Warzone so far has been reduced by just over 30%.
This team was told multiple times by Raven leadership that there were positive departmental changes coming. These upcoming changes were also used as the reason why no members of the team received standard promotions or raises that were meant to be in place by March of 2021.
The 12 individuals who have been let go so far are considered by their colleagues to be essential to the everyday functioning of the Raven QA team. Several of those who were let go recently relocated to Wisconsin in anticipation of the return to in person work. They did so without relocation assistance from Raven, due to reassurances from the studio that their workload was consistent. Call of Duty: Warzone, which recently announced the release of a new map and integration with the Call of Duty: Vanguard title, earns $5.2 million per day.
In response to the events of Friday, the Raven QA team and other members of Raven’s staff 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. Those participating in this demonstration do so with the continued success of the studio at the forefront of their mind. The Raven QA department is essential to the day-to-day functioning of the studio as a whole. Terminating the contracts of high performing testers in a time of consistent work and profit puts the health of the studio at risk. Additionally, these actions go directly against the positive culture that Raven has created over the years. The end goal of this walk out is to ensure the continued growth of Raven as a studio and to foster a positive community for everyone who works there.