(Photo: Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons)A group of employees at Activision Blizzard have made history by voting to join a union.
Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee who helped the group of 28 quality assurance testers organize, live streamed the vote count Monday as 19 employees voted in favor of joining the Game Workers Alliance. All 28 QA testers work for Raven Software, an Activision subsidiary that employs about 350 people.
The organizers’ motivation is based on longstanding management issues, in which leaders communicate poorly, underpay staff, and require staff to work long hours. All three issues are reportedly exacerbated when the company is close to a new launch—a phenomenon known as “crunch” that occurs across the video games industry.
But if there’s any video game company we expected to experience unionization, it’s Activision. The developer has repeatedly made headlines over the last year for maintaining a gruesome company culture, in which employees have repeatedly been harassed, groped, and retaliated against—even to the point of committing suicide. And as recently as this week, Activision has been found threatening employees for attempting to organize and prohibiting social media activity that’s protected under workers’ collective action rights.
Happy union day! We won! pic.twitter.com/nzJ4A3J3RB
— Game Workers Alliance 💙#WeAreGWA (@WeAreGWA) May 23, 2022
It’s no surprise, then, that Activision employees have resorted to a form of worker protection making waves across multiple industries around the country. It also isn’t a surprise that Activision—which, one could argue, got itself into this mess in the first place—isn’t thrilled about this week’s vote. “We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Kelvin Liu told NPR in an emailed 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.”
Like it or not, a lot of change sits on Activision’s horizon. While Raven Software officially joins the Game Workers Alliance and Activision (supposedly) puts its back into changing its “frat boy” culture, the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing Microsoft’s bid to purchase the company. If the deal is allowed to go through, Microsoft could use Activision to turn some of its focus toward mobile-based entertainment. Until then, Raven Software’s organizing efforts just might embolden other members of the increasingly fed-up video games industry to seek out a union for themselves.