Employees at Raven Software, a video game studio owned by Activision Blizzard, advised they have formed a union, a milestone in a largely unorganized industry recently impaired by labor complaints and protests. The information comes just days after Microsoft revealed it would acquire Activision Blizzard for $70bn. Several dozen employees of the Wisconsin studio, which is behind the massively popular Call of Duty series, voted in favor of the union.
This is the beginning of a trend where people want to be heard in the workplace. And it is a big event in the gaming industry where there aren’t many unions. This announcement came after- at least 60 employees at Raven staged a walkout in December 2021 to oppose unfair layoffs of contract workers, and a tumultuous year for Activision Blizzard, during which it was sued by California’s department of fair employment and housing for discrimination and harassment claims.
That suit alleged women across the company were paid less than men and “assigned to lower paid and lower opportunity levels”. It also alleged a “frat boy” workplace culture in which men got drunk at work and crept into women’s cubicles to harass them. A spokesman from Activision Blizzard said the company is “carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition”. The union is giving the company until 25 January to respond.
“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” the Activision Blizzard spokesman said.
Experts say the issues mentioned in the suit against Activision Blizzard are aggravated by the high turnover rate of the industry, which often relies on contract and temporary workers. Those same problems make organizing more difficult, said Amanda Cote, professor at University of Oregon and author of Gaming Sexism: Gender and Identity in the Era of Casual Video Games.
The union, called the Game Workers Alliance Union, would be the first at a publicly-traded video game publisher and solely the second video game union in the US. It will be part of the Communications Workers of America, the most extensive union in the media industry. A small union is a very good first step towards achieving an ethical organizational structure in the gaming industry.