Raven Software Unionizes This Is a Monumental Gaming First

In a first for the video games industry, Raven Software unionizes this month! The move comes as developers across the U.S. are calling for better pay and job security in an industry that is rapidly growing and notoriously volatile.

Raven Software is owned by Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard. And Activision Blizzard has been critical of labor organizing in the past. However, with this vote the workers made it clear they want a collective voice.

Developers, in particular QA testers, take the most heat in pressure cookers like Call of Duty games. And they are known for their stressful working conditions.

Raven Software Unionizes on Twitch

The group livestreamed the vote on the Game Workers Alliance Twitch channel. And it ended with 19 in favor and three against.

“The outcome of this election, the voice of the people coming together to vote yes for this union, is further validation that even a small group of folks in Madison Wisconsin standing together in solidarity can face up against a AAA studio giant like Activision, and come out the other side victorious. Now that the fight for recognition is through, we can focus our efforts on negotiations. We’ll fight for respect, fight for better wages, better benefits, better work-life balance, fight for sustainability and job security, and continue to fight for our fellow workers in solidarity.”

Becka Aigner, a Raven Software QA Tester

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) now officially recognizes the organization as the Game Workers Alliance (GWA). So it may negotiate its first contract with Activision Blizzard to obtain improved compensation and working conditions.

Activision Blizzard will initially handle the negotiations on the first contract. But Microsoft will take over if the $69 (nice) billion acquisition isn’t Duck Hunt-ed down by the Federal Trade Commission.

Are you worried Microsoft won’t permit the union to exist? A company spokesman had this to say to Axios, “Microsoft will not stand in the way if Activision Blizzard recognizes a union.”

So that’s a win. And hopefully a healthy shift in attitude if it’s coming from one of the industry leaders.

But what did Activision Blizzard have to say?

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union,” Activision Blizzard spokeswoman Ron Talia told Kotaku in an email. “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.”

Ron worded that beautifully. Because it assumes decisions made by a small handful of people (executives and upper management) don’t already impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people.

There are pros and cons to everything. But workers getting together and negotiating for better pay and improved working conditions is a win.

People at the top of business organizations have significantly more power in negotiations with the employees under them. A group of employees joining together and forming a union changes the power dynamics. A union gives workers a collective say in how they’re treated, what they’re paid, and the overall work environment.

In recent months, Activision has been the target of several labor disputes. And all of them have been won by the workers. On Monday, the NLRB announced it found “merit” in a complaint from December 2021. The complaint alleged Activision Blizzard had spied on and threatened employees for talking about work conditions with one another.

I just had flashbacks to the beginning of Half Life 2

“Hey! Stop talking before I TAZE YOU, BRO!”

Yeah, remember when the guard said that EXACT phrase? Me, too.

Raven Software is the first U.S. game company to see its workers form a union. And it hopefully won’t be the last. The video games industry is infamous for long hours and a stressful work environment. So as the industry continues to grow, so too will the call for better compensation and improved working conditions.

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