Activision-Blizzard to Promote US-Based QA Workers to Full-Time Staff Following Strike, Union Efforts [UPDATE]

The move includes pay raises and benefits.

Activision-Blizzard is converting all of its contract QA workers into full-time employees with rates starting at $20 per hour.

Josh Taub, the chief operating officer of Activision Publishing, sent an email to employees announcing these plans and confirmed those who receive this promotion will be eligible for bonuses and full benefits. Polygon acquired the email and it reads as follows:

“Team,

During the last two years, Call of Duty has expanded and evolved. Our development cycles have gone from an annual release to an “always on” model. In response to greater engagement, we’ve increased our live services business across all platforms. Our offerings now encompass season passes, operators, and the awesome content available in our stores. We’ve also grown our workforce and support across our studios, along with exciting new plans on mobile.

In light of these changes, and as we look to our ambitious plans for the future, we are further refining how our development teams work together. QA is, and continues to be, critical to our development success. We have amazing QA teams in place that work hard to ensure our players have the best possible gaming experiences – thank you!

I’m pleased to announce that we are converting all US-based temporary and contingent QA workers to full time employees (FTEs). We are increasing their hourly rate to a minimum of $20/hr and providing access to full company benefits, and they will be eligible to participate in the company’s bonus program.

This change follows the conversion of nearly 500 temporary and contingent workers to permanent full-time employees at Activision Publishing’s studios, and other ongoing conversions that have taken place in the past few months.

As Call of Duty evolves, we anticipate periods where the workload will fluctuate and exceed our expanded team’s bandwidth. With this in mind, we’re adding extra support for our team from external partners. This is a long-standing studio and industry practice that will give us more flexibility and capacity to support the business needs and enable our internal teams to focus on the results that most impact our business.

Together, we will change the game and take Call of Duty to the next level.”

Mike Ybarra, the head of Blizzard following the departure of Jen Oneal and the removal of J. Allen Brack, also sent an email to employees about the shift.

“Hi Blizzard,

We’ve shared with many of you the exciting experiences we’re bringing to players in 2022 and beyond. There’s so much happening across our teams – and this is just the beginning of our renewed focus in putting our teams and players at the forefront of everything we do.

Our ability to deliver great games at the “Blizzard quality” level our players expect is vital to ensuring we exceed player expectations. Over the last 6 months, I’ve had the opportunity to listen and engage with members of our QA team and we’ve had several meetings where I outlined my philosophy about contract/full-time roles. I want to thank everyone who helped educate me and expressed their views on how we can make Blizzard the best player-focused game studio. We all know QA is integral to our success in ensuring the best possible gameplay experiences.

Some time ago QA leadership started shifting their approach to staffing the team, converting more temporary and contract workers (TEAs) to full-time employees (FTEs), and using partners to support short-term spikes in workload. Today, this shift in approach is culminating in a conversion of all of the remaining U.S.-based TEAs/contractors in QA – more than 90 people across Irvine, Austin and Albany – to FTEs. We’re also increasing the minimum hourly rate for QA to $20/hour, and they will be eligible for our bonus program and increased benefits.

We have amazing QA talent, and I’m very happy to make this change so that we can focus and deliver for players around the globe. If you have any questions, please reach out to me, your HR partner or Wladia Summers.

Thank you for your feedback and helping us make this change.”

Unsurprisingly, neither email makes direct reference to the fact that the unionizing QA workers at Raven Software, a studio under Activision-Blizzard, went on strike because of the company’s treatment of contractors in the department, as well as lay-offs. Instead, the move is framed as part of a natural evolution in its workforce to achieve “Blizzard quality” output and keep up with the content rollout of the Call of Duty franchise. In total, nearly 1,100 workers will be made full-time after all is said and done. While this is good news for those who have been pushing for QA workers to receive full-time jobs and benefits, there’s still more work to be done within Activision-Blizzard as the company reels from its various legal troubles following a harassment lawsuit. At the very least, the various worker demonstrations that have happened in the months that followed have resulted in some tangible change.

Update: In a statement issued to GamesIndustry.biz, an Activision-Blizzard representative said this decision has nothing to do with the Raven strike, but those who were affected by the layoffs are free to apply to new jobs at the company if they want in on all those benefits and bonuses.

“This conversion of nearly 1,100 QA workers at Activision and Blizzard does not have any relation to the petition pending at Raven studio,” the statement reads. “The Raven situation is limited to Raven. The testers whose contracts weren’t extended were welcome then, and now, to apply for any jobs at the company.”

Update: It turns out, none of the workers at Raven will be receiving the pay raise of other Activision-Blizzard subsidiaries. This is apparently “due to legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act,” according to an email seen by Bloomberg. It also doubled down on the above, saying “whether Raven workers choose to unionize has nothing to do with the salary increases elsewhere for Activision’s QA workers.” We’ve reached out to Activision-Blizzard for clarification, as well as CODE-CWA, who is representing Raven during its unionization efforts.

UpdateIn a statement issued to Fanbyte, CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens called Activision-Blizzard’s exclusion of Raven QA workers in pay raises as “an effort to divide workers and undermine their effort to form a union,” and called its initial announcement “disingenuous.” The full statement reads as follows:

“Make no mistake, all credit for Activision Blizzard’s latest move to give all temporary and contingent QA team members full-time employment and a raise should go to the workers who have been organizing, mobilizing and speaking out,” Steffens says. “It’s especially galling then that Activision has excluded Raven Software QA workers, who have been at the forefront of this effort, from these benefits. The company’s assertion that the National Labor Relations Act prevents them from including Raven workers is clearly an effort to divide workers and undermine their effort to form a union (Game Workers Alliance – CWA). Activision’s disingenuous announcement is further evidence of the need for workers to have a protected voice on the job. We strongly urge Activision Blizzard to rectify this situation and respect Raven QA workers’ protected right to organize under the law.”