Photo: Logos of recently-formed game industry union. Credit: @CODE_CWA
On Monday, quality assurance testers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software studio won their union vote with a majority of 86% and became the first certified union of video game workers at a major company in North America. Workers began their landmark union vote on May 9 after several months of strikes, actions, petitions, company retaliation, National Labor Relations Board hearings, and even talks of a Microsoft acquisition.
The Raven Software QA testers’ union victory marks a milestone in game industry labor organizing and builds off years of prior worker organizing led by the Communications Workers of America’s CODE-CWA initiative to organize the North American tech and game development industries. In 2020, CODE-CWA organized the first known successful strike of game developers at Voltage Entertainment. In October 2021, CODE-CWA certified the first unit of tabletop game workers at Pathfinder developer Paizo. In December 2021, workers at independent studio Vodeo Games became the first certified unit of video game workers in North America as a part of CODE-CWA.
The labor movement in the game industry has been building momentum even before the founding of the Game Workers Unite movement in 2018, but only now are we starting to see a pattern of concrete examples of growing worker power in the industry. The win at Activision Blizzard poses a huge opening to organize labor in the game industry and to inject working-class consciousness into the heart of a modern media empire. The newly organized union at Raven Software includes workers for the massively successful Call of Duty franchise — a staple of pro-imperialist propaganda.
As the game worker movement grows, labor will have to address not just questions of economic conditions for the workers, but also a tangled web of social, cultural, and political issues the industry finds itself bound up in — like CWA’s intervention into the antitrust investigation of Microsoft’s attempt to acquire Activision Blizzard. There’s still a long way to go for organizing in game development, but the workers at Raven Software and other unionized workplaces stand at the cutting edge of the fight against the game industry corporate giants.