Activision Blizzard has been in a lot of hot water recently. The massive company has been under fire for many problems, the least of which is an outright sexist and dangerous corporate culture; a culture that regularly covered up sexual harassment. And that’s not all, as the industry as a whole relies heavily on brutal crunch and outsourcing practices to hit deadlines. And really, that’s just the tip of this particular iceberg. There are so many labor abuses in the games industry, that change is desperately needed.
in response to this entire mess, a unionization push became a hot topic. And even though there hasn’t been a formalized union formed at the company, the employees are acting with the solidarity and goals of one. And as there has been no formal announcement of a union election, it may yet be on the table. But that hasn’t stopped the employees from working to make things better.
One of many complaints the employees tried to address was a lack of paid time off, as well as better salaries. The push has led to the game developer and publisher promising to offer better wages and time off to Activision Blizzard devs.
“We have learned from contractors across ABK that they are being forced to take mandatory unpaid leave during the holidays, putting them in immediate financial and housing crisis,” the ABetterABK Alliance, a group of Activision Blizzard workers, announced on Twitter last week. “Displacing workers who help create the products that generate ABK’s revenue is inhumane.”
Further responses pointed out how bad the pay was in some cases. “For everyone questioning the $17 and wondering why that’s a win I currently make less than that as a senior QA at $16.50 and started at I think $13.50 as a standard tester,” wrote one current employee on Twitter. Let’s be clear, this is just one small part of a much larger issue.
So what happened?
So there’s a lot to unpack. but it comes down to a core problem of management and executives not caring about employees at all. The labor abuses are many, too many to list individually.
And considering this all happened amid a massive scandal over sexual harassment, it’s a very bad look. For a company now infamous for firing scores of employees on a whim to protect profits, the dam was going to break eventually. Which hearing some of the tone-deaf statements about these issues in the past, I’m surprised it took this long.
This eventually spilled over into the courts. This all led to a lawsuit being filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that alleges the company fostered a “frat boy” culture in which female employees were subjected to sexual harassment, unequal pay, and much more. The issue came to a head when employees staged a massive walkout.
The response from supporters and employees highlighted many stores, painting a bleak picture. Employees were pushing the company to offer better pay and more time off, among other concessions. They won. It’s not the end of crunch culture, but it’s better than nothing. There still remain many issues to be solved, though. The company has faced harsh criticism that its changes aren’t going far enough. It remains to be seen what else can be done.
The company responded, mostly by giving ground and making changes.
“As a part of Activision Blizzard’s efforts to make its workplace supportive and more inclusive, company leadership has been working for some time to enhance and improve benefits provided to temporary contract and third-party agency workers,” a spokesperson for the company told Kotaku in an email.
What else is being done to address the concerns of Activision Blizzard devs, and make their lives easier, remains to be seen. One of the many issues that have finally started to be remedied is the treatment of contract employees. Contract employees are treated notoriously poorly by many industries, not just gaming. Contract labor is a huge problem in the industry, thanks to how easily abused these workers are. The constant pushes for tighter deadlines and exploding budgets push companies to be ruthless with employees, that’s a problem. Thankfully, this win helps end it.