Raven Software, the Activision-owned studio responsible for the hugely successful Call of Duty: Warzone, told employees on Monday it would begin embedding its quality assurance testers within different departments at the company, according to a staff email obtained by Polygon.
The structural changes come amid an unprecedented union-organizing campaign at the company. Last week, a supermajority of Raven's QA testers, who had been on strike for more than a month following layoffs late last year, voted to unionize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a first for employees at a major video game studio. That news came just days after Microsoft announced its plans to acquire parent company Activision Blizzard.
The QA workers agreed to end their strike and asked for voluntary recognition of their union. Now, however, it appears Raven management has announced it will begin a process of embedding the workers throughout the company. The move was apparently planned for months and is considered standard at major game studios, so QA workers are able to work more closely with various departments. But the timing has raised concern that the move is intended to weaken the union's prospects.
"I'm excited to share that our QA colleagues will embed directly within various teams across the studio, including animation, art, design, audio, production, and engineering," wrote studio head Brian Raffel. "As we look ahead at the ongoing expansion of Call of Duty: Warzone, it's more important than ever that we foster tighter integration and coordination across the studio — embedding will allow for this."
Raffel called embedding the "next logical step in the planned process that began several months ago," and said the shift will "create increased opportunities for our QA team members to further develop their skills and grow their careers at the studio."
In a statement, Activision told Polygon that structural change "is the next step in a process that has been carefully considered and in the works for some time, and this structure brings Raven into alignment with the best practices of other prominent Activision studios."
The CWA released a statement in response to the news, calling it "nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize":
Yesterday Activision Blizzard broadcasted their plans to restructure the Raven Software Quality Assurance department in order to bring the group ‘...into alignment with the best practices of other prominent Activision studios.’ This announcement, which came three days after Raven QA workers publicly requested recognition of their union – the Game Workers Alliance (CWA) – is nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize.
When Management uses meaningless buzzwords like ‘alignment, ‘synergy,’ and ‘reorganization,’ they are sending a message to workers: ‘we make all the decisions, we have all the power.’ Workers organize to have a voice at work to rectify these power imbalances. This is why big tech mergers that could increase and further concentrate corporate power, like Microsoft’s proposed Activision Blizzard acquisition, deserve real oversight. This scrutiny is even more important when a company like Activision Blizzard impedes its workers from exercising rights that are protected under U.S. law.
Whether its covering up sexual harassment, employee surveillance, workplace abuse or violating workers rights, Activison Blizzard seems determined to take the low road. Regulators from the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, and states Attorneys General must take a serious look at the proposed merger with Microsoft and enforce our antitrust laws to ensure consumers and workers are not harmed as a result.
Update Jan. 25, 2:34PM ET: Added statement from the CWA.