Activision-Blizzard is suddenly laying off more QA, won’t be at The Game Awards

    
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Yes, Activision-Blizzard is in the news again: Raven Software, one of the studios behind games like Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Call of Duty: Warzone, is apparently laying off contracted QA staff. This is shortly after Activision told QA workers that they were set to receive better pay, according to Austin O’Brien, the studio’s associate community manager.

O’Brien says QA testers are being brought in individually to be told whether they will be keeping their job or will be let go by January 28th. Members of the QA team at Raven told Bloomberg that some of them will “head into the weekend not knowing if they still have jobs.” According to Kotaku, Activision plans to absorb some contract testers from Raven Software and hire some testers permanently, though the vast majority of QA testers will be without work. Those who survive this surprise culling will indeed see a raise from $17 an hour to $18.50 an hour, along with expanded benefits. GIbiz says a third of the department has already been let go.

The Call of Duty franchise, readers will note, is a major money maker for Activision; the series itself helped the company earn $3B in 2020 and Warzone specifically raked in $1.93B last year according to a SuperData estimate. This isn’t the first time that ActiBlizz has decided to can developers during a profit boom, as Blizzard infamously fired over 800 employees after posting record profits in 2019 and then pulled the same trick in March 2021, firing 190 devs while CEO Bobby Kotick was set to pocket another $200M.

“These people were asked to relocate to Madison, WI, to work here. Now they are out of a job on January 28th,” writes O’Brien. “If it isn’t clear, this is bullshit. It’s unfair to these people to string them along, promising something better, and then let them go.”

In other messy Activision-Blizzard news, Geoff Keighley spoke to the Washington Post about the upcoming Game Awards and how it would “navigate” the matter: “We want to support employees and developers. We have to think very carefully about how to proceed here.” In a follow-up Twitter thread, he said that Activision-Blizzard wouldn’t be participating:

“Beyond its nominations, I can confirm that Activision|Blizzard will not be a part of this year’s [Game Awards]. [The event] is a time of celebration for this industry, the biggest form of entertainment in the world. There is no place for abuse, harassment or predatory practices in any company or any community.

“I also realize we have a big platform which can accelerate and inspire change. We are committed to that, but we all need to work together to build a better and a more inclusive environment so everyone feels safe to build the world’s best games. All of us are accountable to this standard.”

The Game Awards’ advisory board includes Activision president Rob Kostich, along with other major industry players such as Microsoft’s Phil Spencer and a representative from Sony Interactive, who readers will note were among those calling for Kotick’s removal. However, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, EA COO Laura Miele, and Riot co-founder and co-chairman Marc Merrill also hold seats on that board.

sources: Twitter (1, 2, 3) via Kotaku (1, 2) and The Verge, Dot Esports, The Game Awards website
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial company in the MMO and gaming space owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In the summer of 2021, the company was sued by the state of California for fostering a work environment riddled with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which has further compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. As of fall 2021, multiple state and federal agencies are currently investigating the company and the industry has called for Bobby Kotick’s resignation following fresh reports on his misdeeds.
Update
As of Monday, workers at Raven Software have staged a walkout in support of the 30% of the workforce already laid off and the rest of the workers whose jobs are now in jeopardy. “The Raven QA team and other members of Raven’s staff will be walking out with a singular demand,” the workers said. “Every member of the QA team, including those terminated on Friday, must be offered full time positions.”
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