Activision Blizzard will convert all its U.S.-based temporary and contingent quality assurance (QA) positions to full-time jobs, the company announced Thursday. Nearly 1,100 workers will become full-time Activision Blizzard employees, upping pay to at least $20 an hour and allowing QA workers access to bonuses and full benefits.
Activision Publishing chief operating officer and Blizzard Entertainment head Mike Ybarra shared the news with staff Thursday.
“Across Activision Blizzard, we are bringing more content to players across our franchises than ever before,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in an statement emailed to Polygon. “As a result, we are refining how our teams work together to develop our games and deliver the best possible experiences for our players. We have ambitious plans for the future and our Quality Assurance (QA) team members are a critical part of our development efforts.”
The conversion of all U.S.-based QA staff to full-time employment increases Activision Publishing’s total full-time workforce by 25%. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson said that both Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment will continue to use “external partner support” for QA workers when “workload spikes and exceeds the team’s bandwidth.”
Activision Blizzard provided the two emails to staff to Polygon:
Email to AP U.S. employees from Josh Taub, Chief Operating Officer, Activision Publishing
From: Josh Taub
Subject Line: Update to QA
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.
Email to Blizzard employees from Mike Ybarra, Head of Blizzard
From: Mike Ybarra
Subject: Delivering Blizzard Quality: QA Full Time Conversions
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.
The 1,100 new full-time positions are on top of the 500 new full-time employees converted last year. At the time, however, 20 temporary workers across Activision Blizzard studios were told their contracts were not included — 12 of which worked on Call of Duty: Warzone at Raven Software. This kicked off a strike that eventually led to Raven Software’s QA union push with the Communication Workers of America. The group, called Game Workers Alliance, had the support of 78% of eligible workers, but Activision Blizzard declined to recognize the union. That group is now awaiting a decision with the National Labor Relations Board before moving toward an official union vote. During that hearing, union leaders accused the company of “union-busting.”
It’s unclear at this time how Activision Blizzard’s QA expansion will impact Raven Software’s unionization effort.
QA has been historically mischaracterized as an unskilled department across the video game industry. In August, Activision Blizzard QA workers told Polygon that QA contract cycles created a system that made it hard for workers to advance or feel stable in their careers, on top of the low pay and intense crunch. Upping pay minimums across the board to $20 per hour, as well as largely eliminating the contract structure, is a win for the workers who’ve been fighting for change within the company.
Update (3:12 p.m. EDT): After publication, Bloomberg reported that Raven Software QA workers would not receive the same raises. Activision Blizzard confirmed this in a statement emailed to Polygon: “Due to our legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act, we cannot institute new pay initiatives at Raven at this time, because they would be new kinds of compensation changes.”
The Activision Blizzard spokesperson also said that the QA conversion “does not have any relation to the petition pending at Raven studio. The Raven situation is limited to Raven.”
Update (3:44 p.m. EDT): Communications Workers of America secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens provided the following statement to press regarding the QA conversion:
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.
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.
Update (April 8, 11:40 a.m. EDT): An Activision Blizzard spokesperson emailed a statement to Polygon wherein the company refutes the CWA’s statement that Activision Blizzard’s decision not to up Raven QA’s pay is “an effort to undermine their effort to form a union.”
The union’s assertion is both wrong and disingenuous. It is well known that, during an election petition period, the law prevents an employer from extending new kinds of benefits to employees who are going to be voting. See National Labor Relations Board v. Exchange Parts Co., 375 U.S. 405 (1964), and the associated cases, for discussion of these rules. The CWA is blaming us for trying to comply with the law by pretending the law does not exist.