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Blizzard Albany becomes second unionized studio at Activision Blizzard

QA workers at Diablo studio win union election, 14-0

Graphic of the Blizzard logo on a glowing blue background Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Activision Blizzard quality assurance workers at the company’s Blizzard Albany studio in upstate New York voted Friday in favor of forming a union. It’s the second union under Activision Blizzard, following Raven Software’s vote in May.

The group of approximately 20 QA workers, called Game Workers Alliance Albany, was given the go-ahead to vote in October, after which Activision Blizzard requested that the election be delayed for a board review. The National Labor Relations Board denied that request on Wednesday. Like with Raven Software, Activision Blizzard wanted to have the entire studio vote on the union.

Blizzard Albany’s QA workers have been voting in the lead-up to the count, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 18 but was delayed due to bad weather — a blizzard. On Friday, the election results came in: 14 “yes” votes on the union, with no votes against it. There were 18 eligible voters, the NLRB said, with three votes challenged. GWA Albany, like Raven Software, is represented by Communications Workers of America - Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA).

Blizzard Albany associate test analyst Amanda Deep said in a statement that the group was inspired by Raven Software’s QA union, and that GWA Albany hopes to inspire more video game studios to unionize.

“It took an unbelievable amount of work and perseverance to move this fight forward,” Deep said. “With this victory, we’re advocating for ourselves and each other because we care deeply about our work and the games we make. Organizing has empowered all of us to fight hard for the dignity and respect every worker deserves on the job.”

Reached for comment, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided the following statement to Polygon:

We are considering all options, with a focus on what is best for all employees and to provide the best games for our millions of players. We still believe our entire Albany team should have the right to vote. This is about fundamental fairness and rights for every member of the team.

GWA Albany announced its intention to unionize in July. Following Friday’s vote, the workers will begin preparing for contract bargaining after the results are certified by the NLRB. Raven Software’s QA union is currently in bargaining with Activision Blizzard leadership.

Activision Blizzard was accused of union-busting in the lead-up to Blizzard Albany’s union election. In October, CWA filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company after its chief communications officer, Lulu Cheng Meservey, published a companywide Slack message “disparaging the union,” according to the complaint. That message recieved a lot of negative emoji reactions in Slack from employees, which Meservey acknowledged, although she called the complaint “bogus” in statements to the press at the time.

Blizzard Albany’s QA workers, like the rest of Blizzard Albany, focus largely on the Diablo franchise — particularly Diablo 4, which is scheduled to launch in 2023. Activision Blizzard used the upcoming game in its argument that all Blizzard Albany (formerly Vicarious Visions) workers should participate in the vote. QA workers are some of the industry’s most vulnerable, often due to low pay and intense crunch.

“Albany Blizzard workers never wavered in the face of adversity,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “Instead, they remained resilient and steadfast, which is a testament to the organizing they’ve done to ensure quality assurance workers are treated with fairness and respect for the work that they do. QA workers at Blizzard Albany and Raven Software have elevated the conversation around unions in the video game industry, and they’ve also opened the door for other studios to organize.”

Like the rest of Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Albany will be merged with Microsoft following approval of Microsoft’s $68.7B purchase of Activision Blizzard. Should that deal go through, Microsoft has said it will not impede union efforts — in fact, it will stay “neutral” on them, after signing an agreement with CWA. This agreement is expected to go into effect 60 days following the deal’s closure.

GWA Albany is the second group to unionize under Activision, and part of a growing movement in unionizing the video game industry. It joins union shops at BioWare support studio Keywords Studios and indie company Tender Claws. Union interest extends beyond the video game industry and into board games and tabletop, too. This support mirrors the nationwide trend, despite a ongoing decline in membership.