All of Keywords Studios’ unionized QA workers were laid off from the studio in late September after Dragon Age: Dreadwolf developer BioWare declined to continue its contract in August.
The QA workers, who were contracted to assist with playtesting and quality assurance at BioWare Edmonton, won their union vote in June 2022. All 16 eligible voters said “yes” to joining United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local No. 401. It was a historic vote, making the group the first games industry union in Canada. Keywords Studios workers were in bargaining with the company when they were laid off following the news of 50 job cuts at BioWare itself.
A UFCW representative told Polygon that 13 people were laid off — everyone supporting BioWare. Liz Corless, Keywords Studios’ global head of marketing, confirmed that 13 Edmonton-based QA workers were laid off.
“We can confirm that regrettably the 13 Edmonton-based staff have now left the business following the end of a fixed term client contract,” Corless wrote in an email.
The group of workers were laid off on Sept. 27. James Russwurm, a former Keywords QA tester, added that Keywords Studios has “taken the position there is no more work available.” (Keywords Studios has several QA job postings listed on its website, in Canada and across the world. Many, but not all of these listings, are related to language localization and require specialties that the laid-off workers may not have.)
Russwurm said the union filed an employment standards complaint against Keywords Studios this week. He added that Keywords Studios offered “minimal severance,” which the union is disputing. Severance has not yet been paid out, he said. (Several BioWare employees laid off at that time are currently suing the company for “adequate severance.” These are two separate issues with two separate companies, however, despite being linked to Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.)
Though the unionized QA workers did not yet have a contract with Keywords Studios, they can attempt to negotiate better severance pay.
Keywords Studios is headquartered in Ireland but has more than 20 worldwide offices. The studio was founded in 1998, and does not publish or develop its own games — instead, it provides art, QA, audio, and other development support for other studios, like BioWare.
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly attribute a quote.