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As Activision Blizzard employees continue strike, ‘Call of Duty’ players bark about bugs

(The Washington Post illustration; Activision Blizzard; Raven Software)
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Several dozen Activision Blizzard workers remain on strike, while management has not met their demands to reinstate 12 contractors at Activision Blizzard-owned developer Raven Software who were laid off in December. Most of the contractors are quality assurance testers working on various Call of Duty titles.

In particular, Raven Software workers, tasked with checking for bugs and glitches in “Call of Duty: Warzone,” have stopped work for over seven weeks, multiple current employees told The Washington Post. Their absence comes at a time when numerous “Warzone” players, ranging from popular streamers to amateur gamers, have railed about the current state of that game on Reddit and social media, including citing game-breaking bugs, or issues that severely hamper gameplay.

“You can’t leave your game broken for a month. You’re going to lose a lot of players,” said James “JGOD” Godoy, a Call of Duty streamer, in a recent YouTube video. In the Dec. 29 video, he discussed the impact of Raven Software employees taking leave for the holidays while the game remained buggy.

The strike began Dec. 6, when over 60 Raven Software workers walked out in protest of their parent company laying off 12 of the studio’s quality assurance testers. It’s Activision Blizzard’s third work stoppage in six months since Activision Blizzard was sued in late July over sexual harassment and misconduct claims.

On Dec. 7, at least 200 Activision Blizzard workers across the company’s various studios walked out of work. As part of the current strike, which has no set end date according to those involved, workers have demanded that the company reverse the December layoffs and that all Raven quality assurance contractors receive full-time positions.

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Activision Blizzard has not responded to employees’ demands, the employees said, although it sent out a letter to employees the same week the strike began to advise them “to consider the consequences” of signing union authorization cards. Unionization efforts are underway at the company, with employees pushing for a majority of signed cards so they can hold a vote on forming a union. In the meantime, over a dozen Minnesota-based workers were asked to work more closely with Raven developers on “Warzone.” Some had interpreted the request as Activision recruiting “scabs,” or strikebreakers, current employees told The Post.

“A lot of people felt upset that they were being asked to replace those who were let go,” said a current quality assurance tester for Activision in Minnesota, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Xbox and Lego have publicly said they are reconsidering their relationships with Activision Blizzard after allegations about a toxic corporate culture and sexual harassment came to light. Activision Blizzard did not respond when reached for comment on the companies’ announcements.

Activision Blizzard shared a statement with The Post on Jan. 5: “Activision is deeply committed to the well-being of all of our teams, including our QA workforce. Raven leadership has engaged in dialogue with its staff to hear concerns and explain the company’s overall investment in development resources.”

The statement also said Activision Blizzard would help any of the 12 laid-off workers that might need relocation assistance.

“The reason the games are buggier is definitely due to the strike,” said a second quality assurance tester on strike, who added that normally, massive bugs would be caught by quality assurance testers before making it to a live version of the game. “You can’t just lose some of your hardest working people and expect nothing to happen.”

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Gamers playing “Call of Duty: Warzone” have noted that the game is filled with bugs that have diminished their enjoyment of playing it. Speaking to The Post, players also said they believe that cheaters are running rampant in game lobbies, despite the game introducing an anti-cheat software, which launched last year.

On Jan. 4, Activision sued EngineOwning, a Germany-based business that sells Call of Duty cheats, asking the court to stop the sale of software that provided players with in-game cheats.

Twitch streamers and YouTubers have recently posted a number of videos demonstrating their frustrations with glitches and the overall state of “Warzone.”

Some of the players who spoke with The Post said they were aware of the ongoing strike and voiced support for the workers, while others had not heard of the situation.

“It makes it even harder to support a game when Activision’s harassment issues toward women led to major walkout several months ago,” said Mondo Garvey, 25, who works for a construction company in Georgia. “And now with them laying off many of Raven’s employees and Raven workers going on strike, both companies are in shambles and the light at the end of the tunnel seems a lot dimmer.”

Shaylor Bemis, 28, a forklift driver and Call of Duty player from Ohio, said that while “Warzone” has had bugs since its March 2020 launch, the game has recently been plagued with more noticeable issues like an in-game cosmetic that turned players invisible, the game freezing when played on console systems and requiring players to restart, and guns that won’t work after players pick them up.

“It is very frustrating. I’m playing the game at my leisure. I play the game to blow off steam and stress and talk to some friends. I am not playing the game to be JGOD or Ice Man Isaac or trying to be part of FaZe [Clan],” said Bemis, referencing popular “Warzone” content creators. “It’s almost at the point where the game is unplayable, and that outlet for me will be taken away from me.”

Asked about the issues, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard referred to the company’s previous statement about Raven Software and noted a pair of recent posts on the state of work on Call of Duty games. On Jan. 13, the official “Call of Duty” account tweeted that teams were working on bugs and glitches across “Vanguard,” “Warzone” and “Modern Warfare.” It said it was aware of the invisible skins in “Warzone.”

Raven Software tweeted on Jan. 11 about a midseason update, adding: “These fixes are the first in a series and will not address all concerns at once. We appreciate your patience as we work on providing everyone with a fun, uninterrupted time in Caldera.”

“Things are still kind of broken,” said Jason “FaZe Jev” Eugene, who is known for his “Call of Duty” videos, in a Jan. 13 video about “Warzone,” which noted that in-game cosmetics he owns for weapons are still not showing up in the game. “We spent the last two months waiting for that camo to get fixed.”