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Blizzard Albany, formerly Vicarious Visions, announces unionization bid

The studio is the latest to join the video game industry’s labor organizing wave

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
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Blizzard Albany, a video game developer owned by Activision Blizzard, is going public with its unionization efforts. The quality assurance team at the Albany-based studio formerly known as Vicarious Visions — a unit made up of about 20 employees — has filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

Last Thursday, the workers asked Activision Blizzard management to voluntarily recognize their union.

“I firmly believe that having the union is going to give us the power that we need to make our workplace better,” said Amanda Laven, associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s very exciting to go public with it and hopefully be able to inspire others the way that we’ve been inspired by Raven, and Starbucks and Amazon and all the unions that have come before us.”

The workers’ request was acknowledged by Activision Blizzard, although the company did not specify whether it would recognize the union.

“We deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” wrote Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George in a statement. “We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship. The company will be publicly and formally providing a response to the petition to the NLRB.”

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Vicarious Visions officially merged with Activision Blizzard in April. It’s known for its work on franchises including Guitar Hero and Crash Bandicoot.

The studio took cues from the organizing campaign at Raven Software, Madison, Wis., where 28 quality assurance testers won their bid for a union in May.

“Raven has been a huge inspiration to us,” Laven said. “Seeing their process, it’s been demystifying to see them do it first and have an idea of how things go and how the company might respond. … We’ve already gotten to see some someone do it in our own company, and they’ve been very forthcoming with us talking to us about what things are like and what problems they encountered. It’s been very, very helpful and inspiring.”

Brock Davis, an associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany recalled how years ago, when he was interested in joining the video game industry but had not yet started working in it, people had been buzzing about organizing.

“In 2017, I went to GDC, and they were talking about unionizing then,” Davis said, referring to the Game Developers Conference. “And now we encourage more people who feel undermined by their company to stand up and start something.”

The Albany workers looking to unionize call themselves Game Workers Alliance Albany. The workers chose the name Game Workers Alliance, rather than a more specific name referring to their studio or department, so that other parts of the company and other games workers across the country could join. To do so, those other divisions at Activision Blizzard would need to collect a majority of union authorization signatures and then vote in favor of joining the GWA.

“The only way to get a raise above inflation is to take a job at a totally different company,” said a Blizzard Albany employee who is not a quality assurance tester, speaking on the condition of anonymity citing fear of retaliation. “If the executives at ABK want their workers to be productive, engaged and invested in the success of their workplace, they must recognize and bargain in good faith with unions. Workers deserve to be treated well and compensated fairly for the work they do, and for too long this has not been the case at Activision Blizzard.”

Microsoft enters agreement to respect Activision Blizzard unionization

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would acquire Activision Blizzard in a nearly $69 billion all-cash deal, pending regulatory approval. The tech giant has said it would respect unionization efforts when the deal is completed. To that end, Microsoft entered a labor neutrality agreement with the major media union Communications Workers of America, which has been organizing video game workers across the industry.

The agreement “means that we don’t try to put a thumb on the scale to influence or pressure [our employees],” Microsoft president Brad Smith told The Washington Post in June. “We give people the opportunity to exercise their right to choose by voting. … it’s something that’s respectful of everyone, more amicable and avoids business disruption.”

Activision Blizzard employees, including some at Blizzard Albany, are also planning to walk out on Thursday, virtually and physically, in states like California and Texas, to protest the overturn of Roe v. Wade and demand workplace protections.

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