Three hundred quality assurance (QA) testers at ZeniMax, a gaming company owned by Microsoft, have voted to unionise. For Microsoft, this is the first such union in the United States, and for the game industry as a whole, it is the largest.
Increased union activity has been seen in the video game business, especially among quality assurance personnel. Through the Communication Workers Alliance (CWA), which also represents ZeniMax’s union, QA testers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software and Blizzard Albany offices successfully organised a union in 2022. While Activision Blizzard has done all in its power to prevent employees from joining a union, Microsoft promised in June that it would not interfere with such efforts. Thus, if ZeniMax Workers United receives a majority of votes in favour of unionisation, Microsoft will formally recognise the union, under the CWA. The company has not yet provided a response to a request for comment from Microsoft.
“Microsoft has lived up to its commitment to its workers and let them decide for themselves whether they want a union,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “Other video game and tech giants have made a conscious choice to attack, undermine, and demoralize their own employees when they join together to form a union. Microsoft is charting a different course which will strengthen its corporate culture and ability to serve its customers and should serve as a model for the industry and as a blueprint for regulators.”
Bethesda Softworks and id Software are two of ZeniMax’s subsidiaries; these studios are responsible for such popular series as The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Fallout.
An id Software senior quality assurance tester II named Zachary Armstrong said that his team is mobilising to demand more compensation and improved working conditions.
“Quality assurance testers are always at the bottom of the totem pole, to the point where we’re not even thought of as game creators.” What Armstrong had to say. Workers in quality assurance (QA) give video games a thorough workout in an effort to find and fix issues that may negatively affect the gameplay and experience for players. According to one worker, “that’s reflected in our compensation and that’s reflected in our job, particularly with reference to stress.”
When a game is nearing release, the quality assurance team may “crunch” by working long hours to meet their deadline. Concerns about the demands of crunch time have also been voiced by Activision Blizzard’s unionised quality assurance testers. The QA testers at Raven Software went on strike for five weeks straight before declaring their intention to unionise in response to the company’s decision to cancel the contracts of 12 contractors who had been working for the company without pay.
ZeniMax’s union is proceeding with contract talks with Microsoft.
“Before us is an opportunity to make big changes and bring equity to the video game industry,” said Victoria Banos, a senior QA audio tester. “We want to put an end to sudden periods of crunch, unfair pay, and lack of growth opportunities within the company. Our union will push for truly competitive pay, better communication between management and workers, a clear path for those that want to progress their career, and more.”