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Raven Software prepares for union vote following months-long campaign



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Activision Blizzard is gearing up for a union election. A group of about 28 quality assurance testers at Raven Software, a subsidiary that makes Call of Duty titles in Madison, Wis., have been mailing in ballots to vote in the election before a May 20 deadline.

“Finally being able to vote yes made all of the hard work we’ve put in over these past five months worth it. The fact that Activision tried so hard to stop our union every step of the way makes it clear that a union is necessary at this company,” said a Raven quality assurance tester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “I don’t think throughout any of this I’ve really had time to process how I felt. I mailed my ballot, and then got right back to work. I think it will probably all hit me like a ton of bricks when this is finally over.”

The National Labor Relations Board has mailed out ballots to quality assurance testers who were with the company during the pay period ending April 16. On May 23, the Milwaukee office of the NLRB will count all the ballots via video conference.

While the number of Raven quality assurance testers has held steady at around 30 employees, the composition of the team has changed over the course of the five-month unionization effort. Twelve contractors were laid off last December. Since then, Activision hired nine testers who are now eligible to vote. This has led to some scrambling on the potential union’s part to recruit the new hires, Raven workers told The Post.

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Management at Raven has been sending employees messages and holding meetings about the upcoming election, according to current Raven Software employees. At an April 26 town hall, leadership at Raven suggested that unionization might impede game development and affect promotions and benefits. They sent an email to employees the next day with a graphic attached that read “Please vote no.”

Several Raven employees told The Post that they found management’s anti-union messaging to be disappointing and ineffective, as they still voted yes.

Activision Blizzard said in a company statement that it would review legal options.

“While we respect the NLRB process, we are disappointed that a decision that could significantly impact the future of our entire studio will be made by fewer than 10 percent of our employees,” wrote Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George in an April 22 statement to The Post. “We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals.”

The unfolding situation has attracted lawmakers’ attention. In February, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) called on Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to stop any union-busting efforts.

On April 19, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) met with Raven workers over a video call to discuss their unionization efforts and labor issues. Matthew Handverger, a spokesperson for Pocan’s office, said that Pocan supports unionization efforts of all industries and wants to ensure businesses follow the rules and avoid union-busting tactics.

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In late January, Raven quality assurance testers filed a petition with the NLRB for a union election after parent company Activision Blizzard missed a deadline set by the group to voluntarily recognize the nascent union, named the Game Workers Alliance. Days after the petition was filed, Raven management moved quality assurance testers to different departments across the studio, saying the company was moving toward an “embedded tester model.”

Activision Blizzard contested the filing, arguing that any union at the Wisconsin-based Raven would have to encompass all of the studio’s approximately 230 employees, and that the embedded testing model proved that QA was integrated with other teams. Labor lawyers The Post consulted said that asking for a larger eligible voting group was a strategy aimed at diluting union support. The NLRB’s decision rejected that argument, finding that the set of quality assurance testers was an appropriate bargaining unit.

In the months following the embedded tester model reorganization, Raven quality assurance testers told The Post that their daily job duties have become unclear and inconsistent compared to before when the QA department was its own team.

“Some days we have more to do than we can ever possibly accomplish in a day, and other days we’re sitting around waiting to hear what we should work on,” said a second Raven quality assurance tester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “We aren’t all on the same page anymore.”

Activision declined to answer questions about the reorganization. It said in a statement that “this is a model that has already proven effective at improving teamwork, collaboration and our ability to react to the needs of our teams. We are still very early in the process but are optimistic about the results as we continue to invest in Raven’s future.”

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The company continues to face multiple pending legal complaints and investigations.

Last week, Activision Blizzard was sued by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and pension funds for firefighters, teachers and police. They are demanding to inspect Activision’s corporate books and records for potential breaches of fiduciary duty, according to a copy of the complaint viewed by The Post. The New York City Law Department, which is handling the litigation, declined to comment.

In a statement, George, the Activision spokesperson, said: “We disagree with the allegations made in this complaint and look forward to presenting our arguments to the Court.”

The company also faces a new NLRB complaint filed in late April from the Communications Workers of America, a union working with Raven employees to help them organize.

In late April, Activision shareholders voted to approve a deal for Microsoft to acquire the company and to approve compensation packages for several company executives, commonly referred to as “golden parachutes.”

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HP refreshes Spectre x360 laptop with Intel 12th-gen and Ryzen 5000 chips, Intel Arc GPU, beefed up webcam, and a quieter fan, starting at $1,650 (Scharon Harding/Ars Technica)



Scharon Harding / Ars Technica:

HP refreshes Spectre x360 laptop with Intel 12th-gen and Ryzen 5000 chips, Intel Arc GPU, beefed up webcam, and a quieter fan, starting at $1,650  —  HP Spectre laptops try out Intel discrete graphics, boosted webcams, new hues.  —  HP has revamped its Spectre x360 lineup of convertible …

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Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, says it will offer 10% faster CPU performance, 10% faster GPU clocks, and have up to 30% better power efficiency (Sean Hollister/The Verge)



Sean Hollister / The Verge:

Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, says it will offer 10% faster CPU performance, 10% faster GPU clocks, and have up to 30% better power efficiency  —  Bragging rights (and battery life?) for gaming phones  —  Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 set the stage for the biggest Android smartphones …

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Geoff Keighley teases what’s to come at Summer Game Fest



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Summer Game Fest is around the corner, and media entrepreneur Geoff Keighley hints at a month of news starting on June 9.

“First couple of weeks of June are going to be a good time for gamers as always,” Keighley said.

The host of the Game Awards and Summer Game Fest said people might look back at June as an exciting start to the year’s game release news, which has been on the quieter side when it comes to big titles. When asked whether that means people can expect major game announcements, Keighley demurred.

“June is definitely a good time for people to ramp up, get people excited about things coming in the future. So yes, there will be some good announcements. They’ll be good, meaningful updates on games,” Keighley said, adding that, for example, in 2021, the Summer Game Fest showed off gameplay of “Elden Ring,” a previously announced game that still drew a lot of interest. “Will you get everything you want? No. But I think there’ll be some good stuff this year.”

The 2022 gaming news event is mostly digital, though it will feature an in-person component. Imax movie theaters will air the Summer Game Fest in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom starting on June 9, live from Los Angeles. Viewers can tune into the exact same show on Twitch. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)

While individual game companies will do their own events, as they have in past years, Keighley said he plans to organize things so that they don’t heavily overlap. In another major gaming showcase, Xbox will hold its live-streamed event on June 12.

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In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Keighley said he has been in conversations with several Ukrainian studios whose game titles — such as GSC Game World’s “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” — have been impacted.

“There have been a number of teams, honestly, that we were talking [with] about content for our show, that are in Ukraine, and they’ve had to relocate and can’t finish their trailer, can’t finish their game, because they’re in the middle of a situation,” Keighley said. “We’re conscious of those games and actively trying to think about what’s the right way to recognize some of those teams and the hardships that they’ve been through.”

Keighley made headlines in 2020, when he announced he was skipping E3 for the first time in 25 years, saying the event needed to evolve.

This year, Summer Game Fest will take place in the backdrop of another canceled E3, just as it did in 2020.

“You’ll find no bigger fan than me of what E3 represented to the industry. And I went to it for 25 years,” Keighley said. “I still think E3 needs to figure out its place in this new digital, global landscape. Game companies have figured out there are lots of great ways to program directly to fans. With Summer Game Fest, we’re very cognizant of that; we’re not just trying to be an E3 replacement. We’re doing something very different and approaching it as a free, digital-first celebration of games. The great thing is we can build it from the ground into something completely new. And we don’t have the baggage and legacy of trying to sell booze to people or hotel rooms.”

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Keighley told The Post last December that the other event he hosts, the Game Awards, would take a “thoughtful, measured” approach toward non-fungible tokens (NFTs). For this year’s Summer Game Fest, Keighley similarly said he had no plans to have anything NFT or blockchain-related.

“Some people are like, ‘Oh Geoff, I see you following an NFT account on Twitter.’ And it’s like, I’m interested to learn about that stuff. But I’ve yet to see anything that really crosses over to content that would be accretive to the experience. Look, if I see a game or experience that I think is really going to be compelling and interesting and leverages those technologies in a meaningful way, we’ll of course look at it,” Keighley said.

As for whether Activision Blizzard, a company facing multiple lawsuits and government investigations, will be present at Summer Game Fest, Keighley said the situation was evolving. Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In the back of our minds, obviously, is the zeitgeist of what’s going on at both of these companies but also, in the community,” he said. “Everyone’s opinions continue to evolve among all these topics, so it’s hard to put a pin in something and say, ‘Hey, this is exactly how we’re going to treat this throughout the entire year.’ ”

Another hotly discussed industry topic is unionization. When asked whether organizing labor would impact Summer Game Fest, Keighley said, “Trying to make our show is ultimately to support creators of games and let them showcase their work. I hope we empower game creators, through our shows, to reach audiences and feel like they can reach those audiences directly.”

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