The serious business of making games

Except that I don’t think that narrative makes any sense. These are the testers who were kept on and got raises, if I understand right? And they made no other demands for themselves? So they’re risking their jobs with a walkout for…?

(And it is risking their jobs. The press coverage and the “fashionability” of walkouts won’t last forever. I guarantee they’re all very aware of that fact. Yet they’re doing it anyway.)

It’s worth mentioning that this team apparently works on Warzone. It’s a live game.

There should always be work for them to do, without needing to keep them on for an indeterminate amount of time until the next game.

Yeah.

So, seriously though, so many other industries understand how to manage people in a better way. Contractors or not, it is stupid for them to remove people that could/have been valuable to them. If they are planning on pumping/dumping people willing to relocate for their company they should probably just contract things out entirely and not try to do some sort of weird contract-to-hire internal B.S. clearly it went over very poorly in this case.

I mean, part of working for a big publisher should be protecting you from those issues in sales and critical reception, because they are a big entity and pushing out lots of games at all times. Tying employment to review scores is not a great plan, and not sustainable. Definitely lots of better ways to handle things like this.

I think in this particular instance, Actiblizz heavily overpromised their QA dept with permanent positions, and didn’t follow through, which was a pretty shitty thing to do.

I mean, they were paying Kotick 154 million (with stock and salary) a year for what? To get themselves into a PR nightmare? It is pretty clear Activision/Blizzard doesn’t know where to spend their money wisely. I wonder how many more QA staff they could have held had they not been lining the pockets of a man clearly not fit to run a company.

“People don’t want to work anymore!”

“People don’t want to work FOR YOU anymore”

One of my former MSFT colleagues ran that studio for a while. He once told me they had shipped 75 titles in a single year! I had shipped one in that some time…

If there is one thing businesses hate, it’s having to employ people for mission critical work that ebbs and flows. They should probably just grow up instead of imagining they can create 100% utilization of all staff at all times.

The fact that Call of Duty is all in on live service games with constant updates changes the situation a lot from what you describe, and that’s ignoring the fact that Activision shops a Call of Duty game every year on top of Warzone and Mobile. Realistically, how long before they were going to need to hire up for the 2022 title? Cynically, it sounds like they just trashed a part of the team knowing they could hire new people in 4 weeks at starting wages instead of paying the higher rates they had been promising the existing employees.

Those people are also compensated like they will need to live off the proceeds from a single project until the next one comes around. Because of unions that understand that need.

Ah, thanks, I should’ve read more before jumping in.

Raven QA are walking out again today and being joined by QA teams across the Activision organization.

Here’s the WaPo reporting on the layoffs.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/12/03/raven-software-layoffs/

Notable…

The company told quality assurance testers at certain studios across the company Friday that Activision Blizzard has ended its contract with staffing partner Tapfin and will expand its contract with Volt, another staffing provider, so that current testers at some studios will now become Volt employees.

This really seems like typical layoffs accompanying changes in contracts and company needs.

Re: the walkout today…
https://www.washingtonpost.com/video-games/2021/12/06/raven-software-walkout/

Also notable…

Raven studio head Brian Raffel told employees in a studio-wide meeting Monday that he didn’t consider the terminations to be layoffs; instead he described them as temporary employment agreements that weren’t renewed, according to people who were present at the meeting. Raffel apologized and said that the communication could have been clearer, and that the meetings to hand out terminations took longer than expected due to having to meet one on one with individuals.

Words have been put to action and it seems clear that Raven employees don’t have this same view. And they’re willing to walk off their jobs over it. So I’m a bit skeptical that everything is as cut and dried as Brian Raffel is making it out to be.

Either that or they’re just fed up with have no job stability and being treated like disposable cogs, which if so good for them. I’m not in the game industry but we still go 18-24 months before release cycles. I can’t imagine throwing away our QA talent every year and retraining a fresh batch every release. Does the game industry really place so little importance on domain knowledge??

It’s a total entry level job. You’ve played hundreds or thousands of video games… what do you think?

Again, I will note that Activision being in the news recently makes this into something it likely isn’t if that wasn’t the case as it seems like standard industry practice. It’s easy to keep kicking the dog when it’s down. Should people have more job security? Absolutely! Is it true that people have that security in ANY software industry? Not really… unless you have unions.

Playing the role of apologist for corporations is a thankless job.

RPS article with some quotes from the people involved:

“Today Raven QA, as a department, is demonstrating in protest of the layoffs on Friday. Raven QA’s team is essential to the studio’s day-to-day operations.”

"The termination of high-performing testers, while workload and profits are soaring, is an unacceptable action by the company and contradicts Raven’s goal of being an exemplary workplace in our industry.

"The goal of this demonstration is to ensure the continued growth of Raven. Everyone participating in today’s demonstration does so with the continued success of the studio at the forefront of their mind.

“To our leadership, we hope you’ll abide by our policy to lead responsibly. To our community, we hope you’ll join us today in demanding better working conditions for QA in the industry.”

You are skipping a lot of quotes from those articles

notably

“Several of those who were let go recently relocated to Wisconsin in anticipation of the return to in-person work. They did so without relocation assistance from Raven, due to reassurances from the studio that their workload was consistent,” Raven Software quality assurance contractors wrote in a joint news release.

Based on how negatively the QA team has reacted to these rounds of layoffs, it was clearly framed differently to those working there, regardless of whether these were contract-to-hire positions, it seems like their higherups were all but promising future full time employement with raises.

It feels like they were basically super busy, everything was going well, and then they just laid off people, even though their workload was high.

This does happen all of the time, but it appears that this particular case was a lot worse than most. Especially when the employees stated that their workloads were high, and many of those let go were essential to their team. This is clearly q4 cost-cutting at its worst. I can’t imagine cutting QA for a live service game a month after launch, it seems like this would be one of the busiest times except for maybe the months leading up to launch.

It is as long as they keep chewing people up and spitting them out!

By doing what, exactly?

I’m still amazed that headless testing hasn’t proven more effective than meatbag testing for the kind of unskilled “try jumping through this wall for ten minutes” testing we’re talking about for low-wage contract QA stuff.

Here in Serious Biznass software world, basically nobody does manual smoke/regression testing if they can at all help it, and more specific feature testing is clearly, massively better accomplished by a professional (and professionally compensated) QA that has context for the product and the organization.

e: I guess it’s not necessarily an either/or, and it doesn’t take a ton of finds to make meatbags worth the spend if you pay them poorly enough.

What I don’t get, if it’s so unskilled, why are people moving across the country for those jobs? Surely you can find people wherever you have the studio, why encourage people to relocate?

Doing that to the degree that it would have meaningful value in a game environment means AI work and most game developers do not exactly have A+ AI engineering.

It’s a live service game that’s been running for almost two years now. The only real change coming is the map it’s played on and the addition of new weapons/gadgets that should already be thoroughly tested. It launches tomorrow with all that new content, which is totally different from rolling out a new game.

Also, Raven has been getting the whole Warzone codebase to a pretty good place the last couple months. It’s very likely they do not need as much headcount now.

With the number of people being so low, what’s to say these weren’t the weakest testers of the bunch? Just because the people still there think the people left go were “essential” doesn’t make it so.

The RPS article above.