“Use, dispose of, repeat.”
Activision Blizzard is having a problem keeping its quality assurance (QA) testers and customer service reps with them. This is partly intentional; Employees are hired for a limited period. But the work that Activision Blizzard QA and customer service reps do in offices in California, Texas and Minnesota is very demanding, the staff said, especially given the low pay, intense hardship and abuse from customers.
Current and former employees who spoke with Polygon said they felt defeated by their time at Activision Blizzard due to a combination of brutal crunch and devaluation of their positions.
“I cried when I got the job,” a current employee told Polygon. “I was so excited to be part of the process and to be in this industry. It has always been my dream to work in video games. And now I feel down. “
“The company took a lot from me,” another former QA employee, Sami King, told Polygon.
A large portion of Activision Blizzard’s QA division, which works on game franchises like Call of Duty, are contract workers employed in offices far from the publisher’s California headquarters, in places like Austin, Texas and Eden Prairie, Minnesota . Hundreds of contract workers work under a few full-time employees directing the QA process to identify and report bugs. (The Blizzard employees Polygon spoke to said they were employed by the company itself, while the Activision side houses most of the company’s contract workers.)
Fifteen current and former employees in both quality assurance and customer service told Polygon that the structure of Activision Blizzard’s QA and customer service programs, particularly at its Texas and Minnesota offices, makes employees feel undervalued and exploited . (A dozen other Activision Blizzard employees confirmed these reports in statements sent to the press through the ABK Workers’ Alliance, including Polygon.) These employees described a constant rotation of QA staff, with people on contracts between three months Breaks between new contracts work unpaid. Contracts work in cycles; Workers said company policy stipulates a specific period of time in a contract before an employee must be removed from the contract again, including for a specific period of time. Then the cycle repeats itself. This creates a system where it is difficult to actually advance in a career at QA; Workers cannot afford it Not
Workers pointed to the corporate culture described in the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit filed last month as the root of a company-wide problem. In the lawsuit, employees alleged widespread sexism and misconduct in the workplace that was perpetuated by management and leaked to all levels of the company. Activision Blizzard officials told Polygon that the Texas and Minnesota leadership positioned the lawsuit and its allegedly toxic culture as a problem only for Blizzard Entertainment, which is frequently cited in court documents. But workers from other studios told Polygon that was not true: the problems exist across all facets of the company, and contract workers in both quality assurance and customer service say they feel vulnerable due to the lack of workplace stability.
All of the 15 current and former employees Polygon spoke to, as well as the majority of employees who emailed statements through a representative, said the pay is exceptionally low, with prices as low as $ 12 an hour . In times of crisis, some said they worked at least 10 hours a day up to seven days a week. Some workers said they struggled with their mental and physical health during these times, but still felt compelled to work simply because they would not otherwise be paid enough to survive.
Activision Blizzard did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment. Current workers said the leadership has not yet responded to demands made in July.
Ahead of the 2020s release Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Workers said they would get a day off every three weeks for up to a month. “That was your gift to you during the crisis,” said a current employee. “I know some people who […] Worked 28 days in a row. Twelve-hour shifts. That was probably the most chaotic time. “
“[The pay] is never enough, ”said another current employee. “I really want to be able to afford life.”
Jessica Gonzalez, a current Blizzard Entertainment employee who worked in QA at Activision and Treyarch, told Polygon that the company should be held responsible for allegedly creating those working conditions that allow abusers to work in these systems. She said the structure creates a “rat race” culture due to the uncertainty of it all.
“Job security is so insecure that people feel the need to use these avenues to be seen in the gaming industry and get into the gaming industry,” said Gonzalez. “The power imbalance created by these actions enables active harm and psychological abuse in relation to quality assurance. We believe in the product we’re working on, we love the games, we love the community. We love, what we do. And I feel like that’s used to pay us low wages to play with a living by dangling that full-time carrot over our heads so we can do all we can – all work overtime – to be seen as the person who is ready to do something for the company. And then your contract will be extended. “
Without a clear path to advancement, Activision Blizzard compounded a misunderstanding, workers said QA was unskilled work – “something a monkey could do,” a source told Polygon. The reality is that contract workers who QA for Activision Blizzard are doing important, tedious work, but those workers told Polygon that their supervisors often emphasized that “real” developers are more important and that QA staff are easy to replace. New people are added every week, with mass hiring phases alongside busy times that hire a lot of new testers during times of crisis when people work up to seven days a week.
“The conditions for [Call of Duty: Black Ops] Cold War were terrible, but this is their top selling Call of Duty game today, which confirms that, ‘Yes, these methods work. Why should we spend money [for better practices]? ‘”A current employee said to Polygon.
Several employees told Polygon of situations where they claimed a power imbalance between full-time workers and contract workers, resulting in a toxic environment. Some reported cases of sexual harassment that were allegedly turned away by Human Resources. The workers described a culture in which QA and cus tomer service departments were isolated from other parts of the company; Most of the QA staff Polygon spoke to said they were not allowed to speak directly to developers.
Current and former Activision Blizzard employees have come together in solidarity over the past few weeks, staging a strike and calling on the leadership to take action and take responsibility for the cultural problem that allegedly affects disproportionately marginalized workers. But contract workers, who are still heavily involved in labor movements, also say they are reluctant to report wrongdoing or to attend leadership-suggested “hearing sessions” because the contract structure puts them in such a precarious position that workers do Feeling like they could be fired at any time. Three sources confirmed that in some cases, contracted QA staff were not even invited to these proposed listening sessions – particularly staff in the Texas office who were contracted by an outside agency. Although they work exclusively on Activision Blizzard products, these employees are still further from being integrated into the company.
Workers said these working conditions also apply to customer service agents across the company. Like quality assurance, customer service is viewed as a “low-skilled” job within the development pipeline. Pay is low, work is underestimated and often challenging. A recent customer service rep said that managers often see the department as a burden – “a cost, not a department that generates revenue.”
Several customer service representatives described how to deal with verbal abuse from angry gamers, such as threats and insults. A former customer service representative recalled an instance during World of Warcraft: Battle for AzerothThe launch that resulted in prolonged downtime when a player told customer service that they wished the Blizzard office had burned down in the California wildfires in 2018. Another former customer service rep described cases where angry gamers threatened to show up at the company’s offices. Some workers said it was especially stressful considering how they are perceived by the rest of the company, along with the low wage.
Several employees said that when there is controversy, including following the DFEH lawsuit, customer service often feels the brunt of the anger. “While these comments may not be addressed to me personally, they take a psychological toll and we are only supposed to remember them [that] ‘You’re not mad at us,’ ”said a Blizzard employee. “It’s kind of hard to help someone who tells me to kill myself every day, all over a video game.”
QA testers described encountering similar verbal abuse from gamers during live testing with the public. “It was definitely an issue that I’ve seen affecting multiple people,” said a current QA representative. “It was a good time to work seven days a week and listen to the players saying insults all day.”
The system of sealing off contract workers from other parts of the company has enabled top-down bad behavior, workers said. People felt that the leadership was devaluing and dehumanizing the workers in these departments by reducing people to just “bodies in a project”.
“This is where the abuse formula comes in,” said Gonzalez. “I think Activision Blizzard should be held accountable. The putrefaction definitely has a root. And it’s something that needs to be addressed and fixed. ”