Today, contract testers at the Call of Duty studio Raven Software were told that the studio would face layoffs on January 28th of next year, a Call of Duty community manager said on Twitter. A source familiar with the goings-on at the company confirmed to Kotaku that for the next few days in early December, the quality assurance team would be meeting one-on-one with management individually to learn if they were out of a job.
Acquired by Activision in 1997, Raven Software is now one of the two major developers heading up Call of Duty titles. The Wisconsin-based company has worked on titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops, Ghosts, Infinite Warfare and others in collaboration with major studios at Activision, like Infinity Ward. More recently, Raven Software became the more public face of free-to-play battle royale Warzone via patch notes and development comms. Raven is, in other words, an important part of the ever-expanding Call of Duty machine.
According to Austin O’Brien, a community manager for Call of Duty, the quality assurance team from Raven Software have promised raises for months by Activision. As it turns out, these raises had an asterisk attached to them. The plan, as this source tells it, is that Activision will absorb some contract testers from Raven Software, hire some testers permanently, but the vast majority of the developers at Raven would be out of work. The workers retaining jobs will indeed be promoted from $US17 (A$24) an hour to $US18.50 (A$26) an hour, alongside improved benefits and quarterly bonuses. Promises of raises and other benefits that never arrive are well-known tactics within the industry as a means of retaining contract workers hoping to transfer into more full-time positions.
I am gutted right now. My friends in QA at Raven were promised, for months, that Activision was working towards a pay restructure to increase their wages.
Today, one by one, valuable members of the team were called into meetings and told they were being let go.
— Austin O'Brien (@eyyohbee) December 3, 2021
So far, testers say that the studio has not been very communicative about these structural changes. Developers learned the news of the layoffs mostly from word of mouth, which added to the unease felt by QA staff. A source told Kotaku: “This wasn’t a normal end. They just decided to gut the studio. I’ve heard so far that they’ve lost 1/3 of their QA and it is still ongoing into next week.” Kotaku reached out to Activision, but they did not respond at the time of publication.
These layoffs came in spite of Activision Blizzard’s high third quarter profits, which were higher than they were in 2020. It isn’t the first time that Activision Blizzard has cut its workforce during a successful year. CEO Bobby Kotick collected record bonuses this March amidst an estimated 190 layoffs. Activision Blizzard also laid off 800 staff in 2019 despite “record results.” Kotick has a reputation for harsh cost-cutting measures, and prided in a “culture of thrift” at the company. Activision Blizzard is also currently under considerable public scrutiny for gender harassment and discrimination, alongside floundering attempts at managing their public image.
“Lots of amazing, highly competent testers getting laid off after YEARS of crunch after crunch after crunch,” wrote one QA tester on social media. “I’m as furious as I am shattered.”