Dragon Age 4 QA developers say they are gathering over poor pay and Covid security

Concept art for Dragon Age 4 shows warriors fighting back against a premature return to office.

Picture: BioWare / EA

The video game industry is currently undergoing a small but unprecedented wave of organizing developers. Last week, it even reached the halls the famous RPG maker BioWarewhere a group of QA entrepreneurs are working on Dragon Age 4 revealed their intention to become connected. The two biggest reasons why? Poor pay and worries about a full-time return to office while the pandemic continues.

The union-oriented QA developers are employed through a global contracting service company called Keywords Studios, but work directly with the production teams at BioWare’s Edmonton office. They began to support development Mass Effect: Legendary Edition before moving on to the latest Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, The legacy of the Sith.

Now they are working on Dragon Age 4 as part of Keywords’ “embedded services” group, which promises “the expertise of an in-house team” to “deliver flexible, in-house outsourced solutions.” According to a representative of the group, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, the project management comes directly from full-time BioWare developers, and Keywords’ role in the relationship is almost exclusively administrative.

The representative said the catalyst for union was a return-to-office announcement earlier this month. Keywords reportedly told everyone that they should return to BioWare’s office in person, five days a week from May 9, despite an average of nearly 1,000 new covid cases a day still reported in Alberta, Canada.

According to the representative, Keyword’s staff do not receive any paid leave, although Alberta’s health guidelines recommend a 14-day quarantine after someone has tested positive for covid. Meanwhile, full-time BioWare employees would still have the flexibility to work from home. Keywords have been previously criticized for their covid sick time policies and to pressure some of their employees to stay in office when the pandemic began in March 2020.

“As this situation continues to evolve, we are gathering facts and want a statement as soon as possible,” a Keywords spokesman said. Kotaku in response to a list of questions. BioWare and EA did not respond to a request for comment.

The representative of the QA group said that depending on the final decision of the Alberta Labor Relations Board, which is currently reviewing its application, the final negotiating unit will consist of somewhere between 15 and 20 testers and analysts. After the review is completed on May 3, a postal vote will likely be held within two weeks, and two weeks thereafter, the results are likely to be ratified by the Board of Directors.

“We are very confident that we would be able to win a vote in the union,” the representative said. Kotaku in a telephone interview.

In addition to covid security and flexibility to work from home, another major issue is pay. They said some keywords QA analysts gets paid as little as $ 16.50 Canadian dollars (just under $ 13 US dollars) for roles where full-time BioWare employees are paid much more. The representative also said there are concerns about gender-based pay discrimination, lack of consistent metrics used to evaluate employees, and overall transparency regarding pay and performance. Trade union is a way for employees to negotiate better and clearer terms of employment for anyone who performs similar types of work.

However, most employers are also extremely hostile to staff’s efforts to organize, and KeyWord’s QA staff at BioWare already feel penalized. “We saw what we would consider retaliation,” the representative said Kotaku. This allegedly included employees who received complaints about performance or were deprived of certain responsibilities following the decision to become a trade union.

But the representative sounded hopeful and brave about what the group is moving forward with thanks to other recent examples. In December, the indie studio Vodeo Games trade unionized. On Call of Duty studio Raven Software, QA is also to vote to organize. The attacked publisher Activision Blizzard recently promised to do all QA full-time with a minimum hourly rate of $ 20, although it ex included the union-giving employees from the pay arc.

A contractor at Nintendo of America asked a question about unions at a February meeting. They were later fired, although Nintendo claimed it was for an NDA violation and that there is no union activity currently underway by Mario maker.

The keywords QA rep told Kotaku that the unprecedented labor campaign on Raven, as well as in places like Starbucks and Amazon in recent months, has been a major source of inspiration. “The people at Bioware are incredibly friendly and we love working with them,” the representative said. They just want to do it for better pay and with more job protection in place.