Former quality assurance testers who worked on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf are preparing to picket outside Bioware’s Edmonton offices after being laid off earlier this year. Electronic Arts tried to block the protest but the developers prevailed in a ruling by the Alberta Labour Relations Board in Canada.
BioWare laid off 50 employees in August, including some longtime developers whose tenure goes back to the beginning of the Dragon Age series. It also cut its contract with Keywords Studios, which was supplying quality assurance testers on in-development sequel Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. Those same testers had unionized just a year earlier. Last month, they were laid off from Keywords as well, with the outsourcing company blaming it on the loss of the BioWare contract.
Now, as first reported by Game Developer, those former Dragon Age testers say they’re planning to picket outside BioWare’s office on November 7 around noon. They are demanding that Keywords reinstate them and continuing bargaining their first contract, calling the layoffs earlier this year a “union busting tactic.” But Keywords doesn’t have any offices in Alberta so they are going to BioWare instead.
EA was apparently far from happy about the decision. The publisher tried to force the laid-off developers to take their protest elsewhere, noting that, as fully remote staff, they never technically worked inside BioWare’s Edmonton office. Instead, EA tried to convince the Alberta Labour Relations Board to make them picket outside their homes. The regulators were unmoved, ultimately siding with the workers.
“We view this Labor Board ruling as a huge win for not just us, but remote workers everywhere in Canada,” former Keywords tester James Russwurm told Game Developer. “Workers can now go ‘oh, I can picket my employer’s offices downtown even though I didn’t work in the office.’”
The ex-testers had been contracted to work at BioWare beginning during the pandemic, first on Mass Effect Legendary Edition and later on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. When BioWare moved to force staff back into the office, the group successfully unionized to try and keep their remote status and improve pay. The Keywords developers were laid off before they could finish bargaining their first contract.
EA called the protest “misguided” in a statement to Kotaku. “We hope that Keywords and the union are able to resolve their differences but ultimately Bioware has no role in that process,” a spokesperson wrote. “It is our view that any activities targeting our offices are misguided as Bioware is not involved in any way in the negotiations and Epcor Tower has never been a place of employment for Keywords employees.”
EA said at the time that it had previoulsy renewed its contract with Keywords and not doing so in September had nothing to do with the group unionizing. But the publisher has never made clear why it cut staff on a highly anticipated game like Dreadwolf that is still deep in development following several reported internal delays.
The once-beloved RPG studio and its parent company are also currently dealing with a lawsuit by other laid off Dragon Age developers who say they are being denied their full severance benefits under Canadian labor law. “While we remain supportive of the game we worked so hard on, and of our colleagues continuing that work, we are struggling to understand why BioWare is shortchanging us in this challenging time,” one of them said in a press release last month.
Update 11/7/2023 3:25 p.m. ET: The ex-Keywords staff picketing outside BioWare today held a short press conference with reps from the UFCW401. They alledge that before they were replaced at BioWare, the studio had them help train their replacements in QA.
Screenshot: UFCW Local 401 / Kotaku
“We know if you are suffering at a studio somewhere we’ve lived that struggle with you and we’re hear to talk for all of those people who have gone through the exploitation of this industry for years and we’re just hear to make some noise and be heard,” James Russwurm said at one point. You can watch some of the protest on the UFCW Local 401’s Facebook page.
Update 11/6/2023 5:31 p.m. ET: Added a statement from EA.
Article source https://kotaku.com/laid-off-dragon-age-testers-will-picket-bioware-1850996639