The Canadian studio joins a growing movement of unionization in the larger games industry.
This week, contractors for Keywords Studios of Edmonton, Alberta in Canada voted to unionize. On Monday, all 16 eligible quality assurance contractors at the studio were found to be unanimous in their decision. Keywords has voluntarily recognized the vote, according to a statement on its website.
“Keywords Studios accept the vote of the 16 Edmonton staff who have chosen to unionize,” the statement reads. “We value our people and will continue to constantly strive to be a good employer. As an organization we want to ensure an engaging experience for all of our employees, and we take any concerns that our staff have seriously. We will continue to have an ongoing dialogue with all individuals in the Edmonton team, as we move forward together, always learning and improving.”
In an interview with Polygon, one QA worker at Keywords was overjoyed with the result of the vote.
“We’re ecstatic,” the worker said. “We’re super happy. It will assist us going forward into bargaining that the whole team is completely united on this effort.”
Talks of unionization began in March following the decision to bring workers back into the office after months of working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The QA staff argued that this caused a great deal of financial hardship, and removed much of the flexibility afforded by working from home.
“We all got together and started talking about what it would look like in terms of costs for each of us individually,” the QA worker told Polygon. “We had a choice. We can either try to quit and go find another job, but we love what we do. We don’t want to leave. So we decided to try to form a union to see if we can drive some positive change in our workplace.”
Founded in 1009, Keywords Studios provides development support for a number of bigger studios in the games industry, offering services like concept art, audio, QA, and more. Keywords has worked with BioWare, Electronic Arts, Square Enix, and Blizzard Entertainment, according to its website. Currently, it is assisting BioWare with the next Dragon Age title.
Keywords’ union is the latest in a burgeoning movement within the games industry. Historically a sector with little-to-no worker representation, the business has seen concerted organization efforts recently. Last month, Raven QA workers voted to unionize, forming the first North American union at a AAA video game studio.
Whether this was sparked by the larger discussion of workplace safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic, increased allegations of harassment, the ongoing problems with crunch, or some other outside force we can’t say for sure. What is certain, though, is that there’s a wave of change sweeping through the industry. It will be interesting to watch how the movement grows in the coming years.
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