Workers Protest Sudden Layoffs at Middleton-Based ‘Call of Duty’ Developer



By JT Cestkowski

December 9, 2021

Raven Software quality assurance employees say they’ll be let go in January in a move aimed at “saving pennies.”

Dozens of employees and their supporters protested Wednesday outside Raven Software, a Middleton-based video game developer, against what they saw as arbitrary layoffs in the name of penny pinching. 

Workers say 12 of the 38 employees in the quality assurance department were told they would be let go in January, while the others would get full-time positions (quality assurance works on contract) and a pay bump.

The moves blindsided many, including Clayton Rud, a quality assurance tester. Rud moved to the Madison area from Minnesota about two weeks ago at the company’s invitation before being told he will lose his job next month.  Raven employees staged a walkout on Monday, and they say it will continue until their laid-off colleagues are reinstated as full-time staff.

“You’ve been working for over a year on a product that makes multi-billion dollars and then all that culmination of work is summed up to saving pennies in comparison,” Rud said. “They’ve already lost more money by not having us come in than just paying us outright.”

Raven is owned by Activision Blizzard and is best known for its work on the “Call of Duty” franchise, a massively popular first-person shooter series. The employees at the protest said their flagship title, “Call of Duty Warzone,” brings in $5.2 million per day. Activision Blizzard’s CEO made $150 million in 2020, an amount workers said is enough to pay the salaries of the entire Raven quality assurance division for a century, based on claims from employees that they will soon earn $18 per hour.

Raven Software did not respond to a request for comment.

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Emotions ran high as, one-by-one, employees entered meetings with their supervisors and human resources, according to three employees who spoke with UpNorthNews. Some employees spent portions of the day sobbing out of anxiety for their own futures and pity for their coworkers. 

The quality assurance department wasted little time in getting organized, with a group coming together at one person’s home to support one another and strategize. Their walkout two days later caught the company’s attention. Those participating in the protest said they exchanged messages with Raven leadership.

Wednesday’s protest drew a crowd of three dozen at its peak around the noon hour. The group came prepared with plenty of signs, warm food, and two dogs—Rufus and Dennis—who acted as the emotional anchors of the gathering.

Workers Protest Sudden Layoffs at Middleton-Based 'Call of Duty' Developer
A group of two dozen protested outside of Raven Software Wednesday after layoffs in the company’s quality assurance department that workers called “arbitrary.” (Photo by JT Cestkowski)

Almighty Dollar

The workers say that Raven has now offered to cover the moving expenses of the employees who will be laid off, but it did not extend that courtesy until after the group staged their walkout.  Several employees laid the blame for the layoffs at the feet of Activision, a publicly traded company, looking to squeeze a few extra dimes of profit from an already overworked staff. 

Even those who have received the full time offers and pay increases are now doubting whether they will stick around long enough to take advantage of the improved compensation. The looming loss of their coworkers has left a bad taste in their mouths. 

Multiple members of the quality assurance team that spoke with UpNorthNews expressed a desire to leave the company if management did not reverse the layoffs. People from other departments echoed the sentiment, with one expressing the desire to leave the gaming industry altogether.

Several people spoke to UpNorthNews only on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns of reprisals from Activision or the broader video game industry. 

“I think there is fear going forward because there is a lot of distrust with the company, both with Activision and now with Raven,” said one employee at the protest, who declined to provide their name. “But now there is this layer of fear like, ‘Which one of us is going to be next?’”

Workers Protest Sudden Layoffs at Middleton-Based 'Call of Duty' Developer
Raven Software, located in Middleton, is perhaps best known for working on the successful “Call of Duty” franchise, which earns the company millions of dollars per day, according to employees. (Photo by JT Cestkowski)

The Crunch

The disgust carried over to the games industry as a whole, extending beyond just Raven and Activision. The latter perhaps embodies a reckoning across the games industry over work conditions as the CEO reportedly failed to act on multiple accusations of sexual assault within Activision’s studios.

Workers at Raven said they were mostly insulated from the poor management of Activision, or  were until last Friday.

“One of the reasons why so many of us—QA, developers, artists—are abused in this industry is because it’s sold to us as a dream job,” one employee said. “They will say ‘You have to do these things, you have to work these long hours, you have to prove yourself, you have to do stuff outside of your expected eight-hour job … if you want to climb up.’”

Staff at the protest described work conditions in the lead up to the release of a game during which they were expected to work 60 hours per week in a bid to meet deadlines imposed by the game’s advertised release date. The practice is known inside the games industry as “crunch,” and workers said it is akin to an accepted condition of working at Raven by the staff.

Despite the long hours, problems with their parent company, and pay rates that one tester said was half the rate of her previous quality assurance job in the tech field, the workers said their only demand was to have all of their colleagues offered full-time positions.

In the case of Rud, multiple people brought up his name as an example of what they saw as the seemingly random nature of the layoffs. He was described as an “expert” by one Raven employee and others identified him as a standout performer.

“These are not just QA, these are people from other departments banding together with us because they know how much QA is important to them,” Rud said. 

“The strangest thing about us getting let go is that performance seemingly wasn’t taken into account,” Rud added. “It seems very arbitrary who was chosen to be let go. It doesn’t seem like experience, it doesn’t seem like position in the company, what we were doing at the time, what our connections are. It seemed completely like drawing names out of a hat.”




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