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Dragon Age QA testers are joining the growing ranks of unionised industry workers

KWS Edmonton United group cites low pay and Covid as catalysts for change

QA contractors working directly on the next Dragon Age with BioWare Edmonton have filed to unionise, just the latest in a string of such decisions affecting high-profile companies throughout the industry. The workers are employed by the internationally-operating contract services company Keywords Studios but contracted out to BioWare. They’ve now formed the KWS Edmonton United group and have named low pay and concern at being instructed back into the office while Covid-19 remains a danger as their reasons to seek collective bargaining.

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Keywords contractors have also contributed to BioWare for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and DLC for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Game Developer report the contractors are struggling to live in Edmonton on the provincial minimum wage of $15 (£9) per hour they’re receiving. The QA testers say in-house staff doing the same job at BioWare make twice as much money as they do, while stressing that their issue is with Keywords Studios rather than co-workers at BioWare. A KWS Edmonton United rep told Kotaku that the decision to unionise came when Keywords told the testers they’d have to return to the office full-time from May 9th despite Covid cases in Alberta still reporting at around 1,000 daily, while full-time BioWare testers could still work from home.

Unionising QA staff at Raven Software – the Game Workers Alliance (GWA) – shared a tweet of solidarity with Keywords Studios workers, who credit the Raven staff’s example for their decision to unionise. Raven’s 21 QA staff have only this week won the option to vote on unionising themselves. Earlier this month Activision Blizzard made all their temporary QA testers full-time, introduced benefits and bumped up pay, but Raven Software workers were contentiously left out by their parent company. Actiblizz said the GWA couldn’t receive the same treatment as they had yet to unionise; the GWA accused Actiblizz of divide-and-conquer tactics.

Not a lot of detail about the next Dragon Age has been revealed since the single-player focused RPG was first teased at The Game Awards in 2018, but we know it’ll be set in magocracy Tevinter and that the Grey Wardens could be making a comeback. Quite a few members of BioWare’s Dragon Age team have left during the development of the as-yet untitled game, including former executive producer Mark Darrah at the end of 2020 and his replacement Christian Dailey in February this year.

Correction: This article previously stated that the $15 minimum wage applied nationally instead of by province.

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CJ Wheeler avatar

CJ Wheeler

Former News Reporter

CJ used to write about steam locomotives but now covers Steam instead. Likes visual novels, most things with dungeons and/or crawling, and any shooter with a suitably chunky shotgun. He’s from Yorkshire, which means he’s legally obliged to enjoy a cup of tea and a nice sit down.