Contractors have always gotten the short end of the stick around the holidays and this year at Activision is reportedly no different.
As we begin to approach the holiday season and the big AAA studios prepare to release the tentpole games for the year, it’s always important to remember how much hard work goes into their creation. Clearly, you can’t make a multimillion-dollar game each year like Ubisoft does with Assassin’s Creed or like Activision does with Call of Duty without hard work, but for big studios, hard work doesn’t always equal more pay. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, 10% of Activision employees are independent contractors who don’t receive the same pay and treatment of fulltime “real” employees.
It’s no secret that in the games industry contractors are overworked and underpaid and this year doesn’t seem to be any different. Large, studio granted bonuses come to some developers and other full-time employees while skipping QA testers and contractors entirely.
Game companies say they use contractors to fill temporary jobs or to rotate people in and out of projects as needed. But at some studios, contractors wind up staying for years, strung along by the hope of full-time employment as they struggle to make a living wage.
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) August 27, 2020
Contractors were finally allowed to attend the Activision holiday party, in 2019, which may be a little too late. The culture surrounding crunch and the mistreatment of workers is nothing new to the industry or to the development of Call of Duty games, and while it is damaging to the industry at large, it’s very damaging to independent contractors because they don’t have the promise of a big bonus payout for when the game they’ve worked so hard on is finally released.
A big problem here as well is that studios know and understand that they’re exploiting the work of contractors. Activision uses a company called Volt to hire contractors and, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, one of their contracts reads like this:
“I acknowledge and agree that I am not eligible to participate in or receive any benefits under the terms of the Company Group’s retirement plans, health plans, vision plans, disability plans, life insurance plans, stock option plans, or any other employee benefit plan, policy, or procedure sponsored or maintained by any member of the Company Group.”
The newest installment in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, is expected to rake in billions of dollars for Activision and many employees will make well-earned bonuses from it. But those that won’t will be the contractors, whose only bonus is an invitation to a holiday party that probably won’t happen this year.