Welcome back to Get Your Game On! My name is Zainabb and I have sludge for brains today. This week, we have some good news that is simultaneously very bad news (thanks Activision!) and an awful lot of COVID-related bullshit. As a disabled person, let me tell you, I am tired. I’m going to take a nap and I highly recommend that you do, too. Now on with the news.

Activision Blizzard Converts QA Jobs to Full-Time Roles, Except at Unionising Raven Software

Activision Blizzard has announced that it will convert all of its US-based temporary quality assurance (QA) jobs to full-time roles except at its unionising studio, Raven Software. Almost 1,100 temporary QA workers will become full-time Activision Blizzard employees, with pay increasing to at least $20 an hour and full benefits provided.

Last year, Activision Blizzard converted 500 temporary QA jobs to full-time roles but also laid off 20 contractors, including 12 workers at Raven Software. This move resulted in several strikes and the beginning of Raven Software’s push for unionisation. Activision Blizzard has stated that it won’t voluntarily recognise the union, called the Game Workers Alliance. The Game Workers Alliance are now awaiting a decision from the National Labor Relations Board to define which employees can be included within the union.

Activision Blizzard’s decision not to convert temporary QA roles at Raven Software has been accused of being a union-busting move. The Communications Workers of America, who are working with the Game Workers Alliance in their unionising efforts, stated that the decision “is clearly an effort to divide workers and undermine their effort to form a union.” Activision Blizzard claim that they are prevented by law from “extending new kinds of benefits” to employees while workers wait to vote on unionisation.

However, the case cited by Activision Blizzard prohibits employers from granting benefits to employees shortly before a representation election if employers have “the express purpose of impinging upon their freedom of choice for or against unionization.” The National Labor Relations Board states that employers are allowed to “change employees’ wages or benefits during a union campaign” if those changes would have been made regardless. Employers can also postpone granting those benefits until after the election, as long as they make clear that those changes will occur regardless of whether employees vote for a union. Activision Blizzard has instead notably withheld benefits from Raven Software employees without a promise to inscribe them following the union vote. This decision may intimidate QA workers at Raven into voting against unionisation—which is illegal.

Discontent at Riot Games After the Company Drops Vaccine, Testing and Mask Requirements

Activision Blizzard employees walked out last week in protest of the company’s recent decision to drop its COVID vaccination mandate for in-office staff. This week, Riot Games employees have expressed their concern and confusion following a similar removal of COVID-related safety processes. Riot employees were asked to return to the company’s Los Angeles office after Riot dropped its mask, vaccine, and testing requirements, in line with changes to city and state recommendations.

Several employees have complained about these policies and at least one employee has quit Riot as a result. While the company will provide contact tracing and free N95 masks in the office, their decision moves responsibility towards individual employees and away from Riot as an employer. With no vaccination, masking or testing requirements at the company, contact tracing is likely to be ineffective, depending on how regularly employees are able to access (and pay for) tests outside of work.

In addition, the announcement comes shortly after Riot ended its “Queue Dodge” programme, which allows new hires to leave the company within their first six months with benefits and a portion of their salary. In January, Riot expanded this programme to apply to all employees, regardless of the length of their employment. However, they did not disclose news of the upcoming changes to their in-office policies during this time.

In other news…

Ubisoft has announced that it has ended content updates for Ghost Recon Breakpoint, an online shooter recently used to test and launch Ubisoft Quartz, the company’s NFT project. Ubisoft has suggested that they’ll continue releasing NFTs as part of other games.

Devolver Digital has announced a sequel to the Monkey Island series called Return to Monkey Island. The game will be produced with Monkey Island co-creators Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, although no further details have yet been announced. You can watch the teaser trailer below.

Warhammer 40,000 is bringing Space Dwarves back, under the new name of the Leagues of Votann. Games Workshop announced the news in a video on April 1, leading many fans to believe the reveal was an April Fools’ joke until the company confirmed the move last week.

Remedy Entertainment announced that it’ll be remaking Max Payne and Max Payne 2, in collaboration with Rockstar Games. The games will be released as a single title, similar to other remake and remastered collections, and will come to PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. The remake project is still in the early stages so no release date has yet been announced.

Indie composer Chel Wong has apologised for attending the 2022 Game Developers Conference (GDC) after testing positive for COVID (twice). Wong’s apology came almost two weeks after they attended GDC, in the midst of rumours and complaints about some GDC attendees having come while knowingly COVID-positive. While Wong absolutely made the wrong decision here, she won’t be the only knowingly COVID-positive person attending large in-person events, especially with the rampant ableism and total lack of social distancing or testing requirements in place at venues and in our societies generally.

Ableds, here is your regular reminder that, while masking and being outside can help to reduce the risk of spreading COVID, you cannot guarantee that you won’t spread the virus, especially given how contagious the current variant is. COVID continues to disable and kill people on a daily basis. Ideally, venues and conferences should provide testing for all in-person attendees, but if you must go to a large in-person event right now, please test every day, isolate if you test positive, and stay masked.

Epic has launched Unreal Engine 5 and I’ll be honest, it looks so pretty. Epic has stated that developers will be able to keep building in Unreal Engine 4 and easily move projects to Unreal 5 in future. Meanwhile, Crystal Dynamics has confirmed that it’s working on the next installment in the Tomb Raider series, using Unreal Engine 5 for the game’s development.

Epic has also announced a new partnership with Lego, apparently “to shape the future of the metaverse” by creating a “safe and positive space” for young gamers. Lego and Epic have announced three guiding principles for their work together, which focus heavily on children’s safety and privacy, with no information about specific projects announced as yet.

World of Tanks developer Wargaming will be closing its Belarus studio and ending its Russian operations due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company started in Belarus, although it’s now based in Cyprus, making this a significant move as more games studios and companies end or pause their operations in Russia and Belarus. Wargaming’s titles will still be available in Russia and Belarus, with Wargaming transferring all operations in the region to Lesta Studio, a Russian developer.

Blizzard has quietly removed the “Z” logo from Zarya’s skins in Overwatch. Although originally intended to represent a monogram, the logo is currently associated with Russian forces invading Ukraine and has been used to express support for the invasion.

Criterion will reportedly release its new Need for Speed game in November 2022 for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. It was originally announced for release between April 2021 and March 2022.

Finally, an official The Witcher recipe book will be released on October 25th from CD Projekt Red and Anita Sarna and Karolina Krupecka of Nerds’ Kitchen. The book will contain 80 recipes inspired by The Witcher games and you can pre-order the hardcover edition now.