They described a company in which contractors, and particularly testers, feel like they’re perceived and treated as inferior. Throughout Black Ops 4’s rocky development, testers said they worked under unfair conditions—a theme that’s common in the video game industry, but one that remains worth scrutinizing. Those who spoke to us for this story said they did so because they hope that public pressure will lead the studio to change.
This whole article reminded me of my time at Microsoft, working on the original Xbox as a QA contractor for Volt/VMC over a decade ago.
I’ve told this story many times on the various sites I’ve run, but the short version is that while working at Microsoft my coworkers I enjoyed the work itself, we were paid incredibly poorly and were treated like completely disposable workers.
Microsoft’s management strategy at the time was to berate and yell at our group if anything happened that could possibly have been our fault. During the development of Halo 2 my group was yelled at for leaking information on some weapon in the game. As far as I know, nobody on my team had done that and the Microsoft manager who yelled at us had no information that lead them to think we were to blame. They just wanted to yell at somebody, and a group of contractors testing their games was the easiest target.
Of course, when something was not right for our team, the issues were given the lowest priority. For example, our time sheets were edited to change our hours and undercut our pay, I complained to my manager at Volt, but nothing was done so I had to scrutinize my pay check and double-check my time sheet to make sure it had not been edited on the shared file server we used.
The final straw for me was when I started a new contract at the Microsoft Game Studios building and we were berated by our new manager because a previous group of testers had apparently sometimes taken “too long” in the restroom. We were told that “too long” was any longer than five minutes. If we were in the restroom for more than five minutes we would be fired. The lines at the rest room could get long, so it was a certainty you would be caught under this rule and fired if management didn’t like you. I went home that day, thought about it, and was in the good position to be able to quit the next morning without worrying that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent.
My experiences weren’t as awful as the ones reported by the people working at Volt today, but the only real solution is the same now as it should have been then, unionization. Collective bargaining is the solution for every workplace where workers are exploited, but it will take a very strong group to form a union, take action, and put an end to Volt’s mistreatment of workers.