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Starfield Testers Had To Unionize To Get A Copy Of The Game

Microsoft has agreed to add 77 temporary game testers the recently established quality assurance union at ZeniMax Studios. In a breakthrough moment for the industry’s growing labor movement, 23 of the workers will become full-time, while all will get raises and free copies of Starfield, the open-world RPG they helped painstakingly debug but wouldn’t have otherwise received.

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“The use of contractors is common in the video game industry, and they often earn lower wages, have fewer benefits, and face less job stability than the direct employees they work alongside,” the Communications Workers of America wrote in a statement shared with Kotaku. “By recognizing the workers as members of the union, ZeniMax and Microsoft management are setting a new standard for workers across the gaming industry.”

Contracted through staffing agency TCWGlobal according to Bloomberg, the 77 Starfield testers are now part of ZeniMax Workers United-CWA which is currently negotiating its first contract with the tech giant. The 23 workers who were made full-time will get pay increases of 22.2 percent while the rest get a 15.3 percent pay increase, taking them from $18 an hour to $20.75 an hour. Some who weren’t previously eligible will now get paid holidays and paid sick time, while all 77 will finally get copies of the Bethesda blockbuster they helped create.

“Each worker will also get a free copy of Starfield, the major game release they had worked on,” the CWA wrote. “This had not previously been a practice for contractors.”

Read More: Xbox Promises Starfield Will Be Bethesda’s Least Buggy Launch Ever

It’s a testament to just how bad working conditions are for temporary testers that such a simple perk wasn’t guaranteed before they unionized. Their incorporation into the union could also pave the way for organizing efforts elsewhere in an industry that relies on armies of permalancers who lack the same pay, benefits, and job safety of their full-time peers. Notable examples include Nintendo of America, where many quality assurance staff are treated like seasonal workers, and Electronic Arts, where hundreds of contract QA workers were laid off this year, including a recently unionized group working on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf at BioWare.

Microsoft’s landmark labor neutrality agreement with the CWA has quickly made it one of the most hospitable gaming companies for developer unionizing. Time will tell if that has a knock-on effect at other studios and publishers. Sega of America was recently accused of retaliating against roughly 200 unionized staff by threatening to offshore half of their jobs.

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