A group of laid off unionized QA testers who were working on the upcoming Dragon Age: Dreadwolf are picketing outside of developer BioWare's Edmonton office for November 7, a day usually reserved for celebrating BioWare's Mass Effect franchise.
The workers were employed by Keywords Studios, a company that until recently had a contract with BioWare and whose testers worked on both Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and the long-in-development next entry in the Dragon Age series. Last month, the testers were all laid off following BioWare's decision not to renew its contract with Keywords--this was after the testers unionized last year.
That has led the laid off testers, who worked remotely, to protest BioWare's Edmonton office. They are demanding to be reinstated by Keywords and be allowed to continue bargaining on their first union contract. The group unionized in order to improve their pay and for the ability to continue working remotely, something that BioWare and Keywords was looking to end, and believe the end of their contract was used as a union-busting tactic.
As first reported by Game Developer, BioWare and its parent company EA attempted to prevent the laid off workers from protesting outside BioWare's offices, stating that as remote staff, they never worked at the Edmonton office and thus had no right to protest there. Instead, EA and BioWare sought to have the union members picket outside their homes. The Alberta Labour Relations Board disagreed, and granted the ex-Keyword workers the right to picket the Edmonton office despite their remote worker status.
Union spokesperson James Russwurm told Game Developer the goal of the protest is not to prevent BioWare employees from working or accessing the premises, but to raise awareness.
"We're going to be out there, getting the word out, and even talking to BioWare employees coming in and out of the building that might be interested in unionization," Russwurm said. "That's more of our focus than actual disruption."
In a statement to Kotaku, EA called the protest "misguided."
"We hope that Keywords and the union are able to resolve their differences but ultimately BioWare has no role in that process," an EA spokesperson said. "It is our view that any activities targeting our offices are misguided as BioWare is not involved in any way in the negotiations and Epcor Tower has never been a place of employment for Keywords employees."
Originally announced in 2018, Dragon Age: Dreadwolf reportedly won't arrive until the summer of 2024 at the earliest and could possibly not release until 2025. Last month, BioWare laid off around 50 employees, some of whom are now suing BioWare and EA over severance packages.