Microsoft converts some Starfield testers to full-time unionized employees

Starfield key art 2023
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

What you need to know

  • Over 300 quality assurance testers at Microsoft-owned ZeniMax Media unionized earlier this year, forming ZeniMax Workers United. 
  • Microsoft has opted to remain neutral in unionization efforts, eschewing tactics utilized by many other large corporations. 
  • Microsoft recently agreed to convert several game testers who worked on Starfield into full-time employees.

Microsoft is honoring its recent commitments to engage in good faith with unions. 

A number of game testers who previously worked on Starfield through third-party staffing agency TCWGlobal are being converted into full-time Microsoft employees. In a report shared by Bloomberg, the parent company of Xbox confirmed that 77 testers will be made unionized employees. 

Over 300 quality assurance (QA) testers at ZeniMax Media unionized earlier this year, forming the first union under Microsoft. Since then, the union has been negotiating with Microsoft around benefits, raises, and having additional testers made into full employees. 

23 of the 77 testers are being given full-time Microsoft jobs and a 22% pay increase, while the remainder will be given temporary jobs, raises of $2.75 per hour, as well as sick days and holidays. All of the newly-unionized testers are also being given a copy of Starfield, the game they most recently worked on.

“It’s made it possible to give a lot of great benefits to a lot of great people and this is a great opportunity for people who normally would feel like they don’t have a voice,” said Aubrey Litchfield, a member of ZeniMax Workers United. 

“We look forward to continued good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement,” Microsoft vice president Amy Pannoni told Bloomberg.

Why is Microsoft engaging with unions?

Microsoft added over 10,000 employees across three publishers to Xbox this year. (Image credit: Microsoft)

While large tech and gaming corporations usually don't respond well (or at all) to unionizing, Microsoft laid out different plans last year, where it agreed to a binding set of principles with the Communication Workers of America. As part of the agreement, Microsoft agreed to remain neutral when any employees seek to unionize, meaning the process of unionizing speeds up overall. 

All this came at a time when Microsoft was seeking approval for its then-pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard. As part of the purchase being finalized, Activision Blizzard employees will be eligible to unionize 60 days after the deal was finished, or very early on in 2024. 

Analysis: Matching words with actions

It was one thing for Microsoft to make agreements when it was trying to get a $69 billion acquisition through. It's something else entirely for the company to be following through on its words and engaging in good faith discussions. Seeing new testers made full-time employees is great, and a clear result of the strength that workers can have pulling together. 

When I spoke with some Xbox employees earlier this year, they said that Microsoft needed to fully commit to unions in order to be truly groundbreaking. Now, it seems like that's actually happening. 

I'm happy for ZeniMax employees, and I'll be happy to see Activision Blizzard staff joining in on these efforts when they become eligible next year.

Samuel Tolbert
Freelance Writer

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.

  • fjtorres5591
    It shouldn't be a surprise that MS is neutral about unions (for now) because the company as now structured is about certainty; certainty in revenues (subscriptions) and certainty in costs and with union contracts being multiyear deals there is more value in locking down costs as much as possible for years at a time given the uncertainties of the day.
    Remember that the bulk of MS stock belongs institutional investors, pension funds, etc, that depend on the dividends they pay out and with the expectations that AI and gaming are going to grow steadily there is no need to squeeze the staff like at a certain ex-Microsoft studio dealing with "soul crushing" morale.

    In-house peace in times of turmoil is worth more than whatever raises they dish out.

    Think of it as Nadella being Nadella.