Microsoft reaches tentative agreement with ZeniMax gaming union workers over AI principles

Fallout 76
(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft is currently engaging in negotiations with ZeniMax Workers United, a union consisting of 376 quality assurance employees at ZeniMax Media. 
  • Microsoft and ZeniMax Workers United reached tentative agreement regarding the usage of AI in the workplace. 
  • Microsoft agreed to adopt principles focusing the use of AI on improving workers' performance without causing harm.

There's still a lot of uncertainty around the use of AI in gaming, but some steps are being taken by unions to ensure worker safety. Microsoft reached a tentative agreement with ZeniMax Workers United on Monday, adopting guiding principles for AI usage to center workers. 

In a press release, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) — which ZeniMax Workers United is a part of — shared that Microsoft agreed to focus AI usage at ZeniMax Media (the parent company of publisher Bethesda Softworks) around enhancing worker "productivity, growth, and satisfaction" without causing harm, establishing that any AI usage must follow six principles:

  • Fair
  • Reliable and Safe
  • Private and Secure
  • Inclusive
  • Transparent, and
  • Accountable

“Coming to this agreement was a high priority for us. It’s hard to say how developments with AI may impact our work, but now we can be more confident that the agreement will help to protect us as we navigate the potential adoption of AI into our workflow," said Dylan Burton, senior QA tester. 

Why is Microsoft agreeing to union requests?

Microsoft broke tradition from most massive companies in 2022, forging an agreement with the CWA to remain neutral in employee unionization efforts and to engage in good faith dialogue with any unions. This was due in part to its then-pending acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a deal that was finalized in October 2023. Activision Blizzard employees will be eligible to unionize under Microsoft 60 days after the deal went through.

ZeniMax Workers United was formed and recognized at the start of 2023, bringing over 300 quality assurance testers across teams like Bethesda Game Studios and Arkane Studios into a union. Microsoft recently agreed to convert some Starfield testers into unionized employees, bringing the union to over 370 members and providing permanent or temporary jobs for each of the testers.

Analysis: Cautious optimism is warranted

This is a good step to take, and it's great to see some kind of protections being put in place for workers. Microsoft previously announced that it's bringing AI game development tools to Xbox, but it's important that these tools not be used in a way that can harm workers or impact jobs. 

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.