Laid-off Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and Mass Effect devs mark N7 Day by protesting outside BioWare HQ

Laid-off Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and Mass Effect developers are attempting to turn this year’s “N7 Day” of Mass Effect-themed festivities into a day of mass revolt. The developers in question are a mixture of former full-time staff and former Keywords Studios QA testers who have worked on Dreadwolf under contract. They’ve organised pickets outside BioWare Edmonton’s offices in Canada, and are calling on BioWare fans to get involved on social media, while trying to engage current BioWare staff in conversation about unionisation.

The protesting QA testers were laid off in late September, after BioWare decided not to renew their contract with Keywords for work on the new Dragon Age, which is supposedly playable from start to finish. They’re calling for their jobs to be reinstated, and continue to claim that they were fired as punishment for forming a union.

Naturally, BioWare and parent company EA feel they aren’t themselves responsible for the layoffs. As reported by Game Developer, they appealed to the Alberta Labour Relations Board to block today’s Keywords union protest, arguing that as the Keywords staff were remote workers, they are not legally entitled to picket outside BioWare’s offices.

The Keywords union have, however, convinced the Labour Board that BioWare’s offices did represent their place of work during their time on the Dreadwolf project, not least because it relied on remote access to computers housed within the building. They began working for the Dragon Age team during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, which obliged them to do so from home. They also claim they decided to unionise only after Keywords and BioWare attempted to mandate a return to the office.

In a statement picked up by Game Developer, union spokesperson James Russwurm described the Labour Board ruling “as a huge win for not just us, but remote workers everywhere in Canada.” He argued that it creates a legal precedent for other Canadian remote workers launching similar protests. “Workers can now go ‘oh, I can picket my employer’s offices downtown even though I didn’t work in the office.'”

Today’s protest is less about stopping work at BioWare than engaging BioWare employees in conversation, Russwurm added. “We’re going to be out there, getting the word out, and even talking to BioWare employees coming and out of the building that might be interested in unionization,” he said. “That’s more of our focus than actual disruption.”

The second protest has been organised by a group of seven former full-time Dragon Age and Mass Effect developers. They’re part of a group of around 50 people who were fired by BioWare in August – an efficiency measure that, as BioWare’s general manager Gary McKay claimed at the time, will “allow our developers to iterate quickly, unlock more creativity, and form a clear vision of what we’re building before development ramps up”. The laid-off developers took BioWare to court in October, arguing that they haven’t received adequate severance under Alberta common law.

In a statement circulated by Ethan “Our Man At Kotaku” Gach, the group’s lawyer reiterated the complaint about inadequate severance, and claimed that BioWare’s lawyers have refused offers to negotiate and settle out of court.

In the statement, the former BioWare full-timers accused the company of “stalling and intimidation tactics to try and get us to drop out”, writing that “a lot of the more junior employees and those with families, who had more monetary pressure on them, could not risk waiting on a court case that may take many months more to resolve”.

They further accuse BioWare of only offering the laid-off developers an additional payment and professional assistance finding new employment on condition that they sign an NDA about the details of any settlement, and waive the right to future legal action or “to complain in anyway way about anyone associated with BioWare now or ever in the future”.

The developers “strongly believe that if Dragon Age: Dreadwolf does not do as well as BioWare or Ea wants at launch, there will be more, even larger layoffs.” As such, they “believe it is important to hold BioWare responsible and get a clear decision on what settlement amount is legal” so as to “ensure that the next group who is laid off are not treated as poorly as we were.”

The statement adds that “the developers involved in the lawsuit are hoping N7 Day this year will be a reminder to Bioware of the importance of loyalty to your crew”. They’d like Mass Effect fans to get involved by posting under the #N7SeveranceDay hashtag.

This year has been an awful one for games industry job losses, and developers are increasingly unwilling to take it on the chin. Last month, CD Projekt staff formed a new union to – amongst other things – “negotiate the terms of mass layoffs as well as in individual cases”.

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