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Keywords lays off unionized devs after concluding BioWare contract

Keywords has laid off 13 employees who unionized at the development services provider in 2022 while working on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf at BioWare. In a statement to Polygon, Keywords confirmed that the layoffs took place “following the end of a fixed-term contract.”

Identifying who laid off the 13 contractors and for what reason takes some untangling. According to Polygon’s Nicole Carpenter, the series of events leading to the September 27 layoffs began in August when BioWare declined to continue its contract with Keywords for additional development support.

That meant after September, Keywords would no longer development support on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. Following the contract termination, the decision whether or not to employ the workers who unionized under United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union now lay with the prolific contractor. James Russwurm, a former Keywords QA tester, told Polygon that the company’s position is that “there is no more work available” for the team.

The veracity of that claim is difficult to determine. Keywords’ careers page is loaded with job postings across Canada and the globe, but those postings may not be for positions that the former employees of Keywords Studios Edmonton could fulfill.

Keywords and BioWare have both laid off Dragon Age: Dreadwolf developers

Though it was ultimately Keywords who decided to lay off its Edmonton-area employees, it is following in the footsteps of its client BioWare, whose management laid off 50 employees in late August. Some developers dismissed by the company had been there for over two decades.

Those 50 former employees are now suing the studio for allegedly refusing to pay “adequate” severance.

At this time it is impossible to determine if BioWare and Keywords’ motives for parting ways with the employees of Keywords Studios Edmonton were purely an act of cost management or if it was a response to their successful unionization effort in 2022. Polygon noted that the unionized employees had not yet signed a contract with Keywords, a surprising development given that it has been 15 months since said employers voted to unionize.

Said employees will have the opportunity to negotiate a better severance package with Keywords—a benefit they would not have had had they remained ununionized.

Game Developer has reached out to Keywords for comment on this story, and will update it when the company responds.


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