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Ex-BioWare employees and contractors use N7 Day to air disputes with the studio

 Former Keywords Studios employee James Russwurm addresses striking workers at BioWare headquarters in Edmonton.
Former Keywords Studios employee James Russwurm addresses striking workers at BioWare headquarters in Edmonton.

N7 Day was a bit of a letdown this year, as a multi-stage tease for the next Mass Effect game ended up delivering basically nothing except another reminder that yes, it is happening. But bigger things were happening elsewhere, as former employees of BioWare and contract workers on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf took advantage of the annual Mass Effect remembrance to highlight their ongoing dispute with the company.

In September, Keywords Studios laid off 13 QA employees who had been playtesting the upcoming Dragon Age: Dreadwolf RPG. The layoffs came after BioWare ended its contract with Keywords, an external testing studio: In a statement sent to Polygon following the cuts, Keywords said that "13 Edmonton-based staff have now left the business following the end of a fixed term client contract."

The timing seemed odd, given that Dreadwolf is presumably still in the midst of development and testing is still necessary as a part of that process. The laid-off employees soon alleged that the real issue wasn't a lack of work, as Keywords had told them, but that Keywords and BioWare took issue with their unionization efforts.

Even though the dismissed workers weren't technically BioWare employees, they announced plans to picket the studio on November 7 to bring attention to their plight. A Game Developer report says they're demanding that they be reinstated at Keywords so they can continue to work under new contracts with other Canadian studios.

EA and BioWare had formally opposed the planned picket with the Alberta Labour Relations Board, saying the employees' dispute is with Keywords Studios, and that because they had worked remotely rather than in BioWare's offices they weren't legally entitled to picket there. "We hope that Keywords and the union are able to resolve their differences but ultimately BioWare has no role in that process," an EA rep told the site.

The ALRB came down on the side of employees, however, clearing the way for the N7 Day picket. The board ruled that striking Keywords employees cannot block access to the building or its services, but union rep James Russwurm said they have no intention of doing so. "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," he said. "That's more of our focus than actual disruption."

And some BioWare employees apparently did come out to support the action: In a brief address during the picketing, which was recorded and shared on Facebook, Russwurm thanked BioWare employees "for coming out today and showing us support."

"We're here to make sure that we're heard by Keywords, and by the game community, and by clients of Keywords Studios as well," Russwurm said, gesturing to the EPCOR Tower behind him, the location of BioWare's Edmonton office.

"We want to make sure that future jobs in videogames are unionized, and good jobs. Because we know that if you are suffering at a studio somewhere, we've lived that struggle with you, and we're here to talk for all of those people who have gone through the exploitation of this industry for years."

That's not the only labor dispute to flare up on N7 Day. In August, BioWare laid off 50 of its own employees, including Mary Kirby, the writer behind one of Dragon Age's most beloved characters. Two months later, seven of those employees filed a legal complaint over what they claim was "unreasonably poor treatment" from BioWare following their termination—specifically, that the severance pay they were offered was far below what is legally required. Those ex-employees now say that BioWare has rebuffed all efforts to negotiate a solution and has instead filed a statement of defense against their allegations, which means the matter is now officially headed to court.

"We are disappointed that BioWare prefers stalling and intimidation tactics to fair dealing with people who have given years, and in some cases decades, of dedication and hard work to the company," the former employees said in a statement provided to PC Gamer. "We believe they are using intimidation and stalling tactics to try and get us to drop out. 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, and have already had to drop out."

The employees also expressed their belief that BioWare will likely make even deeper cuts if Dragon Age: Dreadwolf fails to meet sales targets, which provides even more impetus "to hold BioWare responsible and get a clear decision on what [termination] settlement amount is legal," they said. "We’re no longer part of the development team, so the best way we can help our former teammates now is to hold BioWare accountable and ensure that the next group who is laid off are not treated as poorly as we were."

To help bring attention to the cause, the employees are asking Mass Effect fans to "have a little fun and express their support" by sharing memes and images using the #N7Severanceday hashtag. Several of them can already be seen on a new N7SeveranceDay account on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

We love #MassEffect, but this #N7Day, we'd also like to remind #BioWare of the importance of treating your crew right. So join us in having a little fun with #N7SeveranceDay while expressing support for all the folks #BioWare laid off this year
We love #MassEffect, but this #N7Day, we'd also like to remind #BioWare of the importance of treating your crew right. So join us in having a little fun with #N7SeveranceDay while expressing support for all the folks #BioWare laid off this year

(Image credit: N7SeveranceDay (Twitter))