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Activision Blizzard reorganizes Raven tester department that voted for union

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Activision Blizzard game-testing workers in Wisconsin are expected to file for a union with the National Labor Relations Board. In the meantime, the company reorganized the testers in an alleged effort to split them up, the Washington Post reported.

The action will come after the company failed to reach an agreement with the 34 quality-assurance workers at Raven Software who have said they are forming a union. The workers had asked for Activision Blizzard, which has about 9,500 workers and publishes Call of Duty, to recognize their union, which is a rarity in the video game industry.

The workers at the Madison, Wisconsin-based Raven Software division of Activision Blizzard said they have a majority of votes within their department. The workers are testers on the Call of Duty: Warzone game, and their union effort was triggered by layoffs, excessive overtime, and low pay. Activision recently announced it was pushing back the launch of Season 2 of Call of Duty: Vanguard and its accompanying Warzone update as it worked to quash bugs.

Meanwhile, Raven’s studio boss Brian Raffel sent a letter to employees saying that the company had made an organizational change that was part of its ongoing changes at the studio. It said it would take the game testers and spread them out among the departments they worked for and embed them in departments such as animation, art, design, audio, production and engineering. 

The workers saw this as an effort to dilute their unionization efforts across a larger number of departments and employees. That carries some risk, as the union has made no secret that it hopes to unionize more divisions at Activision Blizzard, as well as the rest of the game industry, to fight conditions such as overworking. It’s also a challenge considering many workers have been leaving to join well-financed startups during gaming’s boom.

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Raffel said “as we look ahead at the ongoing expansion of Call of Duty: Warzone, it’s more important than ever that we foster tighter integration and coordination across the studio – embedding will allow for this.”

He said this was part of a plan that started a few months ago, but it heated up in December when the company laid off some staff, triggering a strike among the Raven testers. The strike lasted seven weeks.

He said other studios across Activision used the “embedded model” to better coordinate staff and results in a fast-moving, live-services operation.

But union observers wondered if the move was retaliation against the workers for voting for a union. More than 55% of game developers say they favor a union, according to a survey released last week by the Game Developers Conference.

Fighting from above in Nakatomi Plaza in Warzone.
Fighting from above in Nakatomi Plaza in Warzone.

On Friday, the Game Workers Alliance Union (CWA), with Communications Workers of America, said it had formed a union at Raven’s quality assurance department. It happened after Microsoft agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard for $75 billion.

“Today, I am proud to join with a supermajority of my fellow workers to build our union, Game Workers Alliance (CWA),” said Becka Aigner, QA functional tester II at Raven, in a statement from the group on Friday. “In the video game industry, specifically Raven QA, people are passionate about their jobs and the content they are creating. We want to make sure that the passion from these workers is accurately reflected in our workplace and the content we make. Our union is how our collective voices can be heard by leadership.”

The workers in the aspiring union, dubbed the Game Workers Alliance, cited allegations of toxic corporate culture at their parent company among the reasons that motivated them to organize. Last July, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a gender-based discrimination, inequality and harassment lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging the company had a “frat boy culture” that included excessive drinking and sexual harassment.

Raven Software itself has more than 300 employees, and it is working on Call of Duty titles such as Warzone as well as others.

The company issued the following statement this afternoon, “At Activision Blizzard, we deeply respect the rights of all employees to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union. We carefully reviewed and considered the CWA initial request last week and tried to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would have led to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement.”

The company added, “We expect that the union will be moving forward with the filing of a petition to the NLRB for an election. If filed, the company will respond formally to that petition promptly. The most important thing to the company is that each eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we think all employees at Raven should have a say in this decision.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that a sequel to Call of Duty: Warzone is expected in 2023. It also said that Sony will have the rights to publish that title as well as the annual Call of Duty releases in 2022 and 2023.



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Down rounds are still rare by historical standards • TechCrunch

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If you thought that the recent venture capital market was tough, let me tell you about 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

With the first week of December under our belts, we’re not too far away from the end of the year. And that means that 2022’s venture capital story has largely been written. It’s not a single narrative; instead, this year started on a high, with momentum from the monstrous 2021 funding period persisting into the new year. From that point, we’ve seen a slowdown accelerate into what some consider a downturn.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.

Read it every morning on TechCrunch+ or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


Startups raised lots of capital this year. Less, yes, than last year, but more than in nearly any year in recent memory. It’s still a good time to build a tech upstart.

Does that perspective feel too sunny when we hear so much doom and gloom on Twitter regarding startup prospects in a more conservative investing climate?

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This Doggy DNA Test Ships Free for the Holidays

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every pet owner wants the best for their animal sidekick. They want to spend as much time as possible with them, even at the office. But being the best dog owner you can be isn’t all about just being present. It helps to understand your dog on a genotypic as well as phenotypic level. That’s one reason why doggy DNA tests have become so popular.



DNA My Dog

If you’re wondering what to get for your pooch this holiday season, look no further than the DNA My Dog Breed Identification Test. If you order by December 8, you’ll get free shipping, but that date is coming up fast so don’t delay.

This simple, painless kit requires just a swab of your dog’s cheek to get a detailed report delivered in two weeks or less. That report includes a custom photo certificate of the breed breakdown found in your dog’s genetic breed composition, a percentage breakdown of the levels found in your dog’s DNA, and a report on the dominant breeds, personality traits, and health concerns that your dog may be genetically predisposed to. All of that information will help you be a better friend to your dog, making smarter decisions about food, training, and healthcare.

The DNA My Dog Kit was awarded at the 2020 GHO Biotechnology Awards and user Bonnie H. writes, “I loved this experience!!! The kit came immediately with great instructions. The results came exactly when promised. When I couldn’t open the attachment with the results, I emailed my concern and got instant help! To find out his DNA has been the coolest experience!”

Lock in free shipping on a unique gift for your dog by December 8. Grab the DNA My Dog Breed Identification Test on sale for 24% off $79 at just $59.99 now.

Prices subject to change.

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Howie Mandel gets a digital twin from DeepBrain AI

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Howie Mandel is stepping into the metaverse. DeepBrain AI has created a pretty realistic AI version of comedian and actor Mandel.

Deepbrain AI, based in South Korea and Palo Alto, California, calls its creation “AI Howie,” and it’s an interactive virtual human and digital twin for immersive and personalized fan experiences. AI Howie mentions VentureBeat and talks to me in the attached videos.

Unlike the “deepfakes” of Tom Cruise and other actors, the real Howie Mandel cooperated with DeepBrain AI to create the virtual human AI replica of the famous comedian, actor, host, and technology enthusiast. We used “virtual Paris” AI character at our recent MetaBeat event in San Francisco.

“I am equally thrilled, excited, and terrified to finally have the ability of showing up and doing things without going anywhere or doing anything,” said Mandel, in a statement. “Thank you, DeepBrain.”

DeepBrain AI applies deep learning technology to create hyper-realistic virtual humans through its AI Studios and the AI Human platforms. These virtual humans are digital twins of the real person, with the same appearance, voice, gestures, and subtle mannerisms. The AI Studios platform enables script-to-video software that synthesizes dynamic video content in seconds, producing the quickest and most
realistic AI-generated videos. The script-to-video editor makes it easy for customers to select a model and then make it say something based on a script. Within a minute or so the video is made.

This is a powerful communication and marketing tool for celebrities, professional athletes, news anchors, and even politicians. Before working with Howie Mandel, the DeepBrain AI team created digital twins of Premier League soccer superstar Son Heung-Min, multiple news anchors across Asia, and South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol.

Joe Murphy, business development manager for DeepBrain AI, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the virtual Howie is a conversational model that you pepper with questions. DeepBrain AI designs and develops these virtual humans for the purpose of creating digital twins (like Howie Mandel), digital people, and avatars.

It takes about four weeks of machine learning work to create a Howie Mandel digital twin.

“We create models of real people,” Murphy said. “We also have completely synthetic virtual humans. That is what we’ll call digital people. And then avatars are just the basic Roblox type of avatars. But where our technology comes in with the digital twins is we go through a deep learning process to clone the person’s voice, their mannerisms, their face, the way their eyes move, the way their lips move.”

He added, “So we create what we call the digital twin of the real person with all the uniqueness of that person. Our mission is to use this technology that we’ve developed throughout Asia and bring it to America.”

In addition to the script-to-video capabilities, the company provides fully conversational experiences with its AI Human software. The AI Human solution enables fans to interact and engage with AI Howie by simply asking questions. For example, when asked, “What was your favorite act on AGT this season?” the AI Howie model responds in real-time to support interactive, fun, and engaging fan experiences.

AI Humans are available within mobile apps, web browsers, or voice-activated kiosks.

“Our vision is to humanize digital experiences and empower creative teams to generate immersive content at scale,” said Eric Jang, DeepBrain AI CEO. “Working with Howie Mandel was a fun experience, and we are excited to see how the AI Howie collaboration will connect with his fans worldwide.”

DeepBrain AI, (formerly Moneybrain), a conversational AI startup based in Seoul, South Korea, has raised $44 million in a series B round led by Korea Development Bank at a post-money valuation of $180 million. The company started in 2016 and it has raised $54 million to date. The company has 130 employees.

The AI is being used for AI news anchors in South Korea and China at four different television networks. The networks flag that the anchor is an AI avatar so that no one gets confused.

The real Howie Mandel spent about a day shooting video with DeepBrain AI.

While multiple companies are working on virtual humans, DeepBrain AI’s avatars are hyperrealistic. One of Asia’s largest insurance companies is also using it, as is a “brand ambassador” for a soccer team.

“When we worked with Howie Mandel, we went down to his studio in Los Angeles, we provided a script, and fed our training data into our neural network,” Murphy said.

It took about a day to do a video shoot with Mandel and about three to four weeks of machine learning time on the computers to generate the first AI model.

Back in January, DeepBrain AI opened its office in Palo Alto, California, and it is talking to partners in Silicon Valley and the rest of the U.S. Over time, Murphy said that the hope is to create AI avatars in realistic 3D for the metaverse. In South Korea, kiosks are appearing in places like banks with both 2D avatars and 3D avatars.

Over time, Murphy said the avatars have gotten better at mannerisms, lip sync, and subtle gestures. The speed of real-time responses in conversations has also gotten faster. The company is talking about doing more with game companies and major brands.

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