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"State of Decay 2." Screenshot: Undead Labs/Microsoft

The call for game developers to unionize is now coming from a voice close to the top. On Friday, former Blizzard senior programmer and three-time studio founder Jeff Strain released a letter encouraging his own developers to unionize.

Why it matters: Unionization is often mentioned by industry pundits and workers themselves as a crucial maneuver to empower the people who make games, but it’s been a non-starter at most studios.

The details: "I welcome my employees to unionize, and I'm giving my full endorsement and support to an industry-wide adoption of unions," Strain wrote in the letter, which was published by IGN.

  • He wrote that events this week — a reference to the ongoing furor around allegations of harassment and discrimination at Activision Blizzard — were another sign that workers need protections.
  • Strain added he has "nothing to fear from unionization, nor does any company that pays employees fairly and equitably, provides quality health insurance, models respect and civility for female, POC, LGBTQ+ employees, and supports a healthy, whole life."
  • Strain most recently ran Undead Labs, an independent studio that Microsoft acquired in 2018. Strain left earlier this year.

The big picture: Few developers in the global gaming industry operate under any collective bargaining agreement, limiting protections on workers in terms of pay, hours and wrongful termination.

  • Studios in Sweden, where legal support for unions is strong, are exceptions. EA's DICE studio (makers of "Battlefield") and Paradox Interactive both have CBAs.
  • Industry leaders have sent occasional tepid-to-warm signals in the past, but nothing as searing as Strain's letter.
  • In 2018, developer-founded group Game Workers Unite began advocating for unions and in 2019, the head of the AFL-CIO urged game makers to organize. Yet no broader gaming union has formed.

Between the lines: Even as some developers adopt the tactics of organized labor, some are not saying they'll unionize.

  • An Activision Blizzard employee who was part of Wednesday's walkout of the company told Axios last week there was "no commitment to any sort of unionization right now."
  • But frustrated Ubisoft workers sent a letter to management last week calling for industry-wide standards for dealing with misconduct and said they should be developed by a group that includes non-management employees and "union representatives."

Go deeper

The big face-off between Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield

"Halo Infinite." Image: Microsoft

The video game horse race to watch this fall is between “Call of Duty: Vanguard,” “Battlefield 2042” and “Halo Infinite,” three shooter games from giant franchises that keep bumping into each other on their way to release.

Driving the news: Two of the expected mega-games will intersect tomorrow, as Activision’s “Vanguard” and EA’s “2042” both run online showcases at 11 a.m. ET to reveal new modes.

Obama says Powell exemplified what America "can and should be"

Then-President Obama speaks alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell during a meeting in the Oval Office in 2010. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Obama called Colin Powell an "exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot" in a statement honoring the former general following his death from COVID-19 complications on Monday.

Why it matters: Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, was known as a Republican but played a critical role in helping Obama get elected in 2008.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion ban

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas' near-total ban on abortions while federal courts consider its constitutionality.

The big picture: The court last month allowed the ban to take effect, rejecting an emergency application by abortion-rights groups. The law bars the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.