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ZeniMax Union strike tentative agreement over AI usage in workplace

ZeniMax's worker-led union nets a second victory in a number of days, as it can now decide how AI gets used in its production workflow.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

December 11, 2023

2 Min Read
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The near-400 members of the ZeniMax Workers Union (ZWU) can tentatively choose how artificial intelligence is implemented in the workplace. 

Following negotiations with parent company Microsoft, the ZWU is now the first developer to decide how and when the technology will be used in the production pipeline. The news comes days after the CWA (which helped with the ZWU's formation) released a set of bargaining principles concerning companies' AI incorporation.

Overall, the guiding principles of the company's AI usage dictate that it must uphold the standards of being fair, transparent, inclusive, and safe. As the technology has grown in prominence in the larger creative industry, concerns have been raised regarding how it's used and what it could mean for workers and public citizens.

Back in November, Microsoft announced its plans to bring generative AI tools to its first-party Xbox developers. The aim is for it to be used in narrative and quest design, which would directly affect ZeniMax subsidiaries like Bethesda and Arkane, which create open-world, often narrative-focused RPGs.

Under the agreement, ZeniMax is committed to using AI strictly in ways that "enhance worker productivity, growth and satisfaction without causing workers harm." And in the cases where its involvement may harm employees, ZeniMax will provide prior notice and bargain on the effects of that usage.

ZWU member Dylan Burton acknowledged the company may not know how AI will impact their work. Even so, he knew the agreement would "help to protect us as we navigate the potential adoption of AI into our workflow."

There've been numerous stories this about the technology being used for voice acting and in-game moderation. In the case of the former, it's often used without the actor's explicit consent, and sometimes even in defiance of their distaste for it.

The ZWU seems to have accepted AI's here for the moment, with Burton noting the importance "all workers having a voice in what role AI plays in their work. [...] This agreement empowers us to shape the ways we may choose to use AI in our work and also gives us the means to address those impacts before their potential implementation."

Last week, the ZWU saw another victory in adding 77 Microsoft contract workers into its ranks. 23 of those new members were also boosted to full-time employee status, while the other 54 contract staff are said to receive their own immediate pay increase now that they've joined the union.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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