Game industry unionization: Game Workers Unite, IGDA, and GDC

    
16

Earlier this week, we covered the emerging Game Workers Unite organization, something many folks in the games industry considered tantamount to unionization, which multiple activists and journalists have been calling for openly in recent years to combat industry abuses.

“Organizations like the ESA and the IGDA are not inherently bad, but they’re paltry concessions in an industry that needs more than fear of censorship,” Paste’s Dante Douglas argued this week. “The lack of worker support and labor organizations in the games development world, AAA and indie, points to a much deeper cultural problem, and one that needs more than AAA mouthpiece organizations and community networking hubs.”

The fact that IGDA in particular isn’t going to be much help here – in spite of an IGDA rep moderating the GWA panel at GDC – became abundantly clear in yesterday’s Kotaku interview, when the IGDA rep compared the inevitability of Christmas mail crunch to video game crunch and downplayed the need for unionization, suggesting that “access to capital” would allow indie devs to escape the AAA cycle.

Polygon’s overview of the GWU group this week notes that it was founded by two women and now has 200 members across the spectrum of development, aiming to take advantage of what the publication calls “a significant turning point for the industry undercurrent of pro-union sentiment.”

“We’re looking at ways to become a proper entity so we can interface with governments,” one of the founders, an indie dev herself, said about Game Workers Unite’s next steps. “We want to do this for the long haul. We’re not just a flash in the pan at GDC.”

Massively Overpowered is on the ground in San Francisco for GDC 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on everything (and everyone!) on display at the latest Game Developers Conference!
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Seaton

You think it takes forever for a good title to ship now, wait until studio heads have to deal with union BS… MVP as an acceptable standard is a dream come true for a union worker. This is not the early 1900’s.

Reader
Alex Malone

I am against unionisation in the Western world.

First, we have a ton of laws already in place to protect workers against malicious employers. Second, workers already have a ton of power themselves IF they have a genuinely difficult job. Decent programmers are a rare commodity, they already get paid a lot (more than the average for programmers, just less than programmers working in fintech or for the biggest tech firms). If you work in QA then sure, you have no power because you have no inherent worth, the job is crazy easy to do and everyone wants to do it. Finally, there is individual choice, many gaming companies are already moving away from crunch time and have suitable policies in place. The best firms to work for will attract the best talent, so they’ll make the best games. It may take a while, but the market will sort itself out.

Personally, I’ve only worked for one gaming company, in the QA department. The company I worked for had eliminated crunch time a couple of years before I joined and I know it hasn’t returned since I left. They were pumping out 2-3 AA games a year as well as a mobile game or two, with 500 employees. It isn’t difficult to eliminate crunch time, you just make the decision to do so. It may mean delays, but we’re accepting of that as consumers. I don’t even think it would cost much more, as you’re paying less overtime and there is less sickness from burnout. Overtime, you make back any money through retention of good staff leading to better products.

Reader
Ssiard

Exactly. The excessive overtime works against the goals of the company. The real problem is clueless middle management and too few high school kids choosing software careers leaving too few people to fill the roles.

Reader
Sally Bowls

I am not sold that your unionization in competitive industries is worth it for you. ( Your local public school or utility, UC Davis, USPS, IRS, … can treat their customers and employees worse every year for decades. But can companies in competitive industries?)

If the gaming company does not treat its developers fairly, then why would you want to work there? Not as in emo out. Rather a gaming company mistreats its developers has committed a far worse sin than being evil: being stupid. So if you think the management of the company can only be trusted to do the right thing if they are forced to by a union, why would you want to work there? Even if, while union power is waning for a bit, you can force them to treat you fairly, then you are still working at a company with two disadvantages: the financial and procedural costs of the union and management are still idiots. Gaming is a $100B global market with lots of competitors; the days of easy profits are over.

My thought experiment: should devs at Anet unionize?
There is a cost to employees and companies with a union.
Perhaps a tad naively, but I would expect over time that Anet would not abuse their devs. Lord knows not because “all companies are good” or even that Anet’s management is better or more ethical than others. Rather because of Amazon Games Studio and CSE and Microsoft and dozens of startups. Long term, mistreating devs with alternatives is not viable.

If you believe that Anet’s management is unwilling to treat its devs fairly without being forced to by a union, then how do you think, even with a union, they can successfully compete in the marketplace against other companies? I don’t think it is near as obvious as many here that “company X with a union” is better than “company X without a union” but regardless I don’t see how “not company X” isn’t superior to either.

Reader
Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

im only here to admire the swg mission terminal screenshot.

Reader
Video Game Professor

I get that unions are corrupt. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have unions. Politicians are corrupt. We shouldn’t get rid of politics (alas…). How many businesses are corrupt? Should we have no businesses? Of course not. We get rid of the corrupt corporation, not the idea of corporation.

Trying not to get too ranty…but I never understand why people are so quick to try to attack and take away something that they don’t enjoy. “He gets paid too much! He should get paid less!” “He shouldn’t have more time off than me!” I remember working for a local grocery store and part of the first week of training was an in service dedicated to the proclaiming the horror of the idea of unionization. It was some straight up World War propaganda material.

Not calling out anyone in particular, but fight for getting more money. Fight for getting time off. If your work isn’t unionized, there are certainly people to help start one. Everything isn’t zero sum. Just because someone is winning doesn’t mean you have to be losing.

Alright. I gotta walk away before the rant goes nuclear.

Reader
Ssiard

lol Actually we should not have politicians.

Reader
Duey Bear

My father worked in safety inspections and it was always the shipyard worker’s union getting in his way. Lots of bribery and corruption in unions in his experience, so I’m always skeptic whether a union would actually fix problems since it is often just an avenue for certain individuals to gain power over fellow workers and management. In the modern day, we have reasonable labor laws and safety regulations. Pushing for state/city lawmakers to set a legal overtime cap would be preferable (for example 60 hours cap no more than 2 consecutive weeks of over 50 hours etc.) with legal penalties for violations.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Unions aren’t average, they’re either too powerful or too weak, but in the devs case, they’re a great idea. Developers have almost no power in the industry.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Too powerful or too weak – both are a significant improvement over the individual’s lot when dealing with management. The “unions are too powerful” propaganda is a direct exercise against the people.

Here are basics:
Corporations are anti-people.
Unions are pro-people.

With this easy to use equation then the union debate is so much simpler.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Yeah, i don’t try to think in such simplistic terms, but nowadays, this is pretty much the norm.

Reader
Sally Bowls

FTFY:
Corporations are pro-corporations.
Unions are pro-unions.

Few, if any, unions, corporations, charities or religions start out to be evil. But unfettered, with time and growth, organizations can occasionally acquire corruption and more than occasionally get bureaucracies that are more about the perpetuation of the bureaucracy than the original, probably noble goals. IMO, that is certainly true of unions, but is similarly true for corporations, charities and religions. (E.g., the stories of the number of United Way and Cancer Society employees in Georgia who earn hundreds of thousands a year.) The UAW may have been a positive force a century ago, but the incompetent GM management and incompetent union management managed to bankrupt the world’s largest corporation. Without in any way complementing Eastern management, IMO, the Eastern Airlines unions that stood up for their people so well the company and jobs completely went away were more “pro-union” than “pro-people.”

Reader
Ssiard

Unions are pro-themselves. This has been proven time and time again where they simply work to solidify their stranglehold on the people. The only difference between corporations and unions is that unions have legal backing to screw over the people whereas corporations do not.

This was proven in the PRO-WORKER California bills AB-2753 and AB-2754 that were shot down by UNIONS.

Reader
Ssiard

I am developer. You are not. Please stop pretending you know what you are talking about. Unions are horrible for developers.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Armsbend

Quite a few of my old high school friends (who are still dear friends) work under shipyard unions for the Georgia Ports Authority. They make incredible wages for the medium sized city of Savannah and our port is one of the fastest growing in the country.

Reader
Tom R

Unions are not perfect – but letting companies steamroll employees freely is far worse than taking a light gamble on a union getting corrupted.