Grassroots advocacy group Game Workers Unite posted a statement on Pricegate today, “emphatically denouncing” ArenaNet for firing Guild Wars 2’s Jessica Price and Peter Fries over last week’s Twitter/Reddit meltdown.
“Regardless of how one feels about Price’s actions and regardless of where one draws the line between rudeness and exasperation in Price’s tweets, the fact of the matter is that there is an entire spectrum of responses ArenaNet could have taken, but chose not to,” the statement said.
The group labeled Mike O’Brien as a “clearly inadequate” leader who “made the knee-jerk reaction” last week to fire the two developers.
“ArenaNet has signaled to the entire industry that our job security can be, and almost certainly will be, imperiled by the most vitriolic and volatile players,” the group wrote. “This event carries echoes of Gamergate, and will only embolden harassers further.”
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.
Back in 2016, we covered the voice actors guild strike against multiple game companies in its an attempt to secure better compensation and working conditions. The drawn-out saga renewed calls among game developers themselves to unionize. As we wrote about last fall, such a trade union would ideally protect developers from discrimination as well as game industry “crunch” and its concomitant 100-hour weeks and poor compensation – the kind that has literally caused game developers to drop dead (never mind makes them burn out or abandon the industry).
Apparently, such an organization is finally in the works. As Kotaku reports, Game Workers Unite is using this year’s GDC to raise awareness and collect accounts of labor exploitation.
Let’s end the week talking about money. What could go wrong?
The New York Times ran an op-ed from Kotaku editor Jason Schreier last week outlining the perils of game industry “crunch”: 80-to-100-hour weeks, often not properly compensated, as a studio works its developers into a mad frenzy trying to release a game (or patch, or whatever). As the Grey Lady reports, some developers become sick from working so much — we’ve seen multiple deaths in the MMORPG industry over crunch — not to mention the fact that talented devs burn out or flee the industry. And Schreier doesn’t even touch on how crunch-like policies limit the labor pool to young men without families.
Let’s be clear: The studios, not the developers, are to blame here. And in declaring the current situation unsustainable, Schreier asserts that “game developers need to insist – to their bosses and, most important, to themselves – that health comes first.” But signing pledges is clearly not enough, and it doesn’t seem likely that after many decades of this that the problem is going to solve itself or that studios will voluntarily self-correct. It seems to me that devs need to band together more formally, to unionize like the film industry Schreier gives a nod and like the voice actors who said much the same during their long strike.
Is it time for game developers to unionize?
Most of the people playing e-sports are exceptional gamers, and to get that good at anything, you miss out on a whole bunch of other learning — like how to not be taken advantage of by game companies, how to negotiate fair wages, how to avoid getting caught up in a doping scandal, how to not be screwed over by your own thieving coaches, and above all else, how to freakin’ unionize so that you’re not killing yourself and your body for minimum wage while living in a filthy team house in order to put tremendous sacks of cash into the hands of overseas investors.
In short, you need to know a whole lot more than when to stay in your lane, and nobody inside the business has a vested interest in teaching you any of that.
One might hope that e-sports degrees, like the one recently announced by the UK’s Staffordshire University, might help young talent navigate the entirety of the e-sports business without their being preyed upon and then tossed to the curb with no future when their wrists go bad.
Members of the voice actors guild striking against the top echelon of video game companies are today picketing outside WB Games in Burbank, California.
Since it began negotiations in early 2015, the voice actors’ SAG-AFTRA union has been demanding better baseline and secondary compensation (including the potential for residual payments on the highest-grossing games) and job transparency, among other requests. The union instructed its members to strike following what it called an unsuccessful last attempt at an agreement with video game studios on October 21st.
Last weekend, after over 300 union members and allies conducted a picketing event outside of Electronic Arts’ headquarters in Playa Vista, California, representatives for the game studio coalition created a website and Twitter account seemingly named to imply it was SAG-AFTRA-supported. The website provides the companies’ version of negotiation events and insists that its proposed “structure for Additional Compensation is so close to what SAG-AFTRA is demanding monetarily that [it] believe[s] most performers would conclude the differences are not worth striking over,” though reading between the lines makes clear the studios continued to reject the parts of the proposal that would entitle some actors to payments akin to royalties based on elite games’ performance.
The strike that U.S. screen actors guild SAG-AFTRA was threatening against video game studios will be going forward as planned, with the strike starting just after midnight this morning following a round of failed negotiations.
This effort is being levied against 11 companies, including ones with MMORPG ties such as Electronic Arts, Activision, and WB Games. The strike is aimed at production of games that started on or after February 17th, 2015 and involves actors involved with voice work, stunts, or motion capture.
“The two issues of greatest contention are transparency and secondary compensation,” the union posted. “While the companies are willing to disclose potentially objectionable material that may be involved in the role, they refuse to tell the performer’s agent what game the actor will be working on. This keeps the performer from being able to make an educated decision about whether to take job. This is unheard of in any of our other contracts. Regarding secondary compensation, employers have offered to give actors an upfront bonus based on number of sessions worked, starting at the second session worked.”
Players can follow developments and discussion of the strike on Twitter by using the hashtag #performancematters.
MCV reported this week that World of Tanks studio Wargaming plans to help organize a union for pro e-sports players. Wargaming European e-sports boss Nicolas Passemard implied that without some formal organization looking out for pro players’ interests, exploitation is possible:
“It comes from a need to do something. We faced a few issues and incidents, and of course we didn’t like that because these incidents were not in favour of the players. So at a point we have to make a decision, either we get more directly involved or we keep having issues. We still want the players and the teams to lead a life of their own, because if we help them too much or if we do things for them they kind of lose the warm feeling of doing it themselves or they lose motivation, but in the end we had to do something. So we looked at some options and the best one is to help the pro players create a union for themselves. We have to do it, there will be issues, maybe we aren’t ready [for a players union] but we will find a way.”
Where you come down on the issue probably depends a lot on your own experiences with unions in the real world and on how much stock you put into pro gaming on the whole, but let’s have it: Do you think that pro e-sports players ought to unionize?