Developers at Vodeo Games, the indie studio behind this year’s excellent turn-based pinball RPG Beast Breaker, revealed over at Polygon today that they’ve unionized. Management at the studio is voluntarily recognizing the newly formed group, called Vodeo Workers United, making it the first of its kind in the video game industry in North America.
The entirely remote studio employs 13 developers, over half of whom are contractors which will also be included in the union, Polygon reports. Because Vodeo management, which includes founder and co-director Asher Vollmer, is voluntarily recognizing Vodeo Workers United, no unionization vote with the National Labor Review Board is necessary, and developers there can begin negotiations on their first contract right away.
“We are a small, young company and I constantly encourage my coworkers to speak up and tell us how we can do better,” Vollmer wrote in a statement. “So when they approached me and told me they were forming Vodeo Workers United, it was a no-brainer to step back and proudly watch them do what no other game company in North America has.”
Video game developer unions already exist in some places like France and Sweden where sector-wide labor bargaining is written into law. Still, progress has been happening on those fronts as well. Last year, Crusader Kings III maker Paradox Interactive, based in Sweden, signed a trade agreement directly with its developers. Even there, however, nearly half of staff recently claimed to be working in a discriminatory enviornment.
The historic move comes as pressure mounts on some of the video game industry’s biggest companies to improve working conditions following reports, and in some cases lawsuits, alleging sexual misconduct, pay discrimination, and other forms of mistreatment. Workers at Ubisoft have called on the Assassin’s Creed publisher’s leadership to directly involve them in managing workplace complaints moving forward. And last week, Bungie CEO Pete Parsons tried to defend progress being made at the studio after IGN reported on past instances of racism, seixsm, and toxic management.
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Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard has actually moved forward with its own unionization efforts following revelations of widespread sexual discrimiatnon and harrasment at the Call of Duty factory. The ABK Workers Alliance announced last week that it had begun passing out union authorization cards after surprise layoffs were announced for quality assurance developers at Raven Software, the studio in charge of Call of Duty: Warzone. The group also announced a strike fund, which has currently raised over $300,000, to aid workers who are currently on strike until the layoffs are reversed.
Activision Blizzard employees have been collaborating with the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA) run by the Communication Workers of America, a group that also helped Vodeo unionize.
“It felt like a natural next step for us to be talking about, ‘Hey, maybe we should be unionizing,’ and help set a positive precedent for the digital games industry as well,” Beast Breaker designer Carolyn Jong told Polygon. Time will tell how many other studios begin to feel similarly inspired.