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Survey Of 4,000 Game Developers Says Half Of Them Want To Unionize

Illustration for article titled Survey Of 4,000 Game Developers Says Half Of Them Want To Unionizeem/em
Image: Red Dead Redemption 2

In a survey of nearly 4,000 game developers published today by the Game Developers Conference, half of developers surveyed said they thought game industry workers should unionize.

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Unionization has been a hot topic among game developers over the last few years, as anecdotes of 100-hour work weeks and $28 million CEO salaries circulate among game workers. The idea that unions could insulate game developers from stunning, no-warning layoffs—sometimes without severance—or nine-month-long crunch sprints continues to be popular, although this is the first time the GDC has asked about it in a survey. Advocacy group Game Workers Unite was active at last year’s GDC and, in the intervening months, has been working to spread information about unionization and dispel misconceptions, which perhaps helped inform the GDC’s polling question.

The numbers are similar to a 2014 Independent Game Developers Association survey in which half of 2,200 polled respondents were in favor of an industry-wide union—up from 35 percent in 2009. Although the GDC’s survey, first reported by GamesIndustry.biz, reflected significant enthusiasm for unionization, the reality of forming a union appears intimidating to the game developers surveyed. Only 21 percent of developers said they think games workers will, in fact, unionize, while 24 percent said that it likely would not happen.

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Some of the game developers who are pessimistic about the industry’s ability to organize feel that they are too replaceable. “There is too much supply: too many people want into the industry,” wrote one anonymous game developer in their response to the survey. “Those who unionize will be shoved out of the way as companies hire those with fewer demands.”

Illustration for article titled Survey Of 4,000 Game Developers Says Half Of Them Want To Unionizeem/em
Image: Game Workers Unite

“Over the decades I’ve seen crunch turn from a ‘worst case’ part of innovating into an expected part of game development,” wrote another. “As a manager and owner, I see no pressure from studio heads or publishers in AAA to change this. When one executive can get a $20 million bonus in exchange for crunching hundreds of people, shipping before the game is ready, then laying off those people, the industry is ripe for self-correction. I would welcome our employees unionizing in the current environment.”

The idea that unionizing could mitigate games employees’ concerns about poor labor conditions is not without its detractors. At GDC’s 2018 unionization roundtable titled “Union Now? Pros, Cons, and Consequences of Unionization,” the International Game Developer Association’s Executive Director Jen MacLean, who led and moderated the discussion, said that unions can’t fix all the issues game developers face. “To assume that suddenly if you unionize, everything will be great, I don’t think that is a reasonable assumption,” she said in an interview with Kotaku at the conference. When Kotaku’s reporter pressed her on what could help games employees muster any leverage at all, MacLean said “I don’t know if there is an answer to that.”

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One thing is for sure: Refusing to talk about unionization at all is the surest way to maintain the status quo, or allow the few existing labor protections that games workers do have to atrophy. 

Senior reporter at Kotaku.

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DISCUSSION

Is that the same Jen that Jason interviewed? [Checks link] yep, sure is! Now I’m mad all over again. The entire interview was her saying “we should talk about it” “that’s an excellent point to consider in discussion” “I do think a dialogue is healthy” etc etc. It’s a delaying tactic. Everything she was suggesting was designed to keep people debating, discussing, exchanging ideas, and all while that happens the status quo of grinding workers into bloody chunks continues unabated. Dont change things, let’s instead talk about how we might discuss possibly changing things sometime at a future date we will never solidify.

The time to discuss things between the company and its employees is at the bargaining table. Workers can’t wait for permission because they will never be given it. Every day they wait is another day a father is stuck doing an 80 hour week missing his child’s first words/steps. A young kid being taken advantage of, sleeping under her desk doing 48 hour shifts in QA. Romantic relationships failing because the someone only has time to get 4 hours of sleep before going back to the office, or relationships never starting at all because who has the time during 10 months of crunch?

Game devs need to unionize and they need to do it NOW. Anyone who wants to try and tell me these poor scrappy multi-billion dollar publishers just can’t survive with a unionized studio while they’re giving new CEOs twelve million dollar bonuses can go sit on it and fucking spin.