Soundbyte: Why is it so hard to start a union in the games industry?

soundbyte-ep-1-unions

Welcome to Soundbyte, an audio mini-series that stimulates your ears and explores topics in the games industry. In our first episode, Pixel Picketers, we’re talking about unionisation in the games industry, what some folks are doing to make it happen, and the challenges they face. Let’s start by speaking to Doug Cockle, who plays Geralt in The Witcher among other roles, about his negative experiences in the recording booth. It turns out you can’t speak like a rough mercenary for hours on end without your voicebox shriveling up. Who knew?

Oh, voice actors did.

You can listen to it here, or pop over to Soundcloud and download it for a rainy day.

We begin with a bit of background, overviewing the SAG-AFTRA strikes and talking to Cockle about the difficulties he’s faced as an actor. Then we’ll move on to Emma* from Game Workers Unite, an organisation that rose from the tension of a controversial GDC panel.

After that: a word from artist Ted Anderson, from Pixel Pushers Union 512, for his perspective on unionising. I’ll chat with him about the worker-owned studio as another avenue for gaining better worker’s rights. And to round it all off, I’ll talk to Sébastien Bénard from Dead Cells developer Motion Twin about some of the downsides that come from working like this.

It’s also available on the RSS feed here, or on iTunes, Stitcher or Pocket Casts. The music was an orchestration of Egmont Overture provided by the internet’s least-appreciated man Kevin MacLeod, and the featured image was made by yours truly.

Do you have questions? Do you want to suggest a theme for a future episode of Soundbyte? Send an email to podcast@rockpapershotgun.com.

*Emma’s name has been changed at her request

Links:

The voice actor strike started in 2016

And was later suspended after a tentative agreement

Adam’s coverage of the chaotic GDC panel on unions

Game Workers Unite website

Pixel Pusher’s website

Dead Cells is a good game

Motion Twin’s website

98 Comments

  1. H. Vetinari says:

    Love the poster at the beginning – there’s nothing quite like the posters of totalitarian regime that was the epitome of repression and lack of human rights.

    is the aspiration of the author to have the same workers rights for employees in gaming industry as those in the Soviet Union, which was known for being “worker friendly”?

    • Bizzy says:

      This is not the place for challenging you on your probably very simplisitc view on all the history of the soviet union, but on the topic this is not an aesthetic that is limited to the soviet union, it is used by socialist forces throughout history from many countries and different ideological approaches. Many of them died fighting “totalitarian forces”.

      And at the end of the day what is potrayed on this poster? People of mixed origins coming together to unionize, for a common cause. And on the other hand do you post the same on the often used older british aesthetic on this side which was also used by a colonial, monarchistic, racist, genozidal regime of the british empire?

      • Zorgulon says:

        Hear, hear.

        What a bizarre and irrelevant snipe that was to make as a first comment.

        • Kolbex says:

          Nah, any time anything that smacks of lack of deference to Our Benign Capitalist Overlords is posted anywhere, you can expect the bootlickers to come out with their clucking tongues.

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            phuzz says:

            The fact the the next reply to your comment is/was an automated spam bot is just perfect.

        • pepperfez says:

          I mean, it’s not like games have ever appropriated the aesthetics of awful people before, right?

      • yesButThisTime says:

        I agree that inclusivity is important and that we should make sure to represent all the vibrant peoples of the world, not just those of the Eurosphere.

        It was terribly occidental of Mr. Vetinari to ignore the millions of Chinese who were murdered by Maoist policies. The real crime here is that Sir V. racistly whitewashed away the particular talents of east Asian mass killers.

        For shame, Mr. V.

        For shame.

      • Rashism says:

        Daaaaaaaamn!

      • Kittim says:

        @Bizzy

        H. Vetinari’s criticism is valid. You would be shitting yourself if this article graphic adopted style reminiscent of German 1930s socialists.

        Adopting a “style” that is almost verbatim Soviet Propaganda should be called out. It represents an extreme that was and is damaging.

        I notice you adopted the textbook response of claiming to have a superior knowledge of the Soviet Union than H. Vetinari, without any proof whatsoever that you know anything about the subject yourself. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that you know nothing. (John Snow)

        You try to deflect by changing the subject to The British Empire and their “crimes”.

        Well, done! We don’t want any awkward facts like Stalin’s Great Purge, where he wiped out 20,000,000 (20 million for people who don’t like zeros) people do we?

        Just crawl back under your rock.

        • sub-program 32 says:

          Ah yes, ‘1930’s Socialists’ so the people that the Nazis went after and killed a lot of during their initial rise to power then? Cos I sure hope you weren’t talking about the National Socialists, who were about as socialist as the Democratic Republic of North Korea is democratic.

          • Hyena Grin says:

            It is frankly astonishing that anyone needs to be informed of this, these days. On the bright side, it’s usually a good sign that someone’s knowledge of geopolitical history is worse than zero, since even a basic high-school poli-sci class would help these people avoid falling for an ~85 year old fascist lie.

            To make such an error and then tell someone else they know nothing about Soviet Russia, is just a *chefkiss* of ignorant hubris.

          • MrEvilGuy says:

            Kittim I don’t remember Kuhle Wampe being a Nazi propaganda film.

          • airmikee99 says:

            Right? Oh, you call yourself a socialist/communist state, but you’re actually a nationalistic, authoritarian, autocracy? I’m going to hate on socialism/communism for the rest of my life while I build my own nationalistic, authoritarian autocracy and call it democracy!

          • Kittim says:

            @ sub-program 32

            Ah yes, ‘1930’s Socialists’ so the people that the Nazis went after and killed a lot of during their initial rise to power then? Cos I sure hope you weren’t talking about the National Socialists, who were about as socialist as the Democratic Republic of North Korea is democratic.

            I was indeed referring to Nationalsozialismus. I was saying that people like Bizzy (and you probably) would loose their shit if this site used a poster style that was employed during the 1930s by that organization. Your tone seems to imply that I condone the use of such material, I do not. At all. Do not ever try to imply that I do again.

            I was and still am addressing the condescending shutdown that Bizzy offered as a reply to H. Vetinari.

            The trend or “Narrative” (blah) is currently one of bashing people who have conservative views. The point of my original post was to show that the same can be said for the left.

        • automatic says:

          I love those number’s about Stalin’s genocide, specially when they come from self-entitled knowleadgeable people. Last time I heard this it was 300 million. About the whole population from USA. I always wonder where did they bury that much people. I know there are concentration camps where nazi used to genocide people in gas chambers but I have no knowledge of these massive facilities from Soviet Union used to wipe out entire coutries of people. That would be quite a sight. Btw, that’s not to say Stalin’s government wasn’t authoritarian. Even USA commited abuses against citizens under Macarthy. He was no Hitler though.

          • MattM says:

            It’s not some internet conspiracy. Scholars put the number of deaths caused by the Soviets at 20-50 million with the large uncertainty coming from the lack of documentation and secrecy in the USSR. The Siberian region is mineral rich but not very hospitable and many people were sent to work and die there. Many more people were starved when the farming system went through rapid redistribution and production dropped precipitously. Even farmers often starved when they were forced to give too much of their production to the government. The accounts from the Ukrainian famine are horrifying to read. Remember that bit in the Walking Dead TV/comic where some cannibals are talking about the logic in getting rid of their kids? That’s inspired by the Ukrainian famine.
            Heck when Russia invaded Ukraine recently, part of their justification is that many ethnic/cultural Russians lived there. That happened because Russia sent a significant portion of Ukraine’s population of Tartars to die in Siberia and moved people into replace them.
            We (rightly) mock Holocaust deniers and shame those that take up Nazi symbols but have this weird forgiveness for the horrors of the Soviets.
            I don’t quite agree with OP. I don’t think an art style linked with a movement is necessarily a endorsement of that movement in quite the same way as an actual symbol like the Nazi flag, but I’m never going to feel comfortable with that kind of propaganda either, especially since it’s still popular in some circles and countries.

          • automatic says:

            @MattM It’s not forgiveness. The point is no matter how bad the Soviet regime was you can’t standard it as the same type of atrocity as the Nazist regime. You can’t compare a starvation that has a *suspicion* of being provoked by Stalin through omission to the systematic elimination of jews by Hitler. And maybe a lot of people died in labor camps indeed, but even though Soviet Union was huge I honestly doubt a government could hide the death of tens of millions of people. The Soviet regime was against burgueous class. They were and still are the minority on every society.

            I don’t know about Ukraine’s recent history but I do know the Walking dead is just a zombie story. Zombies are inpired by african myths of body possession, the canibalism part was introduced later. There’s nothing to zombies related to starvation. Starving people are usually too weak to attack others. Ironically one of the classic zombie movies produced is Dawn of the Living Dead wich portraits a group of people locked in a shopping center, something movie critics interpreted as a criticism to capitalist consumism.

          • Landiss says:

            Oh for fuck’s sake! “Starvation that has suspicion to be provoked by Stalin”! I can’t help but wonder if you are naive idiot who really believes Russian propaganda or you are their paid troll. There is nothing uncertain about this historical fact – Ukrainian people were starved on purpose by Stalin’s order. And that is just one, small part of Soviet history. Have you not heard about Gulags, that were basically death camps similar to those of Nazists? Here’s a map showing the bigger ones:
            link to en.wikipedia.org

            Not that few, are they? And it lasted for decades. We still don’t know everything, because Russia is still hiding evidence and writing propaganda about Soviet Union and Stalin.

          • Kollega says:

            I’ve got something to say here. As a person living in a city in the steppes of Kazakhstan I really, really hate Stalin, for fucking up socialism and my personal life (it’s a long story, but basically, Stalinist repressions have severely damaged the social fabric of the entire region). But I have a real issue with people saying that Stalin is substantially worse than Hitler, rather than equivalently awful… or propping up Stalin as “your average and unavoidable failings of socialism”.

            There are two reasons. First, Hitler was a lunatic who deliberately pursued mass murder as a goal, while Stalin’s attitude was that mass murder is a “convenient way of doing things” – which is not any better morally, but meant that dodging death under Stalin was a bit easier. For example, my city has a notable community of ethnic Germans who were deported to the steppe from the Volga region… and my grandfather has made a similar move, albeit for different reasons. The only thing I’m thankful to Stalin for is booting those people here instead of being even worse and getting his murder on (well, that, and dying 40 years before I was born). Of course, others were not so lucky.

            But there is also the second reason – and that actually annoys me to no end. Because you see, you could make an argument for Stalin being a bit better than Hitler for not being literally obsessed with mass-murdering… but he’s still the guy who would rather talk and work with Hitler rather than the German social-democrats. Stalin is literally the guy who singlehandedly drove socialism over a cliff. And I absolutely hate how he has become the yardstick for measuring anything left-of-center for some annoying people. I’m pretty sure that quite few people measure all of capitalism by the yardstick of the Atlantic slave trade, or the robber baron era, or even modern-day America where millions of people are homeless and/or unable to pay for food, or whatever other examples of “dog-eat-dog capitalism” you can think of.

            So my point is: if you want to bash Stalin, go on, do that – but don’t use Stalin to bash everything socialist. Stalin is the guy who forbade the German Communists from making a coalition with Social-Democrats, thus letting the Nazis seize power with a minority government – and then, a few years later, signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with said Nazis, despite them having built their ideology on despising Soviet Bolshevism. And if you do insist on judging everything socialist by Stalin, then do me a favour and judge everything capitalist by people like Martin Shkreli.

          • Cederic says:

            Go and read Solzhenitsyn. Read ‘Drawings from the Gulag’ by Baldaev. Go to Crimea and count how many people living there are of Tatar descent. Hell, take a look at link to paulbogdanor.com

            I’m sure there are people living in the former USSR that would be happy to give you a tour of some of the facilities. I’m also very sure you’d rather they didn’t.

          • automatic says:

            I’m not denying the existence of Gulags but they weren’t extermination camps. Afaik there’s no thing such as the nazists chemical showers or mass graves. A lot of poeple may have died there but that’s not to blame on socialism. There’s nothing in socialism like there is in nazism that says that non-socialist people must die. There is some text from Marx that speak about a violent revolution but that violence there is equivalent to the repression the working class suffers. If that repression involves workers extermination then maybe there will be some people from the other side dying on a revolution. Hell, I myself even joke with friends some people could be sent to a Gulag because they are too stubborn in recognizing ppl exploitation. But ofc I don’t want people to die in socialist prisions the same way I don’t want people to die in capitalist prisions.

            Btw, it’s easy to say a dead regime hide information from what they did but in reality those reports of ten of thousands of people dying on the stalinist regime would be much more credible if it wasn’t for things such as Macarthyism and the Cold War.

          • Landiss says:

            “I’m not denying the existence of Gulags but they weren’t extermination camps. Afaik there’s no thing such as the nazists chemical showers or mass graves. A lot of poeple may have died there but that’s not to blame on socialism. There’s nothing in socialism like there is in nazism that says that non-socialist people must die.”

            First of all, soviet Russia was not socialist. It was totalitarian, despotic system with propaganda that masqueraded as socialist in a similar way that nazists did. To connect socialism and soviet communism is very harmful for socialism. Stalin was very careful that all people of the revolution who really believed in its ideas were killed.

            Furthermore, if you think there are no Soviet mass graves, we simply have to stop this discussion and you need to educate yourself. At least read this page:

            link to en.wikipedia.org

            About gulags – even though in theory they were forced work camps, not death camps, in practice for people who died there, the difference was not that big. Millions died due to gulags.

          • automatic says:

            I wouldn’t call reading Wikipedia education but I’ll go through the references from this article that are not complete bullshit or obvious propaganda.

            You can have socialist totaliarism just like you can have any other political system forced to a population through a totalitarian regime. There has been a lot of capitalist dictatorships around the world. I wonder why they are not as popular between americans as the socialist ones, specially because USA financed at least a handful of them. What nazists had wasn’t socialism. Hitler only called it socialist because socialism was popular but nazists didn’t took control over production means like the soviets did. The same people that owned Volkswagen back then still own it today. The soviet state on the contrary took control of all the factories and most certainly killed their former owners.

        • crueldwarf says:

          >We don’t want any awkward facts like Stalin’s Great Purge, where he wiped out 20,000,000 (20 million for people who don’t like zeros) people do we?

          Why do you downplay the crimes of the Stalinist regime? Stalin Great Purge killed 20 billion people. Then cloned them back and killed them again.

          On a serious note: stop rely on the Cold War era propaganda (yes, propaganda was not exclusively Soviet invention).

          • PachPachis says:

            Ah yes, the soviet-apologist equivalent of the neo-nazi “6 gorillion” meme. A classic.

      • Gondalar says:

        Wondering if Oleg Atbashian, artist and founder of People’s Cube would think his views on the history of the Soviet Union were simplistic. He actually MADE this propaganda, by force, before he escaped.

        Remember that the word “Soviet” means the word “Local”, as in Local 342, in English.

        Red, white, and black is always a clue, in the composition of this art, that it’s communist/socialist. I’m not surprised at that. I’m only surprised that “Workers” aren’t mentioned in the graphic, nor are there any raised Fists. Fists are very important for Union “workers”.

        Mr. V. is correct, and the author/editors of this article are absolutely correct to link this art style to unionization.

        Mr. Atabashian would like you to visit the People’s Cube and understand the depravity and intentional use of art to indoctrinate. It obviously works. Sad that it does, still, after all these years, but it does.

      • lofaszjoska says:

        This reply just begs for a Nazi comparison. I’m betting your view of Nazi Germany and right-wing dictatorships worldwide is rather simplistic and one-sided.
        As of 2018, displaying Communist imagery brings up painful first-hand memories in a lot more people than Nazi symbols do. If it’s common courtesy to avoid doing one, I don’t get why doing the other is accepted.

    • ggggggggggg says:

      the aspiration is to give game developers things that unionists in the past fought for, like 8 hour days and weekends

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Fun fact: murals in a similar style can be found at the shopping center at Rockefeller Center, New York.

      • Kollega says:

        Yeah… I live in a post-Soviet country, and the first thing I thought was “did the IWW, AKA Wobblies, originally draw this?” I don’t know what it is, but there’s something unmistakably American-socialist about this particular image. It might be its take on racial diversity, or clothing styles, or even the art itself. And for someone who has seen actual Soviet propaganda, I don’t think it’d be trivial to confuse.

        • Frosty Grin says:

          The guy at the center looks very, very American. Actual Soviet propaganda had diversity too, but this “type” would have different features.

      • DeadCanDance says:

        Why wouldn’t a similar style be found there? Mr. Rockefeller, his family, and many other rich americans funded the russian revolution in the first place.

        • Not Marvelous says:

          Say what now?

          • DeadCanDance says:

            “The Reece Committee which investigated foundations for Congress in 1953 proved with an overwhelming amount of evidence that the various Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations have been promoting socialism since their inception.”

            “In the Bolshevik Revolution we have some of the world’s richest and most powerful men financing a movement which claims its very existence is based on the concept of stripping of their wealth men like the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Schiffs, Warburgs, Morgans, Harrimans, and Milners. But obviously these men have no fear of international Communism. It is only logical to assume that if they financed it and do not fear it, it must be because they control it. Can there be any other explanation that makes sense?”

            “Why are the super-rich for socialism? Don’t they have the most to lose? I take a look at my bank account and compare it with Nelson Rockefeller’s and it seems funny that I’m against socialism and he’s out promoting it.” Or is it funny? In reality, there is a vast difference between what the promoters define as socialism and what it is in actual practice. The idea that socialism is a share-the-wealth program is strictly a confidence game to get the people to surrender their freedom to an all-powerful collectivist government. While the Insiders tell us we are building a paradise on earth, we are actually constructing a jail for ourselves.”
            ― Gary Allen, None Dare Call It Conspiracy

          • Not Marvelous says:

            After all that, I can only repeat my initial expression of puzzlement.

          • BananasAreMediocre says:

            Don’t worry, he’s just spouting off quotes from a noted conspiracy theorist and segregationist politician who was in turn using as his evidence a report widely panned by its contemporaries (and even several of the people on the committee who felt that the committee leader was presenting false conclusions).

            Essentially, quoting a sham racist from California who in turn was quoting a sham report tied to McCarthyism. Relatively few folks even know of the book he’s quoting from unless they’re affiliated with/fond of the far-right’s conspiracy theorists, or they have to deal with the long, sordid history of the AIP and John Birch Society in their community’s political structure.

          • DeadCanDance says:

            Guess I’m one of these few people. Furthermore I actually read the books that are mentioned as sources. Did you do that?

    • mitrovarr says:

      The funny thing is, the people who parrot the constant anti-union points are usually some of the most abused and exploited workers. But no, keep defending your masters. Maybe they’ll treat you better someday!

      • SavannaJeff says:

        They’re not attacking unions, they’re attacking the use of propaganda posters from the Soviet Union. It was a totalitarian evil state on par with Nazi Germany, but somehow we’re OK with that?

    • SuicideKing says:

      I have just the thing for you!

  2. rangerfall says:

    I figure that’s the reason indie(non-union) developers exist, is because they don’t want to deal long-term with the usual BS and creative death larger development houses go after. It’s as much a question about why software development doesn’t unionize and I think its a mix of factors from the rapid pace of technology change and new development niches to fill, to the average/median age of the workers and who they are marketing to, so that the idea of traditional ‘unions’ seems a little dated and 20th century like the article banner image.

    • woodsey says:

      If indie developers are anything like regular small businesses then they probably have an even worse track record than the big studios.

      • Phasma Felis says:

        I think the difference is that if an indie dev works 80 hours a week for poor pay, it’s something that they *chose* to do, not something they’re being told to do.

    • automatic says:

      Unless there’s an organized group commited to publish small devs work under fair conditions they will always be exploited by giants like Valve. I heard the exact same speech you’re using when I was studying Design and today I regret never joining or trying to assemble an union. In my country today nobody respect designers work. A huge number of clients think it’s some kind of play, something easy we do for fun and consider it’s favor they are doing allowing for us to work for them.

      • woodsey says:

        How do Valve exploit indie developers, if I might ask?

        • automatic says:

          Any big publisher out there gets much more than they work for on a game sale. They just own the distribution system, they produce little if anything. Valve is a good example. How many original games they produced after they launched Steam? Nada. Zero. Even Portal was based on a third party mod. They never released a Half-Life 3 because it’s much easier to live just as publishers. They don’t have to work, just parasite on thousands of other developers works.

          • woodsey says:

            Uh, what? Valve have bought out basically every team they’ve ever worked with – the initial Portal team being one example – and they have some of them best working standards in the industry, whatever you think of them as a developer/publisher/storefront. You couldn’t have picked a worse example.

          • automatic says:

            They bought them for what? They don’t produce anything. 99% of what they sell is from different developers.

      • Landiss says:

        “Unless there’s an organized group commited to publish small devs work under fair conditions they will always be exploited by giants like Valve”

        You mean, if only itch.io existed?

        • automatic says:

          Is itch.io an organized group commited to publish small devs work under fair conditions? Great. That’s much like how an union should work.

          • Landiss says:

            Well, I think yes, they are. AFAIK it’s 2 people who created and manage the shop and they don’t charge devs anything (but devs can give them some % of proceeds if they want). It doesn’t change anything about Steam and the need for unions though.

          • automatic says:

            Agreed, because not every game is an indie game. Big titles that need hundreds of people to produce are still a thing and so are the organizations that guarantee all these people are treated fairly, like unions.

            The way I see Steam is like Uber but instead of drivers they hoard game developers.

    • wengart says:

      I also suspect that while game developers are apparently treated poorly they likely have the skills to make a move out of games and into the normal programming market.

      That essentially creates a release valve for people who are fed up with the work.

      • Lead Sponge says:

        Not all developers are programmers. That’s a common misunderstanding. There’s a wide variety of disciplines that have limited uses outside the game industry. While you might be able to apply some of those skills to a different job, being able to build a level in a game editor doesn’t always have a ton of applications. There’s not really some sweet gig waiting for most people outside the game industry if they’d just move on.

        Basically, it’s an office job with some technical specializations for some people. Programmers, of course, are a special breed, but like I said. Not everyone is a programmer.

    • Lead Sponge says:

      I’ve worked for a wide variety of developers and indie studios can be even worse than the large companies. With indie studios you typically have some rich schmuck who got funding from his friend. That guy runs the place like his own little kingdom.

      This comes along with the fundamental cultural problems within the game industry that simply burns out its developers. They know people want to do these jobs, so instead of building a sustainable workforce they simply grind through their employees until they leave the industry. The irony is we do this willingly to ourselves despite leaving a company and swearing we’ll never do it again.

      I can tell you a big reason unions don’t form in the game industry is because we don’t really understand why we need them. The crunch and general abuse from upper management is so ingrained in the culture that most developers can’t really understand that it could be different.

      I’ve had to skip vacations and not go home to seem family in the hospital, because of deadlines to launch a release. You could bail and go anyway, but it’s always held against you. Phrases like “passion” and “dedication” are used as cudgels during review sessions. Those are code words for “working long hours” and “never seeing your family”.

      There’s some great stuff about working in the game industry, but after every job I have to spend a few months recovering from the stress and exhaustion.

  3. indigochill says:

    As a video game studio employee myself, I’ve been part of a union for a little under four years (in the country I work, unions are mandatory for foreigners, at least if you want your work visa approved). It’s done nothing at all for me or anyone I know and the only time it affected our work was when we almost had to go on strike for a completely unrelated issue for a completely different industry (it’s a pretty poorly segmented union, to be fair).

    Generally, though, I’m fine with people wanting to get in on some collective bargaining. My beef with unions is that they often use various tactics to extort independents into joining (such as in my case, requiring union approval for work visa approval). Which means for someone who just wants to work in their chosen vocation they become just another layer of middlemen taking money from the people doing the work with no real accountability to the people they represent, because you have no options to work in your chosen industry/location without union membership.

    But I’d support a middle-ground. Unions can negotiate for their members, but coexist with independent developers whose interests perhaps don’t align with those in unions.

    • Not Marvelous says:

      But if you drop exclusive representation, union become largely meaningless.

    • Cederic says:

      You didn’t nearly have to strike. You nearly had to exert your autonomy while suing the union for the harassment its members are giving you despite it extorting money from you while failing to represent your interests.

      Unless it was actually in your interests to go on strike, which doesn’t sound likely.

      May I ask which country you’re working in? It’s an interesting work visa requirement, I haven’t seen that one before.

    • Lead Sponge says:

      Like you, I’m a game industry person. The only place I’ve worked that had a union was a nightmare, but the union was the one redeeming factor. When the company tried insane stuff the union went to the mat for us.

      Of course, I was also at the company when the union formed after a round of layoffs. So, the union was fresh and energized after fighting management tooth and nail to even get formed. We organized and protected our rights. From it crunch ended except when absolutely necessary and pay rates were increased company wide. Layoffs inevitably happen in the industry, and when they did those laid off got three months severance rather than the hearty handshake the previous group got.

  4. Gothnak says:

    I’ve worked in the Games Industry since 1995 and there has been a few times over the years where I’d wish there was a union. So, why isn’t there?

    Because it’s a white collar industry. When you are a blue collar worker, you do a job a lot like everyone else and in theory you can be easily replaced. Management don’t really care about how they treat you and you rarely have anyone care about your individual needs. That’s why you all band together and get someone to speak for you.

    In the games industry each developer is an expert in their field. They are usually able to bring up issues with work to their manager (although many times this goes nowhere) and artists have very different careers to coders, or designers or producers.

    The biggest problem for working in the games industry is like tv and film, if you aren’t better or work harder than the next person then there are 12 people excited to take your role. That pressure is what stops people standing up and being counted as who wants to employ someone who is just going to be trouble.

    I stuck up for my fellow employees on numerous occasions in my career at some very big companies, I certainly missed some promotions by not keeping quiet, but most devs just want to go to work and make computer games, and if they have to crunch now and then, so be it.

    • Rhywden says:

      “Crunchtime” is probably the epitome of utter stupidity.

      When you go beyond 50 hours a week, your productivity will approach zero rapidly. For developers this means that they’re introducing a lot of bugs at that point.

      It’s also a health hazard. I’m not sure why those supposedly intelligent people fall for that horseshit and allow their managers to pull those stunts.

      Also, there’s also that bullcrap about “there are other people waiting”. “Yeah. Those other people will be unproductive for half a year until they’re up to snuff. But sure, if you’re willing to delay the launch of your product even further, fire away!”

      • mitrovarr says:

        Yeah. Making video games is possibly the worst reason invented to sacrifice your personal life, marriage, time with kids, etc. to overwork. It’s especially stupid, because the time pressure is just competitive pressure anyways, and if nobody would crunch nobody would need to. That’s why we need unions or laws to force change across the whole industry at once.

      • Titler says:

        It’s that last one which really kills any incentive to Unionize or demand standards; Because working in the games industry is people’s dream job, they put up with nightmares because they desperately don’t want to admit the dream has gone bad, or their heroes might have feet of clay.

        Employers know this, and indeed might have the common Authoritarian mindset that exists in fandom and tech work in general, so they assume that because they had to “toughen up” and crunch, so they expect it from their workers too; and if they won’t put up with it, a million others will.

        For a while, anyway.

        I worked on Ultima Online as an EM, so an outside contractor rather than an in-the-office-drone; but it was a crash course in just how terrible human resources was in the industry. How nasty, backstabbing, divisive your fellow workers were becaus shafting you kept them safe from bosses strung out on arrogance and 80+ hour work weeks, at least for just a little bit longer.

        I saw it again recently, where Portalarium, after a disastrous launch for “Shroud of the Avatar”, just sacked half of, including all the essential staff; And because I’m in the process of taking them to court over protecting (if not outright supporting) someone who has sent rape and death threats for the last year and a half, I’ve been sent a few leaks claiming to be from some of the sacked staff, who were venting about how terribly they were treated. Apparently they got absolutely no notice, and were taken too, and then sacked in the foyer.

        The games industry is terrible.

      • MattM says:

        I just spent a year doing 60-70 hours a week. It was a pit and after 6 months I’m not sure I was any more productive that I would have been with 40 hour weeks. I couldn’t keep my focus on my work anymore.

    • FuriKuri says:

      Yeah but that’s the problem isn’t it. The expectation that you’ll just crunch through making up for bad project management for free. And if you don’t, you’re the problem.

      I did once work in the industry for an abysmal salary. I enjoyed the work (I enjoy programming) and was good at it. Then crunch started and I wouldn’t play ball. Despite the fact I was outperforming everyone on my team in both volume and quality (despite the extra hours other people were working), the only thing that mattered was that I wasn’t willing to sacrifice inordinate amounts of my life to the project and others were.

      I pointed out that since they were paying me so little that the extra hours ‘expected’ would technically mean I earn less than minimum wage (i.e. illegal). As a result, my next performance review was so bad the studio producer asked why they shouldn’t just fire me, apparently putting my team lead (i.e. the guy who gave me the bad review in the first place) in the somewhat awkward position of having to explain that I was actually really good at my job despite being terrible at it. I resigned shortly thereafter.

      Anyway, that brings me to my depressing conclusion: I doubt a union would’ve helped in the slightest. It’s an entity comprised of your fellow workers and frankly they’re as much to blame for the state of affairs as management is. It’s not just that I felt pressure from a bad review, it’s that my coworkers were just as disapproving of my actions (if a lot less vocal). There’s a truly unhealthy fanaticism underpinning a lot of the games industry which management are, of course, all to keen to exploit.

      Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoyed the time spent with my coworkers back then, they were good folk. But I doubt any of them thought I was fighting the good fight, and I suspect more than a few times when I walked out those office doors in the early evening more than just a few grumbles will have been exchanged.

      • Jekadu says:

        In the scenario you described a union would have been able to negotiate on your behalf and offer legal protection, depending on the country. Ultimately, you were asked to do something outside your contract with ample evidence of this and the law would have been on your side. You wouldn’t have had to fight this battle on your own.

        As for your coworkers being resentful of you: if they had been in a union they would have understood how much they were being taken advantage of.

        • remedialgash says:

          Yeah, sadly I think that is just the American way – always an individual… As a bolshy European I think we should all shoulder the pressure collectively and tell the management to do one!

          Whether it’s high tech stuff or just cleaning the streets, a strong union with a collective bargaining structure is always mightier than being a put upon individual.

          Sure there are problems with anal tosspots and the admin side of things, but it’s always better to fight as an army.

        • FuriKuri says:

          I think you miss the point; the attitude toward unpaid hours is so endemic to the industry my concern is “unionisation” in and of itself wouldn’t address the issue. Maybe it’d curtail some of the absolute worst excesses but like I said, a union is the people you work with and if practically everyone considers this the norm why would a union carry substantially different values?

          I think its hard for people to admit they’ve essentially been abused, especially at times when it will have been willingly. It’s the games industry, everyone grew up playing the hero and heroes pull all-nighters to save the day.

          RE: remedialgash

          I am English and worked in the UK all my life. This isn’t a problem unique to the US in any way. I mean, i’d agree those guys are Double Stuffed with corporate power being what it is across the pond, but don’t overestimate the willingness of people to change this particular system. The games industry, in a global sense, is a borderline cult.

          You don’t mention what part of bolshy Europe you’re from :) no doubt things are different elsewhere. My experience was around the same time as the whole EA spouse thing, perhaps I’m just old and bitter about an industry that his since made amends and changed for the better.

          But I doubt it.

          • remedialgash says:

            Sorry mate, I’m from the bit of the UK slightly to the left of England and was drunk posting with more reverence and fervor for workers rights than I’ve every actually displayed in real life, almost started singing the red flag, but being a lowly freelancer am essentially an army of one.

            Though during quiet periods where I sometimes do temp jobs to make ends meet I try to engage with workers rights. Sorry, just feeling a bit hopeless about the current political situation worldwide…

    • Herkimer says:

      “I’ve worked in the Games Industry since 1995 and there has been a few times over the years where I’d wish there was a union. So, why isn’t there?

      Because it’s a white collar industry. ”

      I’m a lawyer, and I’m union. The games industry may have structural barriers to unionizing, but I’d respectfully suggest that this isn’t one of them.

    • Orazio Zorzotto says:

      I disagree with this attitude. “White collar”, “blue collar”? Regardless you are still part of the working class and will always have your labour exploited by your bosses. I would not be so sure that you are so highly specialised and irreplaceable when there are so many people graduating with games degrees and so many people leaving the industry at once.
      Recent statistics show few people staying in the industry beyond 6-7 years, a relativity short career. High turnover due to poor working conditions.

    • InternetBatman says:

      There are a ton of unions in TV and film.
      link to en.wikipedia.org

  5. The Sombrero Kid says:

    My Perspective on it (as someone who worked in the games industry for 7 years before moving on) is that the highest skilled workers, the ones most capable of effecting real change are squeezed out of the industry by the employers, who do not value their expertise and get by just fine without it.

    Those squeezed out employees would normally be a fountain of discontent which would rise to effect collective bargaining and real change. (Un)fortunately what happens in the games industry is that they leave, move to another sector that pays far, far more money and values their skills far higher while simultaneously commanding a comparable lack of need for said skills.

    The young people the games industry depend on simply aren’t equipped to fight for their rights (or even know them) and don’t yet understand how much they are being taken advantage of, by the time they do it will be too late and the cycle will perpetuate.

    • Lacero says:

      7 years here too.

      I agree with all of this, especially the comparable lack of need in the higher paying industries.
      I learnt ten times more in games than I would in the business I’m currently in.

  6. zytos says:

    I’m done giving views to this stupid site. Another gone to leftists. Continue to narrow yourselves. Perish.

    • woodsey says:

      Not like the good old days when RPS was produced by famously right-wing American nationalists, eh.

      • Jekadu says:

        I wonder why these people insist on coming here. There’s an article like this about twice a week (note: rhetorical point) and every time there’s someone complaining about the “good ol’ days” in the comments.

        I guess if “good ol’ days” means “since Tuesday”…?

    • Herkimer says:

      I…have you never read this site before?

      Also, it says something that “workers should be allowed to bargain with their bosses on a halfway-level playing field” is seen as some crazy leftist agitprop

      • woodsey says:

        This is what I don’t understand. Anyone sufficiently right-wing enough to think that companies should be able to do whatever the hell they want should surely believe the same for the employees.

        • SavannaJeff says:

          Less to do with people being able to form unions, more to do with the Soviet imagery and the ‘neoliberals hate unions’ nonsense.

        • lyralamperouge says:

          Certainly we do, but unions aren’t about employees only doing what they want to; they’re about using state coercion to force employers to facilitate their preferred working conditions,and so people dislike the worker-fascist aesthetic being used to glorify what ultimately boils down to reverse slavery.

          • Jeroen_Antineus says:

            “Reverse slavery”? Well, that’s a fun one. So tell me, o enlightened one, what’s “reverse slavery”? Is it actually getting paid for the work you perform? In other words, a regular job?

      • SavannaJeff says:

        It’s not just that, it’s combined with the Socialist Propaganda posters and the overly political ‘neoliberals killed unions’ nonsense.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Oh look it’s a reactionary troll who has never read this site before.

    • Lead Sponge says:

      If seeing your family and working 40 hours a week is left-wing.. then I guess I’m a commie. :)

  7. Vlad0153 says:

    Awesome

  8. heretic says:

    Doug Cockle sounds like a nice man.

  9. SavannaJeff says:

    The Soviet-era socialist propaganda posted, combined with the blatantly political ‘neoliberals hate unions’ nonsense makes me question why I come here.

  10. Zhiroc says:

    I’ve been in the (non-gaming) software industry for almost 30 years now, and my wife for about the same as an electrical engineer, and there’s nary a hint of unionization that I can see. Why should the gaming industry be expected to be any different?

    • Lead Sponge says:

      I’ve always found this an odd argument. The better question is why isn’t everyone unionized? It should be the norm rather than the exception.

      You are a highly skilled individual with marketable skills that demand a certain price. Just like the company has a product to sell, so do you. Our product is time and skill, and we are more essential to the functioning of the economy than any schmuck sitting in a board room. The douches in the boardroom are certainly organizing… we should be too.

      • mlcarter815 says:

        Unions get in the way of getting work done. You can’t jump in to help get someone’s work done when unionized.

        • FunkyB says:

          Really? That’s interesting because my union just saved my pension from being decimated by the government. They saved my mother from being unfairly fired after she spoke up against the management at her job. They saved my father’s livelihood when overzealous police wanted to take his driving license and we couldn’t afford a good barrister.

          I just do not understand bootlicking commenters who adore their governmental and corporate overlords. They will do everything they can to exploit you. Defend yourself.

  11. crns says:

    Now who is Astrid Johnson?
    link to twitter.com
    Ah, of course. Should have known, really..
    a fucking “trans comrade”

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