As companies like Activision continue to make record profits as they lay off large portions of their staff, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is calling for game developers to unionize.
AFL-CIO treasurer Liz Shuler has written a letter, published on Kotaku, detailing an argument for why an industry facing overworked conditions, sudden joblessness, and the emergence of groups favoring the notion should work to unionize.
Shuler writes that the game industry, which she cites as one of the most lucrative “commodities” the U.S. produces, is built off the back of workers who passionately work tireless hours to produce works of art that bring joy to millions of players. “There’s nothing more powerful than throwing yourself into your craft, putting in day after day of passionate, hard work,” she says.
According to Shuler, however, workers are not being fairly compensated by this work, and argues that, regardless of game developers’ passion for their chosen field, it’s time they get their due. “While you’re putting in crunch time, your bosses are ringing the opening bell on Wall Street,” she argues. “While you’re creating some of the most groundbreaking products of our time, they’re pocketing billions. While you’re fighting through exhaustion and putting your soul into a game, Bobby Kotick and Andrew Wilson are toasting to ‘their’ success.”
Meanwhile, workers face a number of workplace issues, including long hours in crunch time, a fear to speak up about better compensation for fear of backlash, and “toxic work conditions that push you to your physical and mental limits.”
Shuler call upon employees of game companies to kickstart their efforts to unionize because it won’t happen without activism from the employees themselves, and points them towards organizations like Game Workers Unite, which are working alongside the AFL-CIO to help galvanize the industry into action. “Your fight is our fight, and we look forward to welcoming you into our union family,” Shuler says. “Whether we’re mainlining caffeine in Santa Monica, clearing tables in Chicago or mining coal in West Virginia, we deserve to collect nothing less than the full value of our work.”
Labor issues have come to the forefront of video game industry talk in recent years, even moreso in the last few months. Last year, the Game Developers Conference had a swirl of discussions about the topic, while this year, a GDC survey revealed 44 percent of people in games work more than 40 hours a week, and a 47-percent majority of developers think the industry should unionize. A few years ago, the video game industry also saw a controversy between the SAG-AFTRA union strike and several video game companies lead to a negotiation between the two about improving the conditions of voice actors in the industry.
Unionizing an industry as large as video games is no small task and is likely to be long road filled with its own difficulties, long hours, and late nights. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen, especially when the result could be better working conditions for employees who won’t be fired on a whim and can get to do what they love and see their families at reasonable hours.