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1. Protection From Rampant Layoffs
One of the most basic benefits of a union is that it helps to protect employee jobs. And this is particularly important in gaming, an industry that is filled with mass layoffs every time we turn around.
A few years ago, this included financially-troubled Telltale Games laying off 90% of its employees, and all without severance. The next year, Activision Blizzard boasted about making record profits right before laying off 800 people. And Blizzard’s tendency to engage in mass layoffs even amid stories of their abusive company culture is horrifying.
Long story short? These major companies won’t hesitate to take advantage of employees and then lay them off unless those employees have the protection of a good union.
2. “Boys’ Club” Issues
When it comes to gamer demographics, we are now fairly equal: about 45% of gamers are women and 55% are men. But when it comes to game development, it is still very much a male-dominated industry.
And that has led to some major issues behind the scenes. In 2018, workers sued Riot Games over harassment and discrimination. Last year, allegations of sexual harassment, misogyny, and more led to many Ubisoft employees getting fired. This culminated with the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for sexual harassment, discrimination, and what they specifically outline as a “frat boy” company culture.
That mentality allegedly led to excessive employee drinking, open harassment of female employees by male supervisors, and even the suicide of a female employee on a trip she took with a male supervisor. Oh, and prominent devs posing in front of Bill Cosby in an infamous “Cosby Suite” during Blizzcon.
Clearly, there is a power imbalance at these major studios, and the devs need a union to help protect them from this kind of discrimination.
3. The Evils of Crunch
If you prefer to buy ethically sourced products, then buying video games can often feel pretty problematic. After all, some of the biggest titles in gaming history were made thanks to periods of “crunch,” the term for when employees must work unpaid overtime to help deliver a game on schedule.
On paper, crunch is meant to be temporary, but many employees have horror stories of working 80-hour weeks for the vast majority of the year. Just imagine that all of your shifts became double shifts and you were getting paid the same and you can see how bad this is.
And here’s the thing: crunch doesn’t need to exist. Supergiant Games produced Hades, one of the best games of the year, without any crunch. Hell, they even required employees to take vacations so they wouldn’t be overworked. Considering that devs can create awesome experiences without crunch, they should have union protection to make crunch a thing of the past.
4. Issues With Contractors and Outsourcing
Like any other industry, the gaming industry often relies on hiring external contractors. Such contractors can bring an entirely new set of skills to the table, and hiring them is ideal for short-term projects.
Unfortunately, many major game developers have started hiring “temporary” contractors for long-term gigs, effectively bypassing the need to hire more full-time devs. Why do this? Simple: studios can hire contractors at a lower rate, avoid paying benefits, and retain the right to fire the contractors at will.
With strong unions, devs won’t have to worry about their jobs being taken by contractors. Similarly, contractors won’t have to worry about being taken advantage of by predatory companies.
5. No More NDA Bargaining
Have you ever wondered why we only started hearing about many of these game development horror stories in recent years? The answer is simple: for years, major game companies have effectively weaponized Non-Disclosure Agreements.
On paper, an NDA is there to protect company secrets, especially in the age of social media. But what often happens is that employees either quit or get fired over issues like discrimination and harassment. When those former employees worry about how to put food on the table, their former employers dangle an impressive cash offer to them in exchange for signing an NDA.
Their goal is simple: to keep former employees from telling the public about the abuses happening behind closed doors. But when employees have strong union protection, their jobs will be safer and they will be more empowered to tell the world about what happened to them.
6. Better Pay
And that brings us to one of the simplest and best reasons that devs need a union: so they can bargain for better pay!
In the gaming industry, there is a great disparity when it comes to salaries. There are game testers out there who can barely afford to eat. And there are CEOs like Bobby Kotick who rake in $150 million per year to oversee a company that is cranking out lackluster updates and abusing countless employees.
With a union, every employee at every level will be in a stronger position to bargain for better pay. And instead of this constant “race to the bottom,” good devs can finally earn what they are worth.