108: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

"At the 2007 D.I.C.E. Summit this past February, Michael John, independent game designer and proprietor of Method Games, became the talk of the town by saying the U-word in his presentation on open market dynamics. John also blogs for Gaming Mercenaries, a site devoted specifically to spreading the word about disconnecting from the mothership of classical third-party development.

"Near the end of his presentation, John attacked the union notion head-on: 'You say this word in a room of game developers, they think of Hoffa and Tony Soprano. Here are some things I've heard. Unions will bankrupt small studios. Unions let slackers keep their jobs. ... Yeah, if we're stupid.'"

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Thought provoking...

Anyone have any good examples of successful white collar unions? Any failing or failed examples?

(Also, the link "brain power is the first function to shut down under excessive fatigue" in the article is broken. Does anyone know what this is suppose to be pointing to? A bit of googling didn't reveal anything obvious.)

Most of the entertainment industry unions work as advertised. I've had a great deal of experience with Actor's Equity, for example, which unionized actors and stage managers and serves them admirably.

I was also briefly a member of some electrician's union which covered me while I was producing television, but I can't honestly recall attending a single meeting or feeling any impact from that whatsoever. They probably negotiated pay increases and insurance coverage on my behalf or something, but I never actively participated.

Also, the link is fixed.

USA is another union that's perhaps more relevant to this discussion. United Scenic Artists. I've dealt with them a few times, having hired a few theatrical desgners and artists who were members when I was production manager at a LORT theater in Mass. Unlike with our association with Actor's Equity, we were not required to hire any USA members if we didn't want to, but if we did, there was a ton of paper work and additional administrative hassles we had to deal with.

I assume a game developer union would work similarly, although the film production model might be more apt, and I honestly have no experience with film unions. But the downside for studios and employers is going to be the added layer of administrative BS. Unions mean paperwork. Lots of paperwork. I can't stress that enough.

As a non-union employer hiring and managing union members, the extra hassle never quite outweighed the benefits of being able to hire accredited professionals, and knowing they'd always be there thanks to the protections offered from their union, but we were always aware of the extra effort required to get those people. And occasionally we simply didn't have to option to hire a union member due to the added expense. Not often, but it did happen.

Unions and professional associations have been used to great effect in certain situations. I think game developers are a group who could benefit from collective bargaining, though I am not entirely certain that this would necessarily lead to benefit for game consumers.

Unions aren't so controversial in most of Europe. DICE originated in Sweden, where alot of their employees already are part of unions (albeit not explicitly a union for game developers).

The Union problem is mainly an American issue; the history of Unions in the US is complicated and inflammatory.

In Europe, there are several initiatives towards unions in the game industry, the European Games Developer Federation can be taken to head the effort, being the largest with about 15000 members. Note that the EGDF is more of a lobby organization than a Union at present, although they certainly have many functions of a Union. They are based in Sweden, where Unions are very strong and wield considerable political influence.

Locally there are several unions in Europe, especially in countries ideologically to the left where unions often have played very important roles in the development of markets. In many European countries the idea of international unions (ie 'worker solidarity' in socialistic terms) is still strong.

The European workplace is growing, but the US is still quite dominating in the biz. American companies could probably gain some valuable input from talking to their EU counterparts. Unions in Europe tend to quickly become politicized and dependent, somewhat in contrast to the history of US unions, whom in European eyes appear more like guilds.

my €.2


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