Unions for video game development employees

So with news about companies like Rockstar and Telltale where workers at the companies have had to go through horrible crunch time and or been fired with little fanfare or notice, is it now time for unionization to come into the game design space?

How would this go about? How would this change what kinds of games will be made if crunch time is no longer something done? How does it change games that are single player vs multiplayer? How would a union for these people get created?

I mean, when did EA Spouse come out again? What has changed since? These are problems we've known for ages, I dunno why everyone is acting shocked all of a sudden. The time for unionization was decades ago.

I don't have much hope unless actual employees start striking because I very much doubt gamers are going to boycott anything in any large quantities because God forbid anything get between us and our toys. This industry is geared toward burnout and high turnover so unless that changes, what incentive do workers have to unionize?

How ironic that something so enjoyable to play can be so brutal to make. I think it's sad in our society that unions even need to be a thing.

Chewster:
I mean, when did EA Spouse come out again? What has changed since? These are problems we've known for ages, I dunno why everyone is acting shocked all of a sudden. The time for unionization was decades ago.

I don't have much hope unless actual employees start striking because I very much doubt gamers are going to boycott anything in any large quantities because God forbid anything get between us and our toys. This industry is geared toward burnout and high turnover so unless that changes, what incentive do workers have to unionize?

Boycotting does nothing to hurt those responsible, usually only passing all negative effects down to the individual hardworking employees already under stress from threat of high expendability. There is no "too much time has passed" here. People do not suddenly lose power of union without specific laws enacted against unionisation. Change needs to happen in the political sphere as well as within the workforce, especially in the US. People need to vote in their actual best interests for one thing, not for business-sycophant capitalists.

It probably has been time for unionization since 1979, when Atari denied to their developers to any credit for their games.

Specter Von Baren:
How would a union for these people get created?

The workers would have to get together and form one, or join an already existing one. If they haven't, it's probably evidence that things aren't bad enough for the workers to want to do that.

Kerg3927:

Specter Von Baren:
How would a union for these people get created?

The workers would have to get together and form one, or join an already existing one. If they haven't, it's probably evidence that things aren't bad enough for the workers to want to do that.

Or it's bad enough they don't feel safe doing it. The thing about unions is that they have to be big enough and include enough people for them to work.

If everyone is too afraid of losing their jobs to join one, so only 20 people form a union in a 200 person company, it's easy enough for the company to replace those 20 workers.

It's going to have to be an all or nothing thing, and as long as consumers go to bat for corporations in this it will never happen.

hanselthecaretaker:
How ironic that something so enjoyable to play can be so brutal to make. I think it?s sad in our society that unions even need to be a thing.

From an economic point of view it makes sense. Business are not here to be moral, they're trying to make money, and a huge business expense is employee salaries and health insurance. Why would they voluntarily pay that if they don't have to? And who can really blame them? We all shop around or use coupons to get a cheaper price. they're just looking for cheaper employees. And the Unions are there to balance them out.

undeadsuitor:

Kerg3927:

Specter Von Baren:
How would a union for these people get created?

The workers would have to get together and form one, or join an already existing one. If they haven't, it's probably evidence that things aren't bad enough for the workers to want to do that.

Or it's bad enough they don't feel safe doing it. The thing about unions is that they have to be big enough and include enough people for them to work.

If everyone is too afraid of losing their jobs to join one, so only 20 people form a union in a 200 person company, it's easy enough for the company to replace those 20 workers.

It's going to have to be an all or nothing thing, and as long as consumers go to bat for corporations in this it will never happen.

In the U.S., there are federal laws that protect employees. For example...

National Labor Relations Board

Silentpony:

hanselthecaretaker:
How ironic that something so enjoyable to play can be so brutal to make. I think it?s sad in our society that unions even need to be a thing.

From an economic point of view it makes sense. Business are not here to be moral, they're trying to make money, and a huge business expense is employee salaries and health insurance. Why would they voluntarily pay that if they don't have to? And who can really blame them? We all shop around or use coupons to get a cheaper price. they're just looking for cheaper employees. And the Unions are there to balance them out.

As well as safety regulations, labor and employment laws are there to protect employees and balance things out. It's like perceiving people purely as economic factors eventualy dehumanizes them if left unchecked.

Specter Von Baren:
How would this go about? How would this change what kinds of games will be made if crunch time is no longer something done? How does it change games that are single player vs multiplayer? How would a union for these people get created?

Well, the skilled labor has to organize first. Arguably there will be plenty of scabs at QA, but I doubt you can push programmers and animators around as much. Next the scripters, writers, and QA people need to start joining those unions and the union has to hold together during strike periods. Unfortunately many of the other jobs (static models, 2d art, even some music) will get outsourced, if they haven't been already.

Initially there will be push back. If any of the workers' contracts have a corporate arbitration clause (go look that up if you feel like getting very depressed) it could be a long time before it all gets sorted out. In the meantime, you can expect the AAA equivalent of asset flips, and hardly any multiplayer as that is difficult enough to do with programmers and crunch, let alone without either.

Ultimately whether it works or not comes down to who breaks first, the union or the investors. Of course, that's supposed to be part of why modern unions take in union dues, so that they can act as potential investors.

Kerg3927:

undeadsuitor:

Kerg3927:

The workers would have to get together and form one, or join an already existing one. If they haven't, it's probably evidence that things aren't bad enough for the workers to want to do that.

Or it's bad enough they don't feel safe doing it. The thing about unions is that they have to be big enough and include enough people for them to work.

If everyone is too afraid of losing their jobs to join one, so only 20 people form a union in a 200 person company, it's easy enough for the company to replace those 20 workers.

It's going to have to be an all or nothing thing, and as long as consumers go to bat for corporations in this it will never happen.

In the U.S., there are federal laws that protect employees. For example...

National Labor Relations Board

That's if they're obvious about it. Do you think corporations are scared of laws? Even if they're found guilty the penalty would be less money spent that they would lose to a union.

Check out Amazon's union busting videos if you get a chance. They're more afraid of unions than they are of the government

Kerg3927:

In the U.S., there are federal laws that protect employees. For example...

National Labor Relations Board

There are laws against murder, too. Tell me how that's been eliminated in the US.

Something Amyss:

Kerg3927:

In the U.S., there are federal laws that protect employees. For example...

National Labor Relations Board

There are laws against murder, too. Tell me how that's been eliminated in the US.

It hasn't. But it is a deterrent.

Kerg3927:

Something Amyss:

Kerg3927:

In the U.S., there are federal laws that protect employees. For example...

National Labor Relations Board

There are laws against murder, too. Tell me how that's been eliminated in the US.

It hasn't. But it is a deterrent.

Apparently not, given the level of recidivism in the US population. Increasing penalties has also failed to reduce recidivism among the population.

Why would union busting be different?

Part of the problem is that the nature of this industry makes it very difficult to monopolize the labor force. A union needs to be able to effectively monopolize the labor force to have any leverage, otherwise companies have no reason to hire union workers as opposed to any other qualified individual. The video game industry doesn't have any of the usual choke points a union could exploit to gain this monopoly such as government licensing or skill sets that are niche enough to be able to control all the training/education.

Silentpony:

hanselthecaretaker:
How ironic that something so enjoyable to play can be so brutal to make. I think it?s sad in our society that unions even need to be a thing.

From an economic point of view it makes sense. Business are not here to be moral, they're trying to make money, and a huge business expense is employee salaries and health insurance. Why would they voluntarily pay that if they don't have to? And who can really blame them? We all shop around or use coupons to get a cheaper price. they're just looking for cheaper employees. And the Unions are there to balance them out.

Businesses ethics should still come into play here though. There are many small businesses that practice them, and it shouldn't be any different for game development studios with hundreds of employees. They aren't even approaching a Microsoft or GM level of complexity to need such checks and balances. Good management should be able to take care of that itself. If anything there should be checks against how much influence shareholders have on the day-to-day operations.

Silent Protagonist:
Part of the problem is that the nature of this industry makes it very difficult to monopolize the labor force. A union needs to be able to effectively monopolize the labor force to have any leverage, otherwise companies have no reason to hire union workers as opposed to any other qualified individual. The video game industry doesn't have any of the usual choke points a union could exploit to gain this monopoly such as government licensing or skill sets that are niche enough to be able to control all the training/education.

Which is why I mentioned programmers and animators before. Though to be more specific, the real-time animators probably can't be pushed around, since they have to closely work with the designers and programmers and possess niche skills. Pre-rendered animations, like those in the Bink Video format are probably already outsourced to South Korea or elsewhere.

Something Amyss:

Kerg3927:

Something Amyss:

There are laws against murder, too. Tell me how that's been eliminated in the US.

It hasn't. But it is a deterrent.

Apparently not, given the level of recidivism in the US population. Increasing penalties has also failed to reduce recidivism among the population.

Why would union busting be different?

So let me get this straight. You think that if murder was perfectly legal, murder rates wouldn't go up? There would be bodies littering the streets. People would just kill others and take whatever they want. I mean, why the hell not?

Of course laws are not going to stop everyone. There will always be a certain percentage of people who don't give a fuck about the consequences or who just can't control their aggression. But that doesn't mean that the laws are not a deterrent overall.

RelativityMan:

Silent Protagonist:
Part of the problem is that the nature of this industry makes it very difficult to monopolize the labor force. A union needs to be able to effectively monopolize the labor force to have any leverage, otherwise companies have no reason to hire union workers as opposed to any other qualified individual. The video game industry doesn't have any of the usual choke points a union could exploit to gain this monopoly such as government licensing or skill sets that are niche enough to be able to control all the training/education.

Which is why I mentioned programmers and animators before. Though to be more specific, the real-time animators probably can't be pushed around, since they have to closely work with the designers and programmers and possess niche skills. Pre-rendered animations, like those in the Bink Video format are probably already outsourced to South Korea or elsewhere.

And there's also the fact that if unions or the threat of unions get to be too much a headache, the company could just decide to "outsource" the whole damn company, and pack it up and move it to another country where they don't have to deal with that. Globalization has greatly weakened most unions.

I thought after Ronald Reagan and Margarate Thatchter, organizing a Worker's Union is next to impossible in the USA/UK after both leaders essentially disolved the biggest ones?

RelativityMan:
Of course laws are not going to stop everyone.

So...strawman of my statement aside, you gutted your own argument.

I guess that's that.

So here is my peace on this. To me this is a case of news for the sake of news. But frankly "crunch" is a concept that occurs in EVERY occupation. And honestly it a big deal. These news articles want to play it up to be a big ass thing that these poor people have to work 100 hour weeks. When that is simply not the case. 100 hour weeks can happen, and extreme work-shifts can happen periodically in every job.

My uncle has pulled 50-hour straight shifts as a Peramedic because they were short staffed and he wanted to be their for people who needed him. Firefighters often work four-day straight shifts with 3 days of down time. I myself sell fucking coffee cups, but two weeks out of the year I have to run trade shows that run for 15 hours a day for a week straight. It happens everywhere but it isn't the norm.

I was a QA tester for a AAA company before I went to college and we had 12 hour shifts during crunch for the video games we tested when they were about to release. But that only happened once every 12-15 weeks or so. Once every four months, in which I had to pull a long work week. Also the company CATERED 3 meals a day for everyone, so they even paid for our food while working this extra time.

You wanna talk about these developers? Rockstar makes 1 new game every 5 years. You think they are doing crunch making bullshit DLC packs? They are not.

Yes, near the end of RDR2 they probably had a month, maybe 6 weeks of crunch. But they did not spend the last 2-3 years working 100+ hour weeks nonstop. It did not happen.

Crunch happens everywhere, it's not exclusive to game development. Stop making it out like it is such a terrible thing.

All that being said, I do think developers deserve better treatment. Higher pay, more job security, and health benefits, basic things like that. Sure they deserve to have that kind of treatment. But when your product is about to come out and a gamebreaking bug is found by QA, then you gotta make sure you fix it. You gotta put in that final time, it is just the belly of the beast.

Of course, none of this applies to Konami because Konami is Konami and Konami is the fucking worse. Fuck Konami, and the way they treat their people, their games, their fans, everything about that company is a giant shitstorm.

Never treat your people like Konami.

Something Amyss:

Kerg3927:
Of course laws are not going to stop everyone.

So...strawman of my statement aside, you gutted your own argument.

I guess that's that.

No, I didn't. Do you know what the word "deterrent" means? It doesn't mean "eliminate." It means a thing that discourages or is intended to discourage someone from doing something. Murder and labor laws are exactly that.

If I were to put a scarecrow in my garden, it's purpose is to serve as a deterrent to crows eating my corn. Saying it serves as a deterrent doesn't mean that it eliminates every crow from coming in there and eating corn.

Commanderfantasy:
So here is my peace on this. To me this is a case of news for the sake of news. But frankly "crunch" is a concept that occurs in EVERY occupation. And honestly it a big deal. These news articles want to play it up to be a big ass thing that these poor people have to work 100 hour weeks. When that is simply not the case. 100 hour weeks can happen, and extreme work-shifts can happen periodically in every job.

My uncle has pulled 50-hour straight shifts as a Peramedic because they were short staffed and he wanted to be their for people who needed him. Firefighters often work four-day straight shifts with 3 days of down time. I myself sell fucking coffee cups, but two weeks out of the year I have to run trade shows that run for 15 hours a day for a week straight. It happens everywhere but it isn't the norm.

I was a QA tester for a AAA company before I went to college and we had 12 hour shifts during crunch for the video games we tested when they were about to release. But that only happened once every 12-15 weeks or so. Once every four months, in which I had to pull a long work week. Also the company CATERED 3 meals a day for everyone, so they even paid for our food while working this extra time.

You wanna talk about these developers? Rockstar makes 1 new game every 5 years. You think they are doing crunch making bullshit DLC packs? They are not.

Yes, near the end of RDR2 they probably had a month, maybe 6 weeks of crunch. But they did not spend the last 2-3 years working 100+ hour weeks nonstop. It did not happen.

Crunch happens everywhere, it's not exclusive to game development. Stop making it out like it is such a terrible thing.

All that being said, I do think developers deserve better treatment. Higher pay, more job security, and health benefits, basic things like that. Sure they deserve to have that kind of treatment. But when your product is about to come out and a gamebreaking bug is found by QA, then you gotta make sure you fix it. You gotta put in that final time, it is just the belly of the beast.

Of course, none of this applies to Konami because Konami is Konami and Konami is the fucking worse. Fuck Konami, and the way they treat their people, their games, their fans, everything about that company is a giant shitstorm.

Never treat your people like Konami.

I don't know if these people doing the crunch are salaried or hourly employees, but I know people who work hourly (not for developers), and they LOVE when they get a week or two here and there with long overtime hours, because everything over 40 hours that week pays 1.5 times their hourly wage (time and a half). I think U.S. federal law requires time and and half pay or earned paid leave for hourly workers working any hours over 40 in a week. In fact, the hourly employees I know complain if they go long periods without any "crunch" time, because they miss the big pay boost it brings.

And even for employees that are salaried, I think they generally know what they are getting into when they take that job, and their (healthy) base salary is intended to compensate them for those times. I would also guess that many of them receive bonuses for meeting deadlines, etc.

I'm sure it gets stressful, but we're not talking about textile mills or coal mines during the Industrial Revolution here.

Commanderfantasy:
.

Yes, near the end of RDR2 they probably had a month, maybe 6 weeks of crunch. But they did not spend the last 2-3 years working 100+ hour weeks nonstop. It did not happen. i.

Rockstar employees had made statements that they've been on crunch time for the last year leading up to the release.

A year.

Not to mention the idea of a single week long crunch time hasn't applied since the move to live service model games

Kerg3927:

RelativityMan:

Silent Protagonist:
Part of the problem is that the nature of this industry makes it very difficult to monopolize the labor force. A union needs to be able to effectively monopolize the labor force to have any leverage, otherwise companies have no reason to hire union workers as opposed to any other qualified individual. The video game industry doesn't have any of the usual choke points a union could exploit to gain this monopoly such as government licensing or skill sets that are niche enough to be able to control all the training/education.

Which is why I mentioned programmers and animators before. Though to be more specific, the real-time animators probably can't be pushed around, since they have to closely work with the designers and programmers and possess niche skills. Pre-rendered animations, like those in the Bink Video format are probably already outsourced to South Korea or elsewhere.

And there's also the fact that if unions or the threat of unions get to be too much a headache, the company could just decide to "outsource" the whole damn company, and pack it up and move it to another country where they don't have to deal with that. Globalization has greatly weakened most unions.

Let me clarify: game designers, engine programmers, and real-time animators are skilled labor within the "triple aieeh" games industry. These are the types of employees that (at their skill level) are damn near impossible to find outside of countries with good labor laws. You also need all three of these teams working in the same language and roughly the same cultural background to aid in communication between them.

A game publisher might be able to find enough game designer scabs to work despite a strike, which is why I didn't mention them before. Meanwhile programmers and animators have far better job security, even if they have to temporarily leave game development or go independent.

The other risk is will a game made in another country have mass appeal in the largely western culture driven game market? Of course they'll have some appeal, but remember these are corporations, they have a legal obligation to their shareholders to try to make maximum profit, not just some. Reducing the potential market share is a bitter pill for any investor to swallow.

Side note: I now want to see the next CoD end in a full-cast Bollywood dance number.

I kinda want to throw some info, or my perspective or whatever into the ring here, as I myself am actually in a union, however keep in mind I've only been in it for a little under two years so my perspective isn't exactly "seasoned". I'm an apprentice in the Electrician's Local 3, located in NYC and the biggest Electrician's union in the country. I'm still an apprentice and will be for a few more years, but at least I've seen some things here.

One big thing I actually saw was a strike that started around when I joined in. The Local started a strike against Spectrum, the ISP, due to a contract disagreement (Something like Spectrum wanted to lower benefits to what they had in other parts of the country for non-union workers, we wanted to keep our normal benefits). The strike began around March of 2017. As of now I think it's technically still going. Over a year and a half where over a thousand technicians don't have a job. After a while the Local even allowed some to temporarily work with other jobs in the union, and even allowed some to temporarily go back into the apprenticeship, which has guaranteed work (at much lower pay) so they can at least feed their families. The only time the Local gained any ground was when local politicians stepped in and told Spectrum to get out of the city (for other reasons), and then recently have been trying to negotiate on our behalf. It's still not over yet.

This alone showed a lot about what forming a union would be facing. Not just uncaring businesses, but also they would have to be able to support their members in strikes, and form political alliances to get the assistance needed when push comes to shove. That last one would be tricky, as how many modern politicians really know that much about the video game industry? In my opinion, anyway.

And that's not factoring other issues too. NYC has several construction unions, but there's still many companies here that hire non-union, and that's also a fight that the Locals have been working on, trying to get more of a monopoly on the business. Rallies are regularly held here towards this effort, but I'm not sure how much of an effect its had.

Add in to the fact that we're also fighting against "Mixed Shops", or shops or companies that hire BOTH Union and Non-Union. We try to set it so that if a construction job hires Union electricians, they ALSO have to hire Union carpenters, masons, laborers... the whole nine yards. All or nothing. So that could also end up being a potential difficulty.

Is unionizing possible? Maybe. But it's going to be a very difficult prospect. I'd say more, but this is getting a bit rambly, and I have to get going to work. Was typing this in in the morning before I had to leave.

 

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