Unionization and Striking
Given the poor working conditions discussed in other archive posts on this site, it is perhaps no surprise that people are beginning to talk about unionization of the game industry. Debates have arisen about whether unionization is necessary or not, about the methods of actually making unionization happen, and also about the potential terms or mandate of a game developer's union. This post serves as a summary of the arguments that have been made on both sides, as well as an account of the experiences that some game industry workers have had with other unions. We've also archived some forum discussions about this issue, as it is a contested topic and often well-argued on both sides.
An excellent primer to the subject is Paul Hyman's 2005 Gamasutra article entitled Unionization now?. It is perhaps salient to note that, nearly a decade after this article, the same discussions are still happening and the games industry is not much closer to reaching a solution.
We've summarized some of our own research towards this topic, including some of the quality-of-life issues facing the industry and possible solutions to them, in a 4-part post featured on Gamasutra on January 9, 2013: Are game developers standing up for their rights?
In addition, the 2009 IGDA Quality of Life survey and the 2014 IGDA Developer Satisfaction Survey contained questions about unionization. We helped to analyze this data and write the summary reports. They are available on our website homepage. The short story is that over 1/3 of the people surveyed felt favourably toward a game industry union.
General Opinions on Unions
- Andrew Elsen on GamePolitics: July 26, 2011: Should game developers have a union?
- Alyssa Rosenberg on Think Progress: July 26, 2011: Unionizing the video games industry
- Brendan Sinclair on GameSpot: July 3, 2012: Why would anyone ever want to be a AAA game developer?
- Russ Pitts on Polygon: Feb. 28, 2013: Opinion: Will VFX studio unionization inspire game developers?
- "Jay" on House of Awesome: July 02, 2009: Gamasutra - Features - "Unionize now?"
- Ian Williams in Jacobin: Nov. 2013: "You can sleep here all night": video games and labour
- Peter Nowak in Canadian Business: Nov. 12, 2013: Unions aren't the answer for overworked game makers
- Brendan Sinclair on GamesIndustry.biz: June 24, 2014: 56% of devs in favor of unionizing - IGDA
- Reddit, asked by "nate427" on the r/Games sub-reddit: Why is there no game developers labor union?
- CGSociety, in response to the Gamasutra article: Game industry article: Unionization now?
Video Game Voice Actors' Union Considers Striking
SAG-AFTRA, the union that supports video game voice and motion capture actors, voted by October 1, 2015 on whether or not to strike in an effort to obtain better working conditions for their members. Support on Twitter can be found under the hashtags #PerformanceMatters and #Iamonboard2015. This section houses articles concerning these ongoing events.
Official SAG-AFTRA Union Communication
Video Game Companies' Proposal
- Feb 3, 2015: Interactive employers initial proposals
Responses from the video game community
- Will Wheaton on WillWheaton[dot]Net: This is why I support a SAG-AFTRA strike authorization for video games — and it isn’t about money
Game Politics is taking a poll on the likelihood of a strike and the comments section includes opinions from those in the industry: Oct 15, 2015: Poll: Are video game voice actors and performers going to strike?
- Mike Futter on GameInformer: Sept 22, 2015: Video game voice actors are taking a vote on whether to strike
- Eddie Makuch on Game Spot: Sept 23, 2015: Video game voice actors may go on strike
- Luke Plunkett on Kotaku: Sept 24, 2015: Video game voice actors are thinking about a strike
- Erik Kain on Forbes: Sept 24, 2015: Video game voice actors may go on strike, and that's a good thing
- Rob Fahey on Game Industry: Sept 25, 2015: All creative staff should support the actors
- Chris Reed on Cheat Sheet: Sept 25, 2015: If video game voice actors strike, here's what will happen
- Richard Verrier on LA Times: Oct 7, 2015: Game on for SAG-AFTRA members, who give leaders authority to call a strike over interactive contract
- Dave McNary on Variety: Oct 7, 2015: SAG-AFTRA Video Game Voice Actors Authorize Strike
- Chris Morris on Fortune: Oct 9, 2015: Why the video game industry is on the edge of its first major strike
- Kris Ligman on ZAM: May 2016: Videogame voice actors renew social media push for contract negotiations
- Mike Futter onGame Informer: Jan 6, 2016: The potential voice actor strike explained
- Youtube Video featuring voice actors stating their support for contract negotiations, May 4, 2016: SAG-AFTRA interactive negotiations 2016
SAG-AFTRA announces 'interactive strike'
On October 16th, 2016 the SAG-AFTRA union announced it will be going on strike on October 21st, 2016.
- Official SAG-AFTRA strike bulletin and 'Why we strike' pamphlet
- Announcement from the SAG-AFTRA website: Oct 16, 2016: SAG-AFTRA Interactive Strike Date Set for Friday
- Chris Kerr on Gamasutra: Oct 17, 2016: Video game voice actors' union calls 'interactive strike' to combat unfair treatment
- Chris Berg on Game Raven: Oct 18, 2016: Talks of voice actor strike shine a light on the game industry's ugly labor practices
- Dave McNary on Variety: Oct 21, 2016: SAG-AFTRA Plans First Videogame Strike Picket for Monday
- David Robb on Deadline: Oct 21, 2016: SAG-AFTRA Strikes The Video Game Industry
Research and Journal Articles
- Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter in the Canadian Journal of Communication (2006): "EA Spouse" and the crisis of video game labour: Enjoyment, exclusion, exploitation, exodus
- Judd Ethan Ruggill and Ken S. McAllister in Game: The Italian Journal of Game Studies (2013): Union Yes? Computer game design, management, and labour relations
American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Controversy
While this incident does not involve the prospect of a game developers union, it represents a clash between the games industry and another union, with a worker caught in the middle. Various major game companies and the AFM had been unable to to reach an agreement for the payment of AFM members doing work for games since 2012, charging members who did choose to do videogame work - most notably Austin Wintory, composer of Journey - tens-of-thousands of dollars as punishment. This issue remains unresolved, but advances towards a new agreement seem to be moving forward. The AFM incident highlights a challenge that many entertainment unions and various employers have faced with the rapid emergence and growth of interactive media forms, including video games. In many cases the contracts between unions and employers did not and/or do not adequately capture the nature of the work in new media forms and need to be carefully revisited and revised to adequately protect all parties. As an example the Alliance of Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has negotiated with various employers to respond to the increased digital distribution and reproduction of actors' work.
- The AFM incident was first reported by Kris Graft on Gamasutra in June 2014: Award-winning game composer takes musicians union to task.
- Disagreements between the union and game companies began to be resolved only a couple of days later when Microsoft agreed on a set payment figure for musicians: Colin Campbell on Polygon: Jun. 11, 2014: New deal could clear game musician strife