As the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) comes to a close, the discussion around one of the most polarizing roundtables continues to gather steam. In a discussion coordinated by the International Game Developers Association the pros and cons of unionization were tensely debated. Although the video game industry is estimated to be $36 billion, the working conditions throughout the industry are far less glamorous. At the GDC roundtable, many attendees described their experiences working grueling hours without overtime pay or much job security. These “crunch periods” resulting from a studio’s rush to make deadlines take both a mental and physical toll on employees, resulting in higher employee turnover and a toxic work environment. Many game developers believe that unionization will help solve these systemic issues within the video game industry. Right now, the lack of bargaining power leaves the video game developers with little to no ability to negotiate with their company for better working conditions.

 

Unsurprisingly, many large video game companies are anti-unionization. But so is the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). Being the main game developer advocacy group, their stance on unionization could sway many within the industry. Jen MacLean, IGCA’s executive editor, is worried unionization may improve working conditions, but may also have unintended consequences. While increasing game developer’s leverage, MacLean raised concerns of unions controlling the jobs developers take, the projects they work on, and potentially force companies to be understaffed. She also discussed union abuses in other industries, specifically the construction industry. Although the IGDA is anti-unionization the decision to unionize is ultimately up to the game developers.

 

It will be interesting to watch the debate around unionization within the video game industry. Until recently, the concept of unionization was taboo, only discussed behind closed doors. Now, video game developers are at least a little bit closer to having standardized working conditions, whether through unionization or simply the leveraging power resulting from the threat of unionization. Maybe as more stories of the abusive working conditions in the video game industry come to light the National Labor Relations Board will launch an investigation into these unfair labor practices.

Meredith Christianson

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