Pro-union advocates showed up today to a Game Developer's Conference roundtable on the subject of unionization in the games industry, a topic that's come to dominate the conversation at this year's GDC.
Today, during the annual GDC in San Francisco, International Game Developer Association executive director Jen MacLean hosted a roundtable discussion about unions titled, "Union Now? Pros, Cons, and Consequences of Unionization for Game Devs Roundtable." While the focus of the roundtable was to exchange opinions and ideas about unions for those who work in the games industry, the roundtable has become the center of a controversy.
Pro-union group Game Workers Unite first raised objections to the roundtable when the full GDC schedule was announced a few weeks ago. The group mobilized for GDC, passing out pro-union zines and informational pamphlets. We asked MacLean on Monday to clarify her positions on unionization for workers in the games industry, but her answer in various interviews this week only further galvanized pro-union advocates.
An attendee at the roundtable tweeted that the event was a "flashpoint for pro-union activists," specifically citing Game Workers Unite and their activity at the convention. Those who spoke during the event took a largely pro-union stance, sharing stories of workplace hardships, specifically burning out, crunch, and inadequate compensation.
One developer, an Australian game developer part of the SJTV French video game workers union, talked about young game developers being exploited with low wages that dragged down the industry. They then shouted, "Stop with the bullshit internships! Pay people!"
Others argued that "Unions can help protect marginalized people." When pushed for an example by MacLean, they said that their student union bargained for all-gender bathrooms on campus. A common thread appeared to be how unions can give employees leverage in the face of unfair work environments.
During the talk, MacLean cited cases where unions might not necessarily save employees from events like layoffs. For instance, she explains that unions might not be able to fix discoverability, or companies that hire more employees after a successful game, only to ship a financially unsuccessful second game and layoff employees as a result.
The room for the most part was largely pro-union. And while no solution emerged from the roundtable, a sense of catharsis was noticeable among the game developers in attendance. Whether or not mass unionization in the industry happens, a pro-union voice emerged at GDC 2018, and it doesn't look like it will be quieted anytime soon.
Additional reporting contributed by Caty McCarthy.