Ustwo's In a Complicated "Fampany" Feud

Ustwo's In a Complicated "Fampany" Feud

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | The Monument Valley developer's dismissal of a pro-union employee shines a light on the studio's unfortunate portmanteau of "family" and "company."

After a few weeks of grab bag columns, we finally have a nice, clean theme to work with in unionization. While none of the union stories we'll talk about were high-profile enough to make the subject a focus throughout the industry, what they might lack in spectacle they made up in quantity. But there's one thing I'm completely stuck on, which I'll get to after these first two quotes:

QUOTE | "Austin and his family are not only left without their main source of income, but also unsure if they will have to uproot their whole lives and leave the country in a few weeks. The union will not stand idly by in the face of this unlawful and vicious act, and is determined to fight back until this decision is reversed, either voluntarily or through the courts." - Game Workers Unite UK branch secretary Jamie Cross excoriates Monument Valley and Assemble With Care developer Ustwo Games for allegedly firing programmer Austin Kelmore for his unionization efforts.

QUOTE | "Simply put, the heartbeat of our fampany culture is real, genuine friendship." - Ustwo, in its "cultural manifesto," explains how the company is also a family (hence "fampany"), but, you know, one of those families that occasionally fires people for suspect reasons.

Now that you've read those quotes, this is what I'm stuck on and really wish employers could understand: Companies are not families. Families (for the most part) do not let members go because they have been unmotivated lately or showed up late too many times. They do not let them go because revenues for the last quarter came in shy of expectations. Families do not have shareholders who are legally entitled to have the family do everything it can to increase value. They do not lay off hundreds of members when things are going swell just because they want to look better for those shareholders.

"Family" is about the last word I want to hear from a corporation, right up there with "passion." Speaking of…

QUOTE | "From senior employees and management we sometimes hear about 'passionate employees' as the reason for the overtime, shifting the blame for the crunch on the individual employee. Our survey shows the opposite—60% of respondents credited crunch to bad planning and pressure from management. Only 4% credited it to collegial culture." - Henrik Ehrenberg, policy director of Swedish trade union Unionen, underscores a discrepancy in the way employers see their situation and the way employees see it.

QUOTE | "It pains us that it was impossible for us to give everyone a sufficient notice." - Sauropod Studio co-founders express regret at how they dropped virtually the entire staff and labelled them temporary layoffs, in a statement that stresses the studio has not shut down and hopes to rehire employees in 2020. It has pledged to pay the proper severance owed if it cannot afford to rehire employees and continue as a going concern next year.

QUOTE | "It was simply a matter of they wouldn't go union. And I can't do a non-union gig." - Troy Baker explains why Gearbox re-cast his role from Tales from the Borderlands, bringing in Ray Chase to voice Rhys in Borderlands 3.

QUOTE | "Upon review of all the evidence in the case, it was of the opinion of counsel that the evidence exonerated Randy Pitchford from the allegations against him; all misunderstandings between the parties have been corrected, and apologies were exchanged." - A joint statement from Gearbox, Pitchford, and former Gearbox lawyer Wade Callender made as they reached an agreement to drop their lawsuits against one another. The misunderstandings included claims that Callender refused to pay back more than $300,000 in loans from Gearbox while he worked there, that Pitchford took $12 million in advance royalties that should have gone to Gearbox employees, and that Pitchford lost an unsecured USB drive with confidential company information and his personal collection of underage pornography at a Medieval Times in Dallas.

QUOTE | "So Heavy Rain is so much not about sex and violence, it's about characters and emotions. Even if Fox News comes and plays the game and says it's about sex, the whole community of gamers, I'm sure, will stand up and throw stones at them. That's what I hope. I count on you guys." - Quantic Dream's David Cage, in a Eurogamer Expo session 10 years ago this month, providing an example of how gaming culture has tacitly condoned weaponizing its audience for generations, and why we maybe shouldn't be so surprised with the mountain of toxic behavior the industry has seen from its customers in recent years.

QUOTE | "When we were designing those games back then, we weren't thinking in terms of, 'How do we get people to come back daily in order to increase our [day 2] or [day 7] return rate,' which is sort of the metrics-driven way of thinking of things. We didn't approach it that way. We were always thinking, 'We need this person to come back next month.' And that drives a different mindset. It puts you in the mindset that we're building long-term relationships here." - Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster says many games-as-a-service makers have taken the wrong lessons from early MMOs.

STAT | $35.42 - The average cost to acquire a single paying player in a mobile free-to-play game, according to a report by app marketing company Liftoff.

QUOTE | "I don't want to spend three years of my life working on a project without trying to talk about subjects that are important to me." - Dontnod's Michael Koch explains why the Life is Strange studio's games aren't shy about dealing with weighty, divisive subject matter.

STAT | 52% - The year-over-year decline in Fortnite's US revenues for July, according to consumer spending tracker Edison Trends.

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Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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