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America’s Biggest Labor Federation Asks Game Developers to Unionize

A leading figure from America’s biggest labor organization penned an open letter to game developers encouraging unionization across the games industry.

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler took to Kotaku with a post that asks workers in the games industry to fight for adequate pay, sensible work hours, and against toxic work conditions.

“We’ve heard the painful stories of those willing to come forward, including one developer who visited the emergency room three times before taking off from work,” writes Shuler. “Developers at Rockstar Games recently shared stories of crunch time that lasted for months and even years in order to satisfy outrageous demands from management, delivering a game that banked their bosses $725 million in its first three days.”

“This is a moment for change. It won’t come from CEOs. It won’t come from corporate boards. And, it won’t come from any one person. Change will happen when you gain leverage by joining together in a strong union. And, it will happen when you use your collective voice to bargain for a fair share of the wealth you create every day.”

Shuler highlights the incongruity between current working conditions experienced by developers and the actual economic success experienced by the video game industry. “Growing by double digits, U.S. video game sales reached $43 billion in 2018, about 3.6 times greater than the film industry’s record-breaking box office,” she writes.

“While you’re fighting through exhaustion and putting your soul into a game, Bobby Kotick and Andrew Wilson are toasting to ‘their’ success,” she says.

“They get rich. They get notoriety. They get to be crowned visionaries and regarded as pioneers. What do you get? Outrageous hours and inadequate paychecks. Stressful, toxic work conditions that push you to your physical and mental limits. The fear that asking for better means risking your dream job.”

The AFL-CIO represents more than 12 million workers in the United States across more than 50 labor unions, including the Writers Guild of America.

Some of the biggest players in game development and publishing have fostered hostile and unforgiving environments where our favorite games are made. Co-founder and vice president of Rockstar Games Dan Houser seemingly bragged that staff were pulling 100-hour weeks to get the much-anticipated “Red Dead Redemption 2” ready for its launch last year. Similarly, companies like Telltale have laid off the majority of their staff with little to no notice or severance. Many developers took to Twitter afterwards to air their grievances and express their hopes for change under the hashtag #AsAGamesWorker.

Calls for unionization have gotten increasingly louder over these past years. Last year saw the formation of Game Workers Unite UK, the first and only legal trade union dedicated to representing game developers across the country.

Take This executive director Eve Crevoshay outlined the physical and mental effects of crunch in a white paper published last year. “These negative effects can be both short and long-term, and often coincide with declines in physical health, non-work social connections, productivity, turnover, and job satisfaction. There is, therefore, a moral imperative to removing long-term crunch from work environments,” she writes.

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