The answer is yes, duh.
Earlier this year, Activision fired 800 people from across its lines of business. Some of those people directly helped make your favorite games. Others were play-testers, analysts, middle- and low-level designers, people in clerical roles, and support reps. And the reason they lost their jobs, unceremoniously, many of them stuck in the parking lot waiting outside for the bad news, is because – Activision had an amazing 2018, financially. But not as amazing as they would have liked.
Yeah. Eight hundred people lost their jobs because the business’s fiscal year was okay, not horrible. You know. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
One guy, a designer, was here on a work visa. He has 60 days to find a replacement employer or he’ll get deported.
But if you ask the CEO of Activision, Bobby Kotick, 2018 was a record year. It was such a record year for Activision’s revenue that when Kotick rehired Dennis Durkin as Chief Financial Officer, he awarded Durkin a $15m signing bonus. Kotick himself makes over $30m a year, or 306 times what the average Activision employee makes.
It’s too late for the 800 skilled-yet-unemployed workers who helped Activision rake in $1.8bn last year. But it’s not too late for the rest of Activision’s workforce, and it’s not to late for the slew of other companies in the triple-A game space. Companies like Ubisoft, Bungie (who got out from under Activision’s thrall), Rockstar and others for whom long periods of crunch and other harsh working conditions are common. Those companies, in solidarity with any independent game worker who believes in a working environment that doesn’t treat them like trash, are prime unionization zones.
What does unionization entail? It’s simple. Unionization helps create the infrastructure at a given workplace for employees to band together without fear of losing their jobs for doing so. By banding together, unionized workers can demand better working conditions, an end to workplace injustices, better pay, and a more ethical working environment overall. Using a variety of tactics, including strike actions and collective bargaining, unions can help make everyone’s lives better.
And if you don’t work for a video game developer, don’t worry – your life is made better by unions, too! The video game industry is currently in the grip of a very pernicious plague. Companies want to make games into “live services” and essentially hook you and your wallet up to a cash vacuum indefinitely. As it stands, triple-A game developers and publishers like Activision don’t have an incentive to change this state of affairs. They’re pushing their workers to produce more content at a faster rate with more monetization methods like lootboxes and other microtransactions, and it’s hurting the quality of life of those workers, as well as the quality of the games they’re making. If you’re tired of annual-release games with a bevy of glorified gambling mechanics tacked on, chances are so are the workers who had to put those features into the latest Call of Duty release.
Stand up with those workers and stop spending your money on microtransactions. Demand that these companies unionize. Demand that the steady stream of bullshit stops.
Here’s the thing, though. Consumer action won’t accomplish anything without employee action, and vice versa. Boycotts will only get non-unionized workers fired, and unionization without consumer support has a greater chance of failure. If we all act in solidarity with each other, however, there’s a greater chance of success across the board.
So should game devs unionize? Absolutely. That means that game consumers will have to group together as well.
I wrote this back earlier this year. Since then, there have been some developments. A number of video game news websites (and online publications in general) have begun unionizing so that writers can protect themselves in the event that companies try mass layoffs, and so they can be paid fairly for their work. Freelancers have jumped in on the unionization action as well, with groups like the IWW Freelance Journalists Union (@IWWFJU) leading the call for contract writers to be treated fairly, paid a living wage and given the dignity they deserve as working people.
Should video game journalists and freelancers unionize? Hell yeah we should. Solidarity forever with all new tech industry unionization efforts. Even if our labor is not the same, we deserve respect.