Game studios are changing the industry by unionizing
The gaming industry is changing. After years of groundwork over the past decade, laid out on social media and in assembly halls like the Game Developers Conference, workers are unionizing in their struggle against a history of overwork, low wages and harassment. Unions are on the rise in the gaming industry as workers seek meaningful and sustainable change.
Industry change follows a national trend in labor organizing: Over the past few years, there has been a rise in union elections and unfair labor complaints as workers pledge to make a change in their workplaces. You can see this reflected in the headlines, too — along with unionization efforts at Activision Blizzard and Microsoft, campaigns are ongoing at big companies like Apple, Google, and Starbucks.
These are gaming companies where workers join unions. We will keep this list updated as more unions emerge across the industry.
Activision Blizzard made headlines in 2021 after the California Department of Civil Rights (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) sued World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty publisher over widespread alleged harassment and sexual harassment. (Activision Blizzard itself sued CRD over the lawsuit in 2022.) That led to a flurry of accusations and lawsuits, including a settled $18 million lawsuit with the EEOC. Workers also took action: More than 1,000 workers walked out in July 2021, and since then, efforts to organize have continued. Its three unions – two officially recognized through elections to the National Labor Relations Board – are made up entirely of QA workers. QA workers often feel left out, and are subjected to low wages, precarious contracts, and brutal overwork.
Activision Blizzard has repeatedly moved to block unionization efforts, maintaining the view that all workers at the respective studios should vote in union elections, not just QA workers. Several unfair labor complaints were filed against the company, alleging anti-union sentiment and union breach.
While unionization efforts were underway at the company, Activision Blizzard converted all of its contract workers into full-time employees—a benefit workers attribute to the organizing effort.
Activision Blizzard expects to be acquired by Microsoft as part of a $68.7 billion deal. The US Federal Trade Commission is suing Microsoft in an effort to challenge the deal. After the deal was announced, Microsoft signed a neutrality agreement with Communications Workers of America, promising not to interfere with union efforts at the company. The deal on Microsoft’s part is seen by some as an attempt to smooth the acquisition through the FTC, but regardless, it benefits those working at Microsoft and possibly Activision Blizzard if the deal goes through.
Blizzard Albany, formerly Vicarious Visions, is working on Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo franchise, including upcoming series Diablo 4. It was the second studio within Activision Blizzard to successfully syndicate; Quality assurance workers there won their vote 14-0 in December 2022, after a number of alleged union-busting efforts, according to the CWA.
The next step for the group is to enter into contract negotiations with Activision Blizzard.
Raven Software is the first studio within Activision Blizzard to unionize, an effort that began in December 2021 as Call of Duty: Warzone QA workers walked out in protest of what they saw as unfair layoffs of contract workers. The QA workers announced their union bid in January 2022 and met resistance from Activision Blizzard: management attempted to restructure the company and the QA bargaining unit was ruled ineligible to vote. A judge ruled in favor of the Quality Assurance union after hearings. Raven’s software workers, called the Game Workers Alliance, won their union votes in May 2022 and are represented by the CWA.
Boston-based studio Proletariat announced the filing of its union petition in late December 2022. The Charm The developer was acquired by Activision Blizzard in June 2022; Charm It was closed, and the team is now working on it World of Warcraft. The election date has not been set by the NLRB. Like Activision Blizzard’s other syndication studios, Proletariat is represented by the CWA.
The proposed unit of the proletariat includes all positions outside management – about 60 workers currently.
Federation’s foothold in the gaming industry is not limited to the United States. Studios in Canada are also making strides to organize their workplaces. Developer Anemone Hug Interactive, which supports Hardspace: Shipbreaker and is currently working on an original game, which will be voted to unionize in 2022. The Anemone Hug Federation is part of the Canadian Animation Guild, and the International Alliance of Theater Employees Domestic 938. IATSE largely serves entertainment professionals internationally, while animation British Columbian Animation The unit focuses on local animators – and now game developers.
Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity workers, who make the card game of the same name, unionized in 2020 with the Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United after a report alleged a racist and sexist culture at the company; Cards Against Humanity management recognized the unit, and the group successfully completed contract negotiations to secure better benefits, including a succession clause. This could be enacted if the owners sold the company.
The workers at Cards Against Humanity were likely the first in their industry to unionize.
Contract QA workers who support BioWare Dragon Age: Dreddwolf At Keywords Edmonton location, Union Voted June 2022. Like Anemone Hug, Words Studios is a Canadian studio; Their election passed through the Alberta Labor Relations Board, where the group is organized under the Canadian Food and Trade Workers Federation, Local 401.
KWS Edmonton United, the union, began organizing after management implemented a return-to-office order that workers did not agree with — commuting costs too much given their low salaries and the studio does not offer paid time off when sick, they said. .
Microsoft’s business neutrality agreement with the CWA went into effect in June 2022, when it promised not to interfere with unionization at the company — including at Activision Blizzard, should the acquisition go ahead. This is not a popular approach according to business experts, and may have been influenced by the acquisition itself, which is under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission. Regardless, the deal benefits workers who wish to organize with the CWA.
We saw this in practice when QA workers at several ZeniMax studios announced their desire to unionize.
Approximately 300 quality assurance workers at ZeniMax Media have unionized under the CWA. The group, called ZeniMax Workers United, has avoided NLRB elections because of its neutrality deal with Microsoft. Instead, workers voted through union credentials or an online portal to prove the company’s interest. An overwhelming majority of those 300 workers voted “yes,” and Microsoft recognized the union.
It was a much faster process than the traditional route, as evidenced by the efforts at Activision Blizzard. ZeniMax Workers United includes the employees of Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, and ZeniMax Online’s Maryland and Texas offices.
The next step is for ZeniMax to nominate a negotiating committee and move on to contract negotiations.
United Paizo Workers formed in 2021, making it one of the foremost unions in the industry. Paizo is one of the largest publishers of tabletop role-playing games. It is responsible for both Pathfinder and Starfinder. Workers at the studio accused the Washington state-based company of unequal pay, harassment, and “administrative irregularities”. Baizu voluntarily recognized the union, and collective bargaining began soon after.
UPW has reached a tentative agreement With Paizo’s administration on certain topics in early December 2022, including benefits, remote work, vacations, and business hours. Haggling will continue until both parties agree to all terms.
Los Angeles-based indie studio Tender Claws announced its union petition in July 2022 — the entire proposed unit supported the effort. The group is called Tender Claws Human Union, a reference to their game Virtual virtual reality Which includes an in-game union of humans working for AI. Tender Claws management recognized the union with representation from the CWA; Contract negotiations began in November and are still ongoing.
Vodeo Games (now defunct)
Vodeo Games’ first and only title is monster breakerwhich is a role-playing game mixed with a bit of beagle. The video game studio is now defunct, shutting down in 2022 due to lack of funds. But the impact its workers have had on the video game industry is still significant: Vodeo Workers United, represented by the CWA, was the first video game industry association in North America.
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