The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the largest labour organization in the United States, published an open letter on Kotaku, a video game website and blog, last week. The letter urges the video game industry workers to unionize and voice their support for better treatment within the workplace. The letter is from secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler and this is the first time when AFL-CIO has made a public statement about unionizing game developers.
Shuler talks about the struggles of game developers and the unfair treatment that they go through in terms of work conditions, job instability, and inadequate pay in the letter. Shuler mentions that although U.S. video game sales reached $43 billion in 2018 ( which is 3.6 times larger than the film industry’s record-breaking box office) and is a “stunning accomplishment” for the game developers, they are still not getting the respect that they deserve.
“You’ve built new worlds, designed new challenges and ushered in a new era of entertainment. Now it’s time for industry bosses to start treating you with hard-earned dignity and respect”, writes Shuler.
She mentions that game developers often work for outrageous hours in a stressful and toxic work condition, unable to ask for better due to the fear of losing their jobs. She gives an example of developers at Rockstar Games who shared their experiences of “crunch time” (when the pressure to succeed is extreme) lasting months and sometimes even years to meet the unreal demands from management and deliver a game that made their bosses earn $725 million in its first three days. “They get rich. They get notoriety. They get to be crowned visionaries and regarded as pioneers. What do you get?”, writes Shuler.
According to Shuler, this is a moment for change and change will come when developers come together as a strong union by using their “collective voice” to ask for a “fair share of wealth” that the game developers create every day. She writes that the CEOs and the bosses would treat the developers right only when they stand together and demand it.
“You have the power to demand a stake in your industry and a say in your economic future. Whether we’re mainlining caffeine in Santa Monica, clearing tables in Chicago or mining coal in West Virginia, we deserve to collect nothing less than the full value of our work”, states Shuler.
Public reaction to the news is mostly positive, with some people calling out for a better and stronger alternative than unions:
— Mystery Science Kwertzy (@kwertzy) February 15, 2019
There's also the issue that there's really no rule that says a game studio has to give you credit for your work. If you work on a game for 7 out of 8 years and then quit because they try to make you crunch, your name can be taken out of the credits.
— Connor (@getglitched) February 15, 2019
I'm a huge proponent of unionization. However, I don't think that unions are for every kind of job. For instance, too many people work in this industry. And then there are those who aspire to do so. Those who can't afford to pay union dues will be pushed out.pt1
— moediggity (@moesidegaming) February 16, 2019
This is, by far, one of the most futile gestures ever. Unions are now weak and rare because they destroy the industries they get a foothold in. Just ask the major airlines like Eastern, Pan Am, Braniff… oh wait. We can’t.
— Andrew Graf von Seeland (@legend500) February 16, 2019
YES! ORGANIZE! pic.twitter.com/MJJHYYFsbc
— Don't Blame Me I Voted for Vermin Supreme (@turnageb) February 15, 2019
Check out the complete letter here.