Throughout history, workers have been fighting for their right to have better working conditions, including higher pay, better hours, and health care benefits. But it seems that the video game industry has not moved forward, like most media industries, to provide improved treatment for it’s game developers. Issues such as overworking, sexism, and mass layoffs have become commonplace in an industry that is now almost as big as Hollywood.
Riot Games, the video game company known for their work on the game League of Legends, is the latest to come under fire due to allegations of employee mistreatment across the board. A handful of ex-employees have come out to state the issues that they’ve experienced at Riot Games, such as double standards, glass ceilings, and sexual harassment. This is all taking place in a company where 80% of employees are male and 21 of the 23 senior executives are men, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Riot isn’t the only studio with their fair share of controversy. Telltale Games, a studio known for their story-driven games like The Walking Dead, have also been widely criticized for overworking their employees, making them work 14-20 hours a day, and sometimes upwards of 100 hours a week, to meet deadlines. This was in addition to the sudden mass-firing of most of their staff following the recent announcement that the studio will be shutting down. A former employee of the company is suing the studio via class action lawsuit, stating that Telltale laid off their employees without cause and without providing them with an advance written notice, which is required by law.
In comparison to other entertainment industries, like film and television, where rules and regulations are in place to ensure the rights of actors, voice actors, and screenwriters, the gaming industry’s decentralized nature has allowed it to move along without repercussion. With multiple studios operating around the world under different publishers, forming and maintaining unified regulations has been much more difficult. This is unlike Hollywood, which has had unions for decades that protect workers across many fields. Gaming studios, on the other hand, often hire contractors without benefits, such as unemployment insurance or workers’ comp, for a short period of time to save more.
However, during this year’s Game Developer Conference, a possible solution to this concerning job instability was unveiled to the public: Game Workers Unite. This union strives to improve working conditions of employees that work within the game industry. As a grassroots democratic organization, it seeks to help exploited workers and pro-union activists across the world and connect with these people to build a unionized game industry.
Many anti-labor companies, even those outside the gaming industry, argue that involving unions and improving wages will result in an end product of lesser quality. However, French game studio Motion Twins, who pays every employee the exact same wage, may have just proved them wrong. During The Game Awards this year, they won “Best Action Game” for their game Dead Cells. With this unprecedented achievement, the argument against better treatment of workers no longer seems to hold water. Hopefully, the future of the gaming industry will continue to be paved by more up and coming unions and progressive employers to finally give the hard workers behind these widely beloved video games what they deserve.
by Jean Santiago