On December 9, crowds gathered for the annual Game Awards, a glitzy Oscar-like red carpet event in Los Angeles, with orchestral performances and game industry executives donning costumes and heels.
As the gaming worlds paraded inside, several workers stood outside the entrances, holding up signs calling on Activision Blizzard to rehire 12 contractors made redundant the previous week. On the same day, an independent games studio was preparing to announce that it would become the first unionized games company in North America.
This contrast – between the brilliance of an awards ceremony and the toil of those who work in the industry – is emblematic of the position in which the video game industry currently finds itself: while game companies videos rake in billions of dollars, their workers complain about unfair labor practices. , long hours, sexual harassment and misconduct at work. Video game companies in North America have never organized successfully. That changed on December 16, when a union of independent developer Vodeo Games was recognized by management.
“There has been a lot of groundwork in the games industry over the past few years in terms of union awareness,” said Vodeo creator Carolyn Jong. “I don’t think there is a perfect place to work. “
Vodeo’s unionization comes as one of the world’s largest gaming companies, Activision Blizzard, faces multiple lawsuits and government investigations into its workplace culture and allegations of sexual misconduct and discrimination. In response, Activision Blizzard employees have called on the CEO to resign, have launched strikes and are circulating union authorization cards in an attempt to organize. Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment.
Vodeo has approximately 13 employees in the United States and Canada, managed solely by independent game developer Asher Vollmer. The new union, Vodeo Workers United, works with Communications Workers of America, a large media union that also works with workers at Activision Blizzard.
In the past, gambling workers avoided publicly denouncing their employer, as this could tarnish their reputation in the industry and make it difficult to find future jobs. But after decades of big game companies expecting employees to work 80 or 90 hours a week and workers fearing retaliation from management, Vodeo employees told The Post the trend was starting to change. change.
“For Americans, at least in general, a lot of people don’t know about unions,” said Vodeo game director Chris Floyd. “Myself, a few years ago, I didn’t know much about how it worked. I think that’s probably still true for a lot of people in video games and outside of video games. And so we start to educate ourselves.
What is happening in the games industry at Activision Blizzard and Vodeo is unprecedented. No game company like Activision Blizzard has made headlines with trial after trial for months before, complemented by an explosive Wall Street Journal report in November that claimed CEO Bobby Kotick failed to brief the board. directors of the company for years of allegations of sexual misconduct. A petition calling for Kotick’s resignation that has circulated among employees has collected more than 1,850 signatures.
Gaming industry workers have already fought back to some extent. In 2006, Electronic Arts settled a class action lawsuit paying workers $ 14.9 million for overtime owed to them. And in Europe, the Solidaires Informatique union of French workers challenged Activision Blizzard’s plan to lay off 134 workers in its studio in Versailles in 2019, delaying layoffs by a year.
The CWA worked with Activision Blizzard employees to organize a strike fund and get union cards signed so that company employees could vote on forming a union. So far, Activision Blizzard workers have raised more than $ 340,000 in funds for those who cannot afford to stop working and lose their wages. Workers are still collecting signatures.
At least several dozen Activision Blizzard workers across the company are in the midst of their third work stoppage after a lawsuit filed by a California state agency alleging widespread sexual harassment and misconduct at the company . The strike is in its third week as workers demand that management rehire 12 contractors from Call of Duty developer Raven Software and promote all of Raven’s QA testers to full-time status. Some in-person demonstrations have taken place at the Austin, TX quality assurance office.
Activision Blizzard management responded to employees in a December 10 email that the ongoing work to improve the corporate culture would be better done without a union. Executive Director Brian Bulatao sent the email to the entire company, stating, “We only ask that you take the time to consider the implications of your signing on the binding legal document presented to you by the CWA. “
The company has not responded to specific walkout requests from workers as its studios head for the holidays.
Activision Blizzard’s tumultuous battle with lawsuits, government investigations and worker protests has led Wall Street analysts to downgrade its stock. Unionization would further reduce the market value of the company, according to Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush Securities.
“If they were successful (in organizing), the company would have to determine whether to recognize the union or break it down,” Pachter said. “If only hourly workers chose to unionize, Activision could decide whether it is cheaper to recognize them or export their jobs to a non-union place.”
This possibility is emerging for workers in the industry.
“I fear for my job,” said Aubrey Ryan, an entrepreneur working for Blizzard. “Even though I’m fired, I’ve been part of a movement that’s going to change the gaming industry. I might not benefit from it, but future people like me will.