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gdc 2018

Game Developer Unionization Talk Stirs Amidst IGDA Concerns

by Imran Khan on Mar 21, 2018 at 09:18 PM

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At the Game Developers Conference this year, a roundtable discussion on the subject of establishing unions within the gaming industry was held under a cloud of anticipation and anxiety. The discussion, which was held and moderated by International Game Developers Association president Jen MacLean, involved a hundred or so developers in the room speaking their minds about their desires to unionize as a means to prevent poor working conditions.

The subject has been particularly touchy in recent days due to comments from MacLean herself, having made her concerns about unionization more prominent in the last few days during interviews with USGamer and Kotaku. MacLean's arguments against unionization seemed to stem from a belief that the current status quo was not disadvantageous to developers, which did not sit well with developers who believed the opposite.

As a result of MacLean's initial interview with USGamer, a group of developers formed the Game Workers Unite movement, an effort to encourage developers to unionize. Members of the movement have been passing around pamphlets all week, purporting to explain why unions in the game industry can help the creative forces behind games.

The roundtable discussion began with MacLean stating that, as the moderator of the discussion, she would likely be speaking the least and preferred to let the freeflowing exchange of ideas take charge of the room. This did not hold, however, as MacLean quickly found herself outnumbered by an overwhelming ratio of pro-union attendees.

The tone of the discussion was overall genial, but it was clear before too long that both sides disagreed on the fundamental issue with little common ground. About halfway through the panel, MacLean asked the room if there were any game developer concerns that unionizing would fail to address or make worse, only to be met with silence. She then relayed a story about union plumbers that fought against plumbing improvements in a building and demanded money for unnecessary improvements.

When pressed on how the anecdote applied to the video game industry by a person in the crowd, MacLean demurred and chose to move on.

Had a vote been held in the room right then, it is exceedingly likely that game developer unions would have been formed today, based on the air of the room. Developers planning and trying to unionize have a much longer battle ahead than one room, however, though it seems almost inevitable at this point.

Game Developers Conference is currently being held in San Francisco.