Welcome back to another thrilling issue of the Game Workers Unite magazine. By the time this mag, hot off the presses, reaches your shaking, excited hands, GWU will be celebrating its first anniversary. We thought we'd take a moment to reflect on the tidings of the past year, both good and ill.
Let's start with the ill. Telltale, Capcom Vancouver, Visceral, Big Fish, Disney Canada, Six Foot, Trion Worlds, Carbine, Motiga, Boss Key, Runic, Bartlet Jones, Wargaming Seattle, Gazillion, Eugen, Firemonkeys, ArenaNet and NCSoft, GOG, Techland, NetEase, Valve, and Activision Blizzard — and forgive us if we've forgotten anyone, it's been a little hard to keep count — all suffered mass layoffs or were shuttered outright.
You might not recognize all these names, but if you've been in the industry for a while there's a good chance you know someone who's been affected. Between September and October 2018 alone, at least 800 game workers lost their jobs. February 2019's toll stands at at least 1000 lost jobs. With the swift drop of an axe, the Firemonkeys layoffs singlehandedly shrank the Australian games industry workforce by 5% — just months after they extended an invitation to former Capcom and Telltale employees on Twitter noting they were hiring. All in all, thousands of industry jobs have been lost over the past year.
Why are all these layoffs happening, you ask? Why, record-breaking revenues, of course! In a press release to investors the day layoffs started at Activision, CEO Bobby Kotick wrote: "While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn't realize our full potential." (Full potential? Seriously? He sounds like a parent disowning their child for getting perfect grades and an inbox full of scholarship offers. We'd also be remiss to fail to note that Kotick himself is one of the highest-paid CEOs — not just in the games industry, not just in tech, not just in America, but everywhere, of all time.) Elsewhere, Telltale's fall from massive critical and commercial success, widely attributed to routine mismanagement and nearsighted pursuit of profit on the part of its shareholders, is by now well-documented.
It's been a rough, scary year for those of us working in the industry, and signs don't point to things getting better anytime soon. But we're starting to fight back.
In that same year of tumult, over 25 local chapters of Game Workers Unite were founded around the world. Earlier this year, GWU UK formed an official trade union in partnership with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), joining the Syndicat des Travailleuse·eur·s du Jeu Vidéo (STJV) in France and the Game Makers of Finland as one of the first official unions representing game workers. GWU members have made zines, pamphlets, and other literature, and we've organized or taken part in dozens of panels, presentations, workshops, and public events. We've spoken to press, podcasters, and YouTubers, and helped shine a light on working conditions in the industry and the urgent need for unionization.
But more than all that, we've been engaging in on-the-ground organizing. We've been forming workplace committees and building collective power to win concrete demands. There's a lot of underground work happening that you won't hear about because of the risks for the workers involved, but we've already helped win gratifying legal victories against some of the industry's most powerful bosses and reclaim stolen wages. This is arguably the most critical work we've been doing. Organizing is a long haul, and doing it in the open would only put workers' jobs and well-being on the line. But a sea change is happening, even if you can't feel the waves from the shore.
Crucially, we're not alone. The international labour movement is picking up steam: in India, between 150 and 200 million workers joined a general strike against the Modi government's anti-labour policies. (For context, a strike of comparable size in Europe would include the entire combined labour force of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.) The 2018 US prison strike, where inmates demanded an end to prison slavery, dehumanizing conditions, and racial discrimination, saw participation in at least 17 states and solidarity actions across North America and around the globe.
Even in the tech sector (which historically has not been fertile ground for labour organizing) significant movements and actions are taking place. At Google, employees banded together to protest military AI contracts and organized a walkout against sexual harassment and a culture hostile to marginalized people. At Microsoft, workers are organizing against the use of their products for border policing and the surveillance of journalists and activists and against the militarization of consumer technology like the Hololens (which also concerns us, as many of these technologies are also developed for or used in games). Groups like Tech Workers Coalition are gaining traction as they support these struggles, and others, across their industry.
Meanwhile, an international wave of strikes in education, healthcare, hospitality, transportation, and many other industries showcased the scale and scope of workers' dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Together, we have the capacity to build a better, fairer, and more sustainable future for workers all around the globe. If you're a worker in games, abuses like mass layoffs, crunch, and harassment might seem like unavoidable realities of the industry. But they don't have to be. Join us.