Chicago Perspectives on Game Industry Unionization

Posted on April 30th, by Heather Decker in Events, Featured. No Comments

Chicago Perspectives on Game Industry Unionization

On April 25, 2018, IGDA Chicago facilitated a roundtable discussion on the topic of unionization in our local game development industry, with the goal of sharing key points and perspectives from the community. Roughly 35-40 attendees with a variety of backgrounds and experience levels participated in this open forum. The three discussion questions presented and attendee responses are noted below.

Based on your experiences in the Chicago game industry, what are the primary issues that need to be solved?

  • Crunch
  • Exploitation of Recent Grads and Contract Workers
    • very low wages or unpaid internships
  • Lack of Severance Assistance
    • assistance post-layoff via compensation (including unused PTO and extended healthcare benefits,) placement services, referrals, resume services
  • Exploitative Labor Practices
    • offering a lower wage or position upon layoff, or otherwise attempting to skirt labor laws
    • wage theft, including delayed or unreceived payments
  • Non-competes and inability to work on personal work/projects or game jams outside of work
  • Hiring practices
    • including diversity at studios, promotional ability within the company, mobility within the company
  • HR that does not actually protect employees
  • Respect for non-production team roles (community, quality assurance, etc.)
  • Proper credit on titles

What are the potential benefits of unionization in the Chicago game industry?
For small studios (20-25)? Large studios (100+)? Freelancers?

Attendees from IATSE Local 476 shared that film unions have scale levels for different project sizes and budgets, and offer multiple layers of protection.

  • Benefits to Employees of Small Studios, Large Studios, and Freelancers
    • Standardization of wages
      • knowing how much your time is worth
      • some attendees were discouraged from sharing wage info among peers
    • Knowing your rights
    • Having advocates
    • Potential layoff unemployment funds
    • Game credit tracking
    • Retirement funds
  • Benefits to Employees of Mid and Large Studios
    • Unions could negotiate the percentage of outsourced work
  • Benefits to Small Studio Leadership
    • Giving more structure to startups
    • Knowing how much the work costs for the purpose of budget planning and publisher approval
  • Benefits to Freelancers
    • Individual freelancers could be protected by the bylaws of unions, including health insurance options
    • More predictable project cycles

What are the potential challenges of unionization in the Chicago game industry?
For small studios (20-25)? Large studios (100+)? Freelancers?

The perspective was shared that union leadership and term limits are important to ensuring unions are effective.

  • Challenges for Employees of Small Studios, Large Studios, and Freelancers
    • Ensuring companies are educated on proper processes when considering unionization or working with unions
    • Ensuring workers are educated on their rights when considering unionization
    • The presence of unions could discourage businesses from considering Chicago
    • Potentially a larger barrier for entry for those breaking into the field
    • Potential for retaliation
  • Challenges for Employees of Large Studios
    • Companies may choose not to work with people who are associating with unions or talking about them
    • Companies may send work elsewhere
  • Challenges for Small Studio Leadership
    • May be concerned about starting up in Chicago
  • Challenges for Freelancers
    • Concerns about adopting discipline-specific unions in game development
      • flexibility to accept work from different discipline categories without joining multiple unions
      • flexability to accept work that is not specifically in games, such as opportunities in film and related media
    • adopting the local union model when many opportunities may involve remote work across multiple states or countries

IGDA Chicago would like to thank all of the attendees who offered their perspectives on the topics presented. It is our goal to facilitate the sharing of information that supports the future of our local game development industry.

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