Game Workers Unite Argentina: Labor organization in the videogames industry

We announced that we were going to start publishing videos and this is the first one. It’s about bad labor practices in the videogames industry, and the need for workers to confront them by organizing. It also doubles as a semi-official announcement for GWU Argentina, a new project started by some people here at Matajuegos, and ideally maintained and continued by many of you ?

Video transcription

In the Argentine and international videogame community, there are media outlets (which underpay their employees) who sometimes denounce game studios for underpaying their employees, who are the ones that actually make the games that the media talks about and that generate profit for the game studios who lay their employees off once they no longer need them because they finished developing a game… And it’s all very confusing, but it happens so often that it’s clear these aren’t just stand-alone cases but rather, how the industry works as a system.

1) What happens every time

Studios promise release dates but game development hits roadblocks and surprises come up, employees have to work overtime (almost never paid) to fulfil the promised release date, and when they finish the game there are fewer tasks to go around and layoffs start to occur (almost always without severance).

All of this for salaries that are systematically lower than those of similar roles in other tech industries, less vacation time, and lack of paternity leave, with the common narrative being that you should be grateful that you’re working on something you’re passionate about, and all of this is considerably worse if you aren’t lucky enough to be a straight, cis, middle-class man.

There are exceptions, of course there are exceptions, but the point is to change the industry so the positive cases stop being the exceptions and become the norm.

2) Solutions?

In many regions, several studio owners, investors, and industry leaders are working to improve these conditions, and no doubt many more of them are working to maintain these conditions as they are, so they don’t have to start paying proper salaries nor examine the most toxic aspects of their businesses.

While all of this happens, what can be done by us, the overwhelming majority, the workers who make the games and suffer the exploitation?

The answer is…

3) Organize

Talking about these issues, raising awareness about exploitation in the games industry, spreading literature, seeking and giving legal advice, knowing that similar things occur in other industries and even worse happens in others, caring for the wellbeing of our colleagues without divisions of discipline, from the person who cleans the bathroom at the studio to the one who codes and designs the user interface many miles away, discussing salaries and raises with your peers, especially if you’re a man and you suspect your colleagues earn less because they aren’t, making sure severance is paid after layoffs, negotiating raises collectively so studios have a greater incentive to accept… all of this is organizing. And all of this is going to be vital if we want this industry to prosper, and for us, the people who belong to it to have fulfilling, healthy lives without having to sacrifice our wellbeing for the creation of a game.

4) GWU

There are several organizing efforts for workers in videogames.

In Matajuegos we’ve already written about one such effort that was formed spontaneously last year, Game Workers Unite. They are dedicated to informing and advising videogame workers across the world through their many local chapters.

Some of us here at Matajuegos decided that such an effort is sorely needed in our country, and that is why we’re thrilled to present to you… Game Workers Unite Argentina, the official GWU branch in the Provincias Unidas del Sud.

It is not a union, and it doesn’t depend on Matajuegos in any way other than sharing a couple of founders.

We have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and, more importantly, a membership request form in case you work in the industry and would like to be a part of the conversation and know what kinds of protections you have in your workplace.

(There is no law that says you have to tell your boss you’re a member, neither of Game Workers Unite nor of any official unions.)

The truth is, this project is still just beginning, and we’d love to count on your help to improve the lives of the thousands of people who make the games we love.