This whole union thing

The question isn’t if people are for it or not. The question is: how can we build a strong union in the world of game development? And the answer is, mostly, we can’t.

Here’s what unions do: they bargain. In order to bargain effectively, you need leverage. What does it mean within the game industry? It means that unionized developers can go like “we know exactly how long and how much it costs to make a game, and we know that 99% of the time; here’s what we demand”.

The problem with game development is that 99% of the time, we don’t fucking know that. At all. Ever. It doesn’t matter if the team has 300 years’ worth of experience, shipping games left and right. We never know. I don’t know, even 19 years in. 40-year-old veterans don’t either. Making games is that complicated.

That’s why the VFX industry is in the same boat: finishing the next Marvel’s special effects will take the time it will take (aka crunch/burnout). And this is also why online writers could unionize easily: they know EXACTLY how long it takes to write 5,000 words. Now you can negotiate. Same with TV and movies. We know EXACTLY, production-wise how long it takes to shoot a scene, multiple scenes, if it needs additional writing etc. Every single thing in TV and movie production has a price attached to it. In gamedev? At best a pretty wide range. We never. Fucking. Know.

Outside of my domain, audio, we mostly have ZERO standard processes. Every game is slightly –and by that I mean different enough- weirder than the other and considering a shit-ton of variables (type of game, team experience, country where it’s made, when it’s made, the tools and what not), we don’t have solid leverage to bargain. I thought our production processes would standardize and help sustaining our lives in the past fifteen years. It just never happened. Constant tech upgrade prevented us from solidifying production.

So for one game union to work would require that union to be solely part of one studio and that would mean that this is a weak union. Which means it probably won’t exist nor should it. If it’s only one union for say, software engineers but not audio designers, it won’t last either. We’re all game developers, the union needs to cover us all.

Having unions isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s necessary when it’s necessary. But can it be done? Looking at the way our industry has been working for the past 40 years, I’d say no. Decent, full-time jobs should make up for the lack of unions, though. Because the industry –especially GaaS- needs those.

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