Video games workers create union to demand rights
Workers in the video games industry have formed a union for the first time in the UK.
Excessive and unpaid overtime, precarious contracts and discrimination are all serious problems in the industry, according the the Games Workers' Union, which launched on Friday.
Now it is hoping to use collective organising to fix a "broken sector and create an ethical industry", according to founding member Dec Peach.
"For as long as I can remember it has been considered normal for games workers to endure zero-hours contracts, excessive unpaid overtime, and even sexism and homophobia as the necessary price to pay for the privilege of working in the industry," he said.
When the union holds its first meeting on Sunday, one of the biggest concerns for Mr Peach and his follow members is likely to be "crunch" – the practice of excessive unpaid overtime that's common in the industry.
In a 2016 survey by the International Games Developers' Association (IGDA), 51% of game developers said their job involved "crunch time" and a further 44% reported working long or extended hours.
Karn Bianco, a general programmer and GWU UK spokesperson, told Sky News that when he started in the industry he would work around 80 hours a week, much of which was unpaid.
"It was voluntary then, because I was so excited to be working in this industry," he said, estimating his average working week at around 80 hours. "But it didn't take long for it to affect me, and I started making an effort to work less."
Burnout is common in the video games industry. Mr Bianco said it's normal for people to last five years or so, then move on to other areas of work where conditions and pay are better.
Crunch is not the only concern. Surveys show a majority of games developers think diversity is important, but scandals like GamerGate – which saw targeted harassment, death and rape threats against women in the industry – have suggested the scene can be hostile to minorities and women.
"Diversity and inclusion is a problem in what's a majority white male industry," Mr Bianco.
"There's a lot of toxicity that doesn't necessarily come from that but certainly isn't helped. And it's something companies have historically been bad at tackling."
GWU-UK is part of the global Games Workers' Union, but in the UK it is a branch of Independent Workers of Great Britain, a union that's made waves unionising "gig-economy" workforces like Uber drivers or cycle couriers.
Some games workers share much in common with these precariously employed groups.
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According to the IGDA, 27% of employed developers had worked for three to five employers in the last five years – a figure that indicates serious volatility in the industry.
People are welcome to join the union if they are involved in any area of video game production. Artists, producers, programmers and testers – both freelance and staff – will be part of the branch.