Co-op Myths vs Realities & Vancouver Visit

What do game developers know about worker co-operatives and their possibility to reimagine how labour is structured? This is one of many questions we asked for If You Don’t Like the Game, Change the Rules, a comic and white paper that discuss unions, worker co-ops, and labour issues in the Canadian game industry. Over the next few months we’ll be posting little excerpts while we’re touring the project.

Join Marie LeBlanc Flanagan in Vancouver on Saturday, November 18 to pick up your free copy of the comic! Marie is speaking as a keynote speaker for Creative Campfire and will be hosting a conversation about exploring alternative labour structures like co-ops and unions to encourage radical change in the industry! Register for Creative Campfire tickets here. (For further tour stops and to invite us to your community, see the bottom of the post!)

Worker co-operatives are not well understood, with many misconceptions around salaries, hierarchies, and long-term sustainability. However, while they have only recently emerged in the Canadian game industry, we can look toward a long history of co-ops around the world! The Mondragon Corporation in Spain and Pascual Boing in Mexico have been around for decades and Canada is home to co-ops ranging from cafes to renewable energy projects. In fact, a 2006 report by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (CWCF) found that there are over 300 worker co-operatives in Canada employing over ten thousand people.

Throughout our research, our participants shared their own preconceptions about the labour model, and a big part of the project was determining how worker co-ops actually function on a day-to-day basis. Below, we present some common myths about co-ops compared with their realities, as told to us by worker-owners.

Myth: Co-op hierarchies are completely flat.

Reality: Hierarchies, such as senior roles and a board of directors, can still exist with a co-operative, but they are established democratically and open to iteration.

Myth: Decision-making is slow and co-operatives introduce new bureaucracy.

Reality: While slower than top-down decision-making, co-operative structures can be tweaked to avoid bureaucratic log jams. Every single decision does not necessarily require a full co-op vote. Additionally, traditional business structures are not immune to bureaucracy either.

Myth: Co-operatives, in and of themselves, can fix labour issues in the game industry.

Reality: While the co-operative structure legally prevents some types of labour exploitation, co-ops embody the values of their worker-owners and are only as transformational as their members desire.

Myth: It is difficult to acquire funding as a worker co-operative in the game industry.

Reality: Some types of funding are less accessible to worker co-operatives. Venture capitalist funding typically relies on buying a stake in a company, which is not possible with most co-op structures, and there is some ambiguity as to which federal and provincial grants worker co-ops are eligible to apply for. Publisher deals are typically still available, as they are project based. New funds are increasingly available to co-ops, including social finance grants.

Myth: Wages are flat (i.e. all workers earn the same salary) in a worker co-operative.

Reality: Co-operative members collectively decide how wages are dispensed. Some of the  structures include: completely flat salaries, tiered wages based on seniority or responsibilities, and payment based on hours worked or projects completed.

If you’re interested in learning more about co-ops, unions, and alternative labour structures in the video game industry, why not take a look at our recently released comic and white paper? Both are available for free here and they offer insights into labour problems and possibilities within the Canadian game industry.

Next stop: Taipei!
Sat. November 25, 2023 | 7:30 pm – 9:15 pm
Nowhere Bookstore (No. 170-2, Sec. 1, Zhonghua Rd., Wanhua Dist., Taipei)
Free admission and no registration required

You can also reach out to us directly for public talks, interviews, and workshops, or to arrange for free comics to be sent for your community at

The white paper was made with support from Ontario Creates, the Canada Media Fund, and Mitacs.