Union Myths vs Realities & Japan Visit

Unionisation efforts have made big headlines in the news lately, but how much do game developers really know about unions? 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.

Marie LeBlanc Flanagan will be in Japan with free copies of the comic in the coming weeks. Mon. Dec. 11 she’ll be in Tokyo (details here, including livestreaming info) launching the comic as part of Gæmz and Sat. Dec. 16 she’ll be in Kyoto (details here) doing a comic launch and zine workshop. (For further tour stops and to invite us to your community, see the bottom of the post!)

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Over the past half-decade, unions have become the standard-bearers for game industry labour reform. From TTRPG workers at Paizo Workers United to digital developers at Activision-Blizzard’s Raven Software, labour organisation seems to have finally gained a foothold in the game industry. These efforts are not limited to our American friends either! Canada is home to two game studio unionisation efforts—at Anemone Hug Interactive and Keywords Studios—where quality assurance workers have fought for better pay, stable employment, and more flexible working arrangements.

Despite their ubiquity, unions are surrounded with misconceptions. Many of these have been fostered by corporations who wish to prevent unionisation in their own industries, while others are simple misunderstandings that have long been perpetuated in the media. During our research project, we spoke to union members and labour organisers to parse through these myths and realities.

Myth: Unions are an outside entity or organisation.

Reality: Unions are made up of their workers. Workplaces often organise in tandem with a parent union, with their own structures and protocols, but union formation and key issues are voted on by all members.

Myth: Unions simply want to extract profit from their member’s union dues.

Reality: In Canada, unions are non-profit entities. Union dues are deducted from member pay, but are typically offset by increased wages—union members typically earn $5/hour more than non-unionised workers.

Myth: Forming a union is impossible in the game industry as not enough people believe in them.

Reality: Several game studios have unionised in the past few years, including Keywords Studios, Anemone Hug, and Raven Software. According to surveys, most game developers have a generally positive attitude toward unions.

Myth: Unions are only useful for large businesses as smaller game studios do not have the same labour issues.

Reality: It is up to workers to decide whether or not a union will be useful for them. Smaller game studios share many of the same labour issues as larger ones and are not immune to problems such as crunch. No matter the size of a business or good intentions of owners, there are still power imbalances between workers and owners.

Myth: Unions protect lazy or unproductive workers.

Reality: Unproductive workers exist in all sorts of businesses, unionised or not. Unions do not fully prevent firings but ensure that workers do not get dismissed without due process.

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.


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 comic@gameartsinternational.network.

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