The first videogame union in North America belongs to the workers at independent developer Vodeo Games, whose workers span the U.S. and Canada. Formed this year, the studio released turn-based pinball RPG Beast Breaker in September. Nicole Carpenter at Polygon reports that the union, Vodeo Games Workers United, will include in membership all 13 of its salaried and contract workers. Because of voluntary recognition by management, the union will not have to force a vote with the National Labor Relations Board. Carpenter also noted that, while Vodeo are the first videogame developer union in the U..S, game developers in Sweden and Korea have begun to unionize, and tabletop board game developers have begun unionizing in the U.S.
Vodeo’s unionization effort marks another huge development among a resurgent U.S. labor movement. In Buffalo last week, three Starbucks locations voted on forming a union. In November, workers at agricultural and industrial equipment company John Deere received a new contract after a month-long strike by their members of United Auto Workers. In November, health care workers at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. did a one-day strike in solidarity with engineers striking at the hospital, after avoiding a larger state-wide strike with a new contract. Not all news has been as positive, though. Following a strike by Kellogg workers and a new contract they deemed inadequate, Kellogg is trying to hire scabs to replace strikers permanently. At Columbia University in New York, graduate student workers remain in their seventh week of striking for better pay and conditions.
According to a September Gallup poll, public sentiment for labor in the U.S. is at its highest rate since 1965, with 68% approval of labor unions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January that only 10.8% of workers were in unions in 2020, with public sector workers (34.8%) more than five times that of workers at private companies (6%). According to Statista, union membership across the country had fallen nearly in half since 1983, while the Economic Policy Institute shows a coinciding gap between productivity and pay over the same period of time. It stands to reason that there is some correlation between the collective bargaining ability of workers and their general compensation.
Labor action is also becoming more common in the games industry as the culture of silence around toxic workplaces rife with discrimination, misogyny, and exploitation begins to lift. Gaming news the past several years has been dominated by workers speaking out against perpetual misdeeds at companies like Activision Blizzard, Riot, and Ubisoft, with Quantic Dream’s problems of institutional harassment reentering the zeitgeist after their new Star Wars game was announced, and Bungie becoming a focus this week. As management and ownership continue to ignore the problems within their businesses, across gaming, and across the tech industry at places like Apple, workers are realizing they have the power to create solutions within their own hands. The only way that workers can be protected against workplace abuse is by taking greater control of their workplaces through unionization. That includes the game industry, where Vodeo Games is helping lead the way.