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March 09, 2005

Organizing Game Makers of Silicon Valley

We probably won't see the union label right away on the next edition of The Sims, but the labor discontent in the game industry is very real, as the era of startups and stock options gives way to the reality of corporate ownership, drudge labor, and worker discontent:

there is little question that a new labor base has been galvanized by critics who say that as Silicon Valley has come to be dominated by big public companies that respond mainly to Wall Street's quarterly scoreboard...amid a consolidation that has put the video game business in the hands of a few big public companies like Electronic Arts and Activision, and in which best-selling titles can cost $10 million to $20 million to create, many developers say they feel like cogs in someone else's machine.
And they are demanding overtime pay for the excessive hours they are forced to work.

The first reaction of many people is that unions wouldn't work in such environments, since they are foreign to creative technology industries. Yet Hollywood remains dominated by a range of unions that assure that everyone, from stage hands to actors, get treated decently and get a share of the returns from Hollywood's wealth. In many ways, the Silicon Valley game shops more and more are resembling the old studio system from which those Hollywood unions emerged. It's obviously a harder environment today to organize, but the discontent it real.

And maybe the Silicon Valley game developers will look at the janitors cleaning offices throughout the industry, who engaged in a largely successful decade-long struggle to unionize that part of the industry, and wonder why they can't do it too?

Posted by Nathan at March 9, 2005 09:03 AM