"Now, let's consider again this fictional Developers' Guild. The bylaws of the guild are whatever we want it to be, and the laws are very generous in what can be called a 'union' under the law. ... For instance, I believe that the role of the Guild would be deeply different whether the member is an employee of a large corporation like THQ, or a very small company like 1st Playable. So why not structure the Guild to treat these entities completely differently?"
Of course, opponents to unionization typically are less concerned about workers organizing than they are about the unions themselves growing into corrupt organizations. Certainly the first history lessons that come to mind when facing down the U-word are cases of unions doing more harm than good. But John believes solid thought can overcome these obstacles. "Policies that undermine meritocracy or threaten studio viability are often tempting, but poisoning the community well helps no one. So, for instance, a Developers' Guild would need to be fairly silent on the issue of job security - games are too uneven as a business to demand that studios maintain a permanent staff."
"Similarly, any policy on work hours would have to be very subtly crafted to allow for 'crunch' but avoid the 'death march.'" This distinction and the dangers therein, are why labor lawsuits become such messy situations, viewed awkwardly by all concerned - and why situations have to become so absolutely severe before the law can be involved. Just as five different developers will give you five different definitions of "quality of life," so too does it become complicated to invent a hard-and-fast rule that will apply uniformly to work hours.
The Common Voice
Finally, I put to John the question that I receive so often:
"Is a Game Developers Guild inevitable? No, I don't think it is. We may be able to go on for a long time without organizing, and to be fair, that isn't a terrible prospect, especially if the IGDA can come to the plate with some of the services like portable healthcare coverage. But we have to think about the alternatives of not organizing in an open and thoughtful way, such as:
- "An existing trade union manages to organize a portion of development talent (perhaps a single discipline like animation or programming) and fragments a number of studios.
- "A small, pissed-off group forms a union without thinking the issues through (remember, it only takes a few people and a document to be called a "union" under the law).
- "Studios and/or publishers start behaving really badly, and a union is formed under tense terms, instead of friendly terms."
John believes, like many of us, that a union should be a good thing. It should provide a collective voice so we are not 12,000 individuals agreeing but voicing that agreement singly. Ultimately, organization has entirely to do with investing ourselves in the greatest happiness and fulfillment we can attain from our jobs - which makes for better games - while avoiding the pitfalls of the industries that came before us.
"One of the statements that I've oft repeated is that any organization of game makers should be for developers, by developers. I think that developers and their employers are currently very closely allied in their goals, especially for the smaller employers. So bearing this in mind, what's to prevent us creating a system that in fact considers both sides of the coin, and works to the advantage of both? And now, when these goals are aligned, not in conflict, is the right time to set up this organization, isn't it?"
Erin Hoffman is a professional game designer, freelance writer, and hobbyist troublemaker. She moderates Gamewatch.org and fights crime on the streets by night.