Nearly Half of Game Developers Support Unionization, Survey Finds

Game Workers Unite-Getty-H 2019
Courtesy of Game Workers Unite

The Game Developers Conference's seventh annual State of the Industry Survey gives insight on the growing call for workers' rights in gaming.

Over the past year, many developers and workers in the video game industry have voiced concerns over extended work hours and stressful working conditions and begun calls for unionization. 

Ahead of this year's Game Developers Conference (GDC), which is set to run March 18-22 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, the results of the organization's seventh annual State of the Industry survey were revealed on Thursday. Responses from nearly 4,000 game developers were received and offer insights about how the industry views the growing calls for unionization and working overtime hours during the "crunch" before a game's launch.

A hot topic in recent months, unionization discussions began in earnest in 2018 after reports of extended overtime and poor working conditions at studios like Ubisoft, Rockstar, DICE and more gained attention, thanks in part to the #AsAGamesWorker hashtag late last year. According to the latest GDC survey, nearly half of industry professionals (47 percent) polled supported workers' calls to unionize. Meanwhile, 26 percent said "maybe," 16 percent voted against unionization and 11 percent were unsure.

Despite the support, however, only 21 percent believed that workers actually would unionize, compared to 24 percent who said they would not. The largest percentage of respondents were uncertain (39 percent said "maybe").

Respondents' comments were varied, with one saying it is "critical that people who work in games are able to maintain a healthy lifestyle," while another wrote in that "those who unionize will be shoved out of the way as companies hire those with fewer demands.”

Despite reports of extremely long work weeks, the survey reveals that more than half of game developers polled work 40 or less hours a week (56 percent). The survey asked respondents to state how many hours they work a week, on average, and the largest percentage (24 percent) listed 36-40 hours, with 21 percent stating they worked between 41-45 hours a week. Only five percent noted they worked an average of 51-60 hours a week and even less (three percent) listed over 60 hours as their average. 

However, the survey also asked respondents what their maximum hours per week worked was during one single week over the past year. The largest response listed between 51-60 hours, while a small percentage (1.4 percent) stated they worked over 110 hours. 

The results are in line with reports of "crunch" deadlines leading up to a game's launch, resulting in significantly longer hours for employees. However, the responses also indicate that 60-plus-hour work weeks are uncommon, in line with comments made by Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser in October about 100-hour work weeks at his company ahead of the launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, later clarifying to Kotaku that his statements applied to "the senior writing team" and that he "obviously [doesn't] expect anyone else to work this way."

As the current generation of consoles enters into its last stages, developers were asked whether their current projects were being developed for existing hardware or for future devices. Only two percent of those polled said they were working on games for future, unannounced consoles, while 46 percent stated their next game was being developed for the current generation and 16 percent were working on titles for both existing and upcoming systems.

Though a very small portion of the overall percentage, the 2 percent figure is interesting in that it hints new consoles will be on their way in the near future. 

One other noteworthy takeaway from this year's survey is the effect that new online gaming storefronts (such as the Epic Games Store, which launched in December, and Discord Store, which debuted in October) are having on Steam. While Valve's digital platform is still the preferred choice for developers (47 percent said they sell their games on Steam), 32 percent of responders felt that the company's 30 percent cut of their revenue to sell on Steam is too high. Epic Games' new storefront only takes a 12 percent share of profits.