Game developers push for unionization amid insecure positions, excessive OT

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SAN FRANCISCO—Going into the Game Developers Conference this week, you could foresee some of the hot topics that would be consuming the world’s largest gathering of game makers: stuff like real-time raytraced graphics, fantastical blockchain-based business schemes, and how to design games for augmented reality. But another surprising issue has overtaken many of the discussions in the Moscone Center hallways this week: that of unionization.

Labor organizing isn’t a new idea in the game industry—the first time I personally wrote about the issue was in Electronic Gaming Monthly more than a decade ago. There seems to be more momentum for the idea among the grassroots developers on hand at the conference this year, though, thanks in large part to an organized movement called Game Workers Unite. The organization, which isn’t a union itself, formed over private Facebook groups and Discord chats in recent weeks and has practically blanketed the Moscone Center with brochures and zines encouraging developers to band together against exploitative working conditions, uncertain project-based job security, and excessive, life-consuming crunch time.

“We are currently forming an anonymous and horizontal organization of people dedicated to advocating for workers' rights and the crafting of a unionized games industry,” GWU writes on its website. “We represent all workers in game development and we seek to increase the visibility of our cause through community building, sharing resources, and direct action. We seek to bring hope to and empower those suffering in this industry.”

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