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Unions and Video Games – The New York Times


Tonight, tens of millions of Americans will end their work or school day with a recreational activity that didn’t exist a century ago: video games.

Until quite recently, the game was considered a niche hobby, often associated with children. But the industry has grown widely in recent decades. About two-thirds of Americans, mostly adults, Play video games. Video game industry worth nearly 200 billion USD in 2021 — more than music, book publishing, and North American sports combined. It employs hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone.

Some of you who aren’t gamers are probably wondering why you should care. My answer is that the game industry story is a generic one, of a new business that is growing and becoming a major cultural institution, one that hundreds of millions of Americans regularly participate in. family. It is similar to the rise of the film industry or football in the past century. They are now the foundation of American life beginning as niche forms of entertainment.

And similar types of abuse and tragedy in hollywood or NFL In addition to movie and sports fans, the games industry has also faced accusations of brutal working conditions, discrimination and harassment.

Conditions prompted many workers to turn to unions. This month, Microsoft recognized its first alliance after video game testers are organized. Today’s newsletter will look at how game developers are facing issues that have plagued other companies, including Amazon and Starbucks, as workers push to shape a relatively new industry.

“Game developers are not alone in this,” said Johanna Weststar, a game industry labor expert at Western University in Ontario. “There has been an increase in worker activity across various sectors.”

A common refrain in the video game industry is that no one is in it for the money; they could make more money doing similar jobs at other software companies, but their passion drives them to games instead. Industry workers have accused employers of taking advantage of this devotion to allow deplorable conditions to flourish.

Amanda Laven, game tester at Activision Blizzard, said: “The impact of so many games has on me – I want to be a part of bringing that to others. “The management of the company knows that we would rather be here testing a video game than another software, so they can pay us less.”

Among the industry’s more criticized practices is “crisis,” when employees are pushed to work 60 to 100 hours a week for up to several months to hit a milestone on a project. Jason Schreier, a video game journalist, highlight the problem in Times Opinion 2017. While in a hurry, a programmer working on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in 2011 had to go to the emergency room three times because of severe abdominal pain. After he stopped crunching, the pain disappeared.

Video game companies say they sometimes urgently need to complete projects on time and on budget, but work to minimize its use. Workers like Laven argue that many companies have done too little and continue to abuse the crisis.

Activision Blizzard says it pays employees more than its competitors on average, and is trying to mitigate the crisis by paying overtime, dividing time between team members, and charging for meals. “We care deeply about our employees,” said Joe Christinat, spokesman for Activision Blizzard. “We don’t want any of them to feel unjustly sacrificed.”

Another common claim: gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment. In 2021, California sued Activision Blizzard for what the state describes as the company’s “boyfriend” culture in which women are underpaid and sexually harassed. Activision Blizzard says that the accusations are a misrepresentation of the company’s inner workings and that it has taken steps to improve its culture in recent years.

The accusations have attracted a lot of attention, but industry insiders say the problem extends beyond Activision Blizzard. Other major companies also face allegations of discrimination and harassment, including Riot, Ubisoft and Sony. Those companies’ responses ranged from saying they were working to become more inclusive to rebutting some of the accusations.

Schreier Written that many of these problems date back to the early days of the industry, when game developers facilitated a “fraternity-like image of boys staying up all night making their games.” , drank Diet Coke and pizza, and kept pictures of women in revealing clothes. on their desks.” But as the game evolved, workers’ expectations changed.

The conditions have prompted many employees to try to unionize, including several studios at Activision Blizzard and Microsoft. Organizers tell me that dozens of other efforts are underway in the US, though most have not been made public. Most game developers support alliances, a recent survey found.

Companies have reacted differently to the efforts. Microsoft neutral pledge when its workers switched to the union. Activision Blizzard (which Microsoft is trying to buy) tried to block union drive.

The push for consolidation is part of a broader trend in relatively new industries, including technology and digital media. Motivated by what they see as dire conditions, many employees in those sectors have seen unions as the best way to protect themselves. The total number of union members nationwide increased by nearly 300,000 last year, my colleague Noam Scheiber wrote.

Some workers describe the effort as part of a process because the game industry is relatively new and is still going through increasing difficulties and professionalisation. By capitalizing on the present moment, they hope to change the industry forever.

“We’re trying to help ourselves,” Laven said. “But we’re also trying to help those who come after us.”

Related: The ability to work from home, team strength, and support colleagues are other reasons game developers give to unite, gaming site Polygon reported.

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The company’s cafeterias, long seen as a privilege for office workers who work in-office five days a week, are on the rise. fight to survive in an age of mixed schedules, writes Kim Severson in The Times.

Some businesses have abandoned cafeterias to support food delivery. Others have remodeled them into smaller, more flexible spaces that encourage intimate gatherings that some employees see as a key benefit of coming to the office.

Even the old-fashioned corporate dining was affected. The Crown Room, at Hallmark’s headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., is one of the oldest and most beloved office cafeterias in the country. Now, it’s only open three days a week.

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