This year appeared to be a pretty dang good one for the video game industry, if you’re only looking at profits. There’s an abundance of incredible, highly rated games to play — The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, Alan Wake 2, among so many more — as the industry returns to growth, expected to swell to a valuation of $185 billion this year. Following all that success, it’s likely surprising to hear that it’s been a devastating year for the people who make video games: More than 8,000 game industry workers have been laid off since the start of the year.
In what’s been one of the most volatile years in the video game industry, there is an upside: An increased interest in union organizing means workers are edging toward workplace protections. After years of groundwork laid over social media and in the halls of gatherings like the Game Developers Conference over the past decade, workers are organizing into unions in their fight against an infamous culture of overwork, low pay, and harassment. Unions are on the rise in the game industry as workers seek to make meaningful, sustainable change.
As of 2023, several of the industry’s biggest companies now have union representation for employees. ZeniMax QA workers under Microsoft officially unionized to start the year — and the company’s neutrality agreement will soon apply to Activision Blizzard employees now under Microsoft. Alongside them, workers at CD Projekt Red and Avalanche Studios organized for a seat at the table, too. Behind the scenes, workers across the industry are meeting with their co-workers to eventually do the same.
We’ve been following these stories for the past several years, and have created a running list of gaming companies — video games, tabletop, and hardware — where workers are organizing. We’ll update this list as more unions pop up across the global industry.
Activision Blizzard made headlines in 2021 after California’s Civil Rights Department (formerly called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) sued the World of Warcraft and Call of Duty publisher over alleged widespread sexism and harassment. (Activision Blizzard itself sued the CRD over the lawsuit in 2022.) This kicked off a flurry of accusations and lawsuits, including a settled $18 million suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Workers, too, took action: More than 1,000 workers walked out in July 2021, and since then, organizing efforts have continued. Its three unions — two officially recognized through National Labor Relations Board elections — are entirely made up of quality assurance workers. QA workers often feel they are overlooked, subjected to low pay, unstable contracts, and brutal overwork.
Activision Blizzard has repeatedly moved to stall union efforts, maintaining the opinion that all workers at the respective studios should vote in the union elections, not just QA workers. Multiple unfair labor complaints have been filed against the company, alleging anti-union sentiment and union busting.
As union efforts were underway at the company, Activision Blizzard converted all its contract workers to full-time employees — a win workers attribute to organizing efforts.
Activision Blizzard expects to be acquired by Microsoft as part of a $68.7 billion deal. The United States Federal Trade Commission is suing Microsoft in an effort to challenge the deal. After announcing the deal, Microsoft signed a neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America, promising not to interfere with union efforts at the company. Some consider the deal on Microsoft’s part an attempt to ease the acquisition through the FTC, but regardless, it benefits the workers at Microsoft and potentially Activision Blizzard should the deal go through.
Microsoft and CWA reiterated their cooperation in an ad running in The Washington Post, The Verge reported in January. Should the Activision Blizzard deal go through, Microsoft vows to bring its neutrality agreement and principles to the company. The Washington Post ad also appeals to the FTC to approve the deal.
“As we enter a new year, we remain committed to creating the best workplaces we can for people who make a living in the tech sector,” Microsoft and CWA said in the ad. “When both labor and management bring their voices to the bargaining table, employees, shareholders and customers alike benefit.”
Blizzard Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, is working on Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo franchise, including the upcoming Diablo 4. It was the second studio within Activision Blizzard to successfully unionize; QA workers there won their vote 14-0 in December 2022, following a number of alleged union-busting efforts, according to the CWA.
The next step for the group is to enter contract negotiations with Activision Blizzard.
Raven Software is the first studio within Activision Blizzard to unionize, an effort kicked off in December 2021 as Call of Duty: Warzone QA workers walked out of work to protest what they considered unfair layoffs of contract workers. QA workers announced their union push in January 2022 and were met with resistance from Activision Blizzard: Management attempted to restructure the company and rule the QA bargaining unit ineligible to vote. A judge ruled in favor of the QA union after hearings, and Raven Software workers, called Game Workers Alliance, won their union vote in May 2022 and are represented by the CWA.
Boston-based studio Proletariat announced the filing of its union petition in late December 2022. The Spellbreak developer was acquired by Activision Blizzard in June 2022; Spellbreak was shut down, and team is now working on World of Warcraft. Proletariat intended to be represented by the CWA. Proletariat’s proposed unit included all positions outside of management — around 60 workers currently.
However, on Jan. 24, CWA announced that it was withdrawing its petition request. Workers there will not vote on a union.
One hundred of Avalanche Studios’ roughly 500 workers have joined a Swedish union to collectively bargain with the Just Cause developer, according to IGN. Negotiations are ongoing between workers under two Swedish unions, Unionen and Sveriges Ingenjörer, and Avalanche Studios leadership.
The unionization process in Sweden is different than in the United States and Canada, where workers must complete a union election with respective labor boards. Instead, Swedish workers are freely able to join unions and can vote to create a local union board to negotiate specifics with their company. IGN reported that one possible contract addition is the implementation of a four-day workweek. After negotiations, signed contracts are valid for two years.
Sixty-nine percent of the Swedish workforce is unionized, according to the Medlings Institutet, via to the Commercial Federation of Iceland, a union federation in Iceland. The average for white-collar workers, like in the video game industry, is at 74%. Though unionization is normal in Sweden, it’s the first time a union will negotiate with Avalanche Studios, IGN said.
Avalanche Studios’ next game, Contraband, was revealed during Xbox’s 2021 E3 presentation. It’s expected to be an Xbox Series X and Windows PC exclusive.
Union footholds in the game industry is not limited to the United States. Studios in Canada are also making strides to organize their workplaces. Developer Anemone Hug Interactive, which supported Hardspace: Shipbreaker and is currently working on an original game, voted in favor of unionization in 2022. Anemone Hug’s union is part of the Canadian Animation Guild, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 938. IATSE largely services entertainment workers internationally, while the British Columbian animation unit focuses on local animation workers — and now game developers.
Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity workers, who make the card game of the same name, unionized in 2020 with Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United following a report that alleged racist and sexist culture at the company; Cards Against Humanity management recognized the unit, and the group successfully completed contract negotiations to secure better benefits, including a successorship clause that could be enacted if owners sold the company.
Workers at Cards Against Humanity were likely the first in their industry to unionize.
CD Projekt Red
CD Projekt Red workers in Poland formed the Polish Gamedev Workers Union in response to the company’s 2023 layoffs. Announced in October, the Polish Gamedev Workers Union is open not only to CD Projekt Red workers, but any Poland-based game developers.
“We started talking about unionizing after the 2023 wave of layoffs,” the Polish Gamedev Workers Union said in a FAQ on its site. “This event created a tremendous amount of stress and insecurity, affecting our mental health and leading to the creation of this union in response. Having a union means having more security, transparency, better protection, and a stronger voice in times of crisis. [...] We believe that the mass layoffs are a danger to the gamedev industry and we believe that unionizing is a way for us to preserve the industry’s potential.”
Corsair Gaming production and warehouse workers in the Duluth, Georgia facility are looking to unionize with Teamsters Local 728, according to a National Labor Relations Board filing. The petition was filed Aug. 18; the group is looking to include 72 full-time and part-time hourly workers across production and warehouse jobs, with roles ranging from assembly and customer service to engineering and soldering — basically, these are the people who touch each Corsair product before it’s shipped.
Corsair management has hired Littler Mendelson, a self-proclaimed “union avoidance” firm that’s been hired by the likes of both Apple and Starbucks.
Corsair Gaming is an an American computer and gaming hardware company that sells components like power supplies and CPUs, as well as gaming peripherals like keyboards, headsets, and mice. The company is headquartered in California, but has warehouses in Georgia, California, Florida, and Taiwan, according to its website. The warehouse union election petition is tied only to workers at the Georgia facility.
In late September, Corsair workers voted against joining the union.
Experis Game Solutions
Halo Infinite and Forza Motorsport QA workers voted yes to unionize in late November. 35 people voted yes and four people voted no to unionize under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). The new bargaining unit includes 42 test associates, software test engineers, and data software analysts.
Like other unions in the industry, Experis workers are looking to secure better pay and benefits, as well as improved working conditions. The video game industry is notorious for pushing its workers to the brink as major video game launches approach, and workers want that to change.
Contract QA workers who support BioWare’s Dragon Age: Dreadwolf at Keywords Studios’ Edmonton location voted to unionize in June 2022. Like Anemone Hug, Keywords Studios is a Canadian studio; their election went through the Alberta Labour Relations Board, where the group is organized under United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local 401.
KWS Edmonton United, the union, began organizing after management implemented a return-to-office order that workers didn’t agree with — commuting costs too much given their low salaries and the studio doesn’t offer paid time off when sick, they said.
Microsoft’s labor neutrality agreement with the CWA went into effect in June 2022, when it promised not to interfere with union organizing at the company — including at Activision Blizzard, should the acquisition go through. This isn’t a common approach according to labor experts, and may have been influenced by the acquisition itself, which is under scrutiny by the FTC. Regardless, the deal benefits workers who want to organize with the CWA.
We saw it in practice firsthand when QA workers at several ZeniMax studios announced their desire to unionize.
Roughly 300 QA workers at ZeniMax Media have unionized under the CWA. The group, called ZeniMax Workers United, sidestepped an NLRB election due to Microsoft’s neutrality deal. Instead, workers voted through union authorization cards or an online portal to prove interest to the company. A supermajority of those 300 workers voted “yes,” and Microsoft recognized the union.
It was a much speedier process than the traditional pathway, as evidenced by efforts at Activision Blizzard. ZeniMax Workers United includes workers at Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, and ZeniMax Online in Maryland and Texas offices.
The next step is for ZeniMax to nominate a bargaining committee and move into contract negotiations.
United Paizo Workers formed in 2021, making it one of the earlier unions in the industry. Paizo is one of the biggest tabletop role-playing game publishers; it’s responsible for both Pathfinder and Starfinder. Workers at the studio have, over the years, accused the Washington state-based company of pay inequity, harassment, and “managerial impropriety.” Paizo voluntarily recognized the union, and collective bargaining began shortly after.
UPW reached a tentative agreement with Paizo management on certain topics in early December 2022, including benefits, remote work, time off, and work hours. In June, United Paizo Workers voted to ratify the negotiated contract. In bargaining, Paizo workers won “raises across the board, preserved and expanded benefits, and enhanced protections for works,” according to the group.
Sega of America
Sega of America workers at the company’s Irvine, California headquarters filed to unionize with the Communications Workers of America with the National Labor Relations Board in April. The Allied Employees Guild Improving Sega (AEGIS) won its union election in July, with 91 votes for the union and 26 votes against. The union will encompass more than 200 roles across different departments: marketing, games as a service, localization, product development, and quality assurance.
“Working for Sega is a passion for many of us and it’s been so exciting to see that through organizing, we can make this work a sustainable long-term career,” QA lead Mohammad Saman said in a statement. “By creating our union, AEGIS-CWA, we’ll have a say in the decisions that shape our working conditions and ensure the job security and working conditions we deserve. We’re excited to protect what already makes Sega great, and help build an even stronger company, together.”
Workers, who create and publish games in the Sonic the Hedgehog and Persona franchises, want better pay and benefits, as well as clear promotion and advancement plans and improved schedules and staffing to end overwork.
Workers at TCGplayer, the eBay-owned trading card marketplace, successfully unionized after a tense lead-up with management; Communications Workers of America filed four unfair labor complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. A supermajority of authentication center workers — more than 70% — signed union authorization cards before filing a petition with the NLRB in late January.
They’re represented this time by the CWA; a previous effort included Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The company has grown in the years since, a byproduct of the card gaming boom. TCGplayer now employs around 600 people. The unit includes nearly 250 nonmanagerial workers in the authentication center, covering jobs like sorting, research, quality, shipping, and other operations. They’re the people who handle all the cards.
The vote tally was held on March 10, when 136 workers voted in favor of the union. Eighty-seven people voted against it. In response to the win, a TCGplayer spokesperson told Polygon the company is disappointed the “Authentication Center team members in Syracuse have decided to end their direct relationship with TCGplayer.” In response, union members tweeted that the union is not the “end of a direct relationship,” but “the beginning of something greater.”
Finally, we want to be clear that nobody has been fired for organizing. This is not the "end of a direct relationship," it's the beginning of something greater, with a voice in how we are treated. And we know our community has our backs!— TCGunion-CWA (@TCGunionCWA) March 13, 2023
TCGplayer union members allege eBay management has been unwilling to bargain with union members over a union contract in the past five months since the election. On July 31, the TCGplayer union filed an unfair labor complaint against the company for its “various legal and illegal stalling techniques,” according to a news release.
A TCGplayer representative provided the following statement to Polygon:
At the onset of this process, TCGplayer asked Region 3 of the NLRB to resolve the issue of whether our Operations Leads were supervisors and thus ineligible for representation by the CWA. The CWA pushed back on our request and Region 3 of the NLRB agreed to wait until after the vote to address the issue. Due to the CWA’s position and Region 3’s action, we now find ourselves with this core issue unresolved. We are equally frustrated by the delay in the process; however, we intend to abide by the legal process put forth by the NLRB.
Indie studio Tender Claws, based in Los Angeles, announced its union petition in July 2022 — the entire proposed unit supported the effort. The group is called Tender Claws Human Union, a nod to its game Virtual Virtual Reality, which includes an in-game union for humans that work for AI. Tender Claws management recognized the union with representation from the CWA; contract bargaining began in November and is ongoing.
Vodeo Games (defunct)
Vodeo Games’ debut — and only — title is Beast Breaker, a turn-based game mixed with a bit of Peggle. The video game studio is now defunct, shut down in 2022 due to a lack of funds. But the impact its workers made on the video game industry is still important: Vodeo Workers United, represented by the CWA, was the first video game industry union in North America.
Workinman Interactive, which largely develops licensed games for companies like Disney, Fisher Price, Atari, and Nickelodeon, is filing for a union election with representation from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Alongside developing games like SpongeBob’s Game Frenzy, Super Brawl World, and a series of minigames for Jimmy Fallon, Workinman Interactive also creates interactive attractions, exhibits, and virtual and augmented reality experiences.
A supermajority of workers filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board after management declined to recognize the union voluntarily. On Sept. 27, IATSE announced that the Workinman Interactive workers voted unanimously in support for the union. The group is expected to encompass 20 workers including project managers, artists, developers, and assistants.
“Each and everyone of my coworkers put their heart in this,” developer Joel Shuart said. “They all have done great, working towards getting us the footing we deserve so that we can negotiate with management on even ground. I know there is still work to be done, but I hope this win can inspire others in the games industry. Folks should know that together they have the power to make change and protect what they love about this industry.”
Workinman Interactive’s union is the first game industry union under the IATSE, which is known for its representation of more than 168,000 workers in craft, technical, and art positions in the entertainment industry — including movies, events, TV, and now video games.
Workinman Interactive CEO Roy Contreras told Polygon in August that the company will recognize the election, “no matter how it turns out.” He added: “We support our team and respect their right to organize.” Next, the Workinman Interactive union will move into contract negotiations with studio leadership. Negotiations have not yet been scheduled at the time of publication.
Update (Dec. 4): This story’s introductory paragraphs have been entirely revised as the industry’s unionization movement continues to grow. We’ve also added sections for Experis Game Solutions’ and CD Projekt Red’s union efforts, and updated the Paizo section to include the ratification of the new contract.