The game industry’s burgeoning labor movement has touched down in Sweden. Over 100 developers at Avalanche Studios—the company behind the Just Cause series and Contraband—have joined Swedish trade union Unionen. Said employees are now bargaining with Avalanche management on their contract.
The team at IGN first reported on the unionization effort and broke down the details of how this movement differs from those in the United States and Canada. Though it’s incredibly notable that one-fifth of Avalanche Studios will now be part of a union, Swedish’s labor-friendly environment means this was a far less arduous task than what union organizers at North American studios have had to endure.
In Sweden, eligible workers are able to join a trade union without forcing an election, leading to over 65 percent of the country’s workforce to be unionized, according to data reviewed by Statista.
Sweden already has incredibly favorable labor laws, but unionizing will now allow Avalanche workers to have input on major company decisions and negotiate as a group on topics relevant to membership. One type of company decision would be the hiring of key leaders at the company. That subject may be quite relevant to Avalanche employees, who last year protested the hiring of a “high-level employee” who had been accused of sexual harassment at a previous workplace.
According to IGN, Avalanche’s workers may be trying to negotiate for a four-day work week—though Unionen declined to give specifics on the negotiating process.
Avalanche confirmed the union’s formation in a statement to IGN, stating that the company is “committed to creating the best possible conditions for all Avalanchers to thrive,” that it supports “any initiative” that achieves that goal, and that it’s thanks to “each and every Avalancher” that the company can make great games.
Nothing to lose but your chains
Even under the adjusted circumstances, Avalanche’s unionization of one-fifth of the company’s employees is a staggering feat in an industry that has long rejected collective action.
That pattern only began to shift in the last few years, sparked in part by the former workers of Vodeo Games, quality assurance testers at various branches of Activision Blizzard, and employees at companies like ZeniMax and Sega.
Such wins are—frustratingly—not silver bullets for the issues the game industry faces, or are guaranteed to succeed even with growing support. Vodeo Games still shut down due to poor sales of Beast Breaker, a unionization effort at Blizzard Entertainment subsidiary Proletariat crumbled for conflicting reasons, and Keywords Studios laid off the unionized developers at Keywords Studios Edmonton after BioWare ended its contract with the company.
But if unions aren’t silver bullets, they are at least a tool that can be assembled through collective action—a tool that developers don’t have access to unless they choose to organize together as a collective unit.
The video game industry’s contentious relationship with the labor movement goes back to at least 2005, when voice actors under SAG-AFTRA (then two separate unions) struggled to negotiate a contract with major employers. Those negotiations are once again in the spotlight as the union recently sought authorization to strike from its membership—and may follow through in the months ahead.