Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Latest Gaming Battle

For years TAG has nibbled around the edges of the video game business, trying to figure out a way to organize it. While we nibbled, this has been going on:

Every industry has its rivals: Two big companies duking it out for customer loyalty and king-of-the hill status. ...

Among video game companies, it's Electronic Arts vs. Activision Blizzard —and it's about as ugly a fight as you've ever seen.

While the rhetoric gets shrill in any corporate battle, it has moved well past that in this fight, with high profile employees being wooed away and gamer loyalties being put to the test. Ultimately, though, it's shareholders that, for better or worse, could be caught in the middle.

Monday saw the latest—and biggest—rift between the companies, when Jason West and Vince Zampella tied their new development house to EA, striking an exclusive distribution deal with the publisher. The pair formerly headed Infinity Ward, the Activision studio responsible for "Modern Warfare 2," 2009's top selling game. The publisher abruptly fired them last month, alleging breach of contract and insubordination. ...

... At the heart of the battle is two companies jockeying for the title of the industry's largest publisher. EA held that role for years until Activision merged with Blizzard Entertainment in 2008, putting it on top. Around the same time, EA saw some big titles underperform and was rejected in its efforts to acquire Take Two Interactive Software ...

... There have been so many employees switching allegiances in recent years that it might be worth setting up a shuttle between the companies' two offices.

I know I dream, but perhaps while all the sniper and mortar fire is happening, we could slip through te barbed wire and organize the joints. (You know, get union contracts? With 0vertime and stuff?).

Yeah, I do dream.

Unions have never had much of a toe-hold in video games. From time to time, we get despairing phone calls from employees about long workweeks and subpar working conditions, then hold a few meetings. And there have been lawsuits over the years from disgruntled employees sick of the grind. (For some reason, people get twitchy when they work enough eighty-hour weeks.)

But to date, no union contracts. Sadly, labor hasn't been able to trigger a general uprising among gamers (drat). We credit this to management hiring mostly 22-year-old libertarians who have no wives, no lives, and maintain an unshakeable belief in their ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become millionaires by age thirty.

But this belief usually falters between the ages of thirty-two and thirty-six. By that time, Electronic Arts and the others have shed themselves of the thirty-somethings' services, and moved on to the next batch of starry-eyed college graduates.

The ever-turning, ever-devouring circle of tech life. Yet we, the ever-optimistic Animation Guild, continue to fantasize collective bargaining agreements and actual overtime.


Marty said...

I was one of those 22 year-olds that you describe. I still am, sort of, its just five years later. I've been lucky, always able to set my own wages and hours, but I'm well aware that it doesn't often work like that. In fact, I read your blog because I'm interested in how the video game industry will inevitably be organized in the future.

I wanted to add that the reason hiring guys right out of college is working so well right now is that, at least in part, experience isn't valuable to us. Technology and techniques tend to have wild shifts every ten years or so and the guys with experience on the old hardware might not be as capable with the new. It can be hard to learn new tricks when you work 80 hour weeks.

Someday, this cycle will slow down and the hardware will solidify. Experience will become an asset and perhaps the average age of the labor will increase. But that could be a long way off.

Anyway, I really enjoy your blog and love to see when gaming slips in.

VonRiesling said...

"mostly 22-year-old libertarians who have no wives, no lives, and maintain an unshakeable belief in their ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become millionaires by age thirty."

This is a spot-on observation. I'm working with some of these folks in their first job out of school. Suggesting that unions can benefit them (with rare exception) is met with blank stares and incredulity.

Justin said...

"mostly 22-year-old libertarians who have no wives, no lives..."

I was at the Game Developers Conference last month and this is pretty much what I saw.

Anonymous said...

Steve, it might be worth it to take a yearly tour around some of the bigger schools and pitch union benefits to folks that are just entering the industry. Tell 'em what they should expect from an employer before they get hired and think that what they are getting is the norm.

Even an online lecture at Animation Mentor might be helpful. I'm sure that can be arranged.

Anonymous said...

I'm turning 30 soon and the idea of having a wife, kids, and a home is out of the question. I worked in vfx and animation and realized that once you do any of those, you lose your individual bargaining power. There were artists in my department that had a wife, children, and the underwater house. The idea of even trying to negotiate was moot. So the artist agreed to keeping their rates flat while new artists come in at higher rates. There needs to be better ideas as far as organizing labor. It's not going to happen from the inside. I'm encouraged by the recent townhall meetings by lee stranahan at

nosferatu said...

Technology and techniques tend to have wild shifts every ten years or so and the guys with experience on the old hardware might not be as capable with the new

Is this your opinion or are you just pointing out what other people think? While it might be true that some artists will have dificulty adapting, it is wrong to simply assume NO ONE can. My old hardware used to be a hb pencil and a pulp based material commonly know as paper!

At the game studio I work at, there's plenty of young AND old! ("old" being, over 40). And believe it or not, I leave at around 6 every day! Now, with this, I'm not saying that unionizing would be a bad idea or that there's no need for it. At other studios (the employees) might be inclined to sign on. I would certainly like to see this happen.


Marty said...


I didn't mean to be insulting to game developers. I'm sorry.

I was just hoping to offer another possible explanation for why the game industry is being hard to organize. I've been lead to believe, by this blog I think, that animation studios also hire a lot of cheap graduates. I think that the constantly changing technology is a significant difference between animation and games today.

I know that not everyone working on games works unreasonable hours and is under 30. I know that, if even true at all, rapidly changing technology isn't the only reason why cheap graduates are so often hired. I was just looking for some other difference between games and animation that could help explain the difficulties that TAG is seeing.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about you guys but why work for a company when you can stay at home and work for FREE!

read the comments section. Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Animation IS: Making characters move. Whether it is for film or games makes no difference. Paper or technologically-developed software makes no difference. You are making the characters move. Therefore, Gaming Companies should be organized and follow the rules of organized labor laws. When is this going to happen?

nosferatu said...

"I'm turning 30 soon and the idea of having a wife, kids, and a home is out of the question."

Well, the kids part I totally agree with. The wife part,well, I'm being very very practical here, would help a lot with paying down a mortgage! However, money is always a problematic issue in a marriage,from what I've heard of....


Anonymous said...

seems AN is ragging on the Guild again because of this blog article steve...their traffic must be down again.

Seems the Animation Guild is their whipping post.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to see there. 80% of it is Charles starting a thread, then responding to himself. The other 20% is either borrowed from this blog or Cartoon Brew, or are press releases. Scintillating it is not.

Anonymous said...

yeah what do you expect when no one posts anything there anymore anyway...much better industry info elsewhere...



hehe fight tha power cuz it all gotta come from inside. Monkey will keep us down but we gotta keep unitin, and be the change.

Bruthas, we gotta create our own union cuz the animation union aint giving me a job and im stuck doing tatoos. whos with me? when we create our own union it wills be the bestest union eveh and give us jobs always with no layoffs. and no monkey execs allowed!! in OUR union!!!

We got things cookin right around the corner. The new union is rising, and theres no stopping it. They can call us wannabes, rubbernecking at the train wreck, but they will not be laffing when we has our OWN union, an they will be out in the cold. We're talking to some pretty big people right now, and its happening. Trust me. oh yes its happening just you wait.



Anonymous said...

IF and that's a HUGE IF Chucky and his minions are somehow able to convince anyone to join this supposed union I would have them immediately audited to see what they are doing with the dues money.

Steve Hulett said...

seems AN is ragging on the Guild again because of this blog article steve...their traffic must be down again.

Seems the Animation Guild is their whipping post.


Always something. Maybe it's my breath.

Anonymous said...

Steve can you not go to that thing with them. What is up with that. They're going to use that for propaganda of all kinds.

Anonymous said...

I agree. They will only take what you say out of context, and twist it for their own purposes. It is now clear that Zembillas isn't interested in a fact-based discussion, but rather a forum for his own rants.

I'm sure everything will be nice and polite while you're there. After you're gone, he will start posting his "impressions," distorting what you said, and repeating the same old canards he's done for years. He will find and focus in on any "slip of the tongue" you make, and magnify it. For years. He will hang it around your neck for the next 15 years. That's his modus operandi, which has now been laid bare repeatedly for all to see.

The more he is simply ignored, the better. By showing up, you give his immature rants and notorious distortions legitimacy. The industry at large has now put him on 'ignore,' and the union gains nothing from not doing the same. Besides, he will undoubtedly use much of the time just to whine about your removing of his link on your site. Not a good use of your time.

Furthermore, I would suggest that trying to reason with his minions, whom he has had ample time to brainwash, will accomplish nothing but a migraine headache for you.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't go on the site, but agreed to go to their fall get-together when President Kevin Koch got into an online back-and forth with Charles.

As to my going to this thing six months hence, your reservations about it could well have merit. But it's an hour or two out of my life, I might convince a couple of people the guild isn't populated by subterranean demons, and part of the job description is doing less than totally happy things.

Maybe I'm a masochist.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, Anon 7:49 perfect and succinct description. Please think about it Steve.

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