ESA: Strong wages and opportunities keep unionization from being a 'significant issue'

In a conversation with Waypoint, ESA president Michael Gallagher talks about the past and current state of the video game industry and labor organization.

Waypoint compiled thoughts from developers on crunch and labor-related issues for a recent feature (that is well worth a read), but one section in particular, the bit discussing unions and crunch with Entertainment Software Association president Michael Gallagher, should catch the attention of game developers.

The ESA is a trade group that bills itself as the voice of the US game industry and counts a number of major companies among its members, including the likes of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Bethesda, and Activision Blizzard, meaning that game devs should pay particular attention to the organization’s stances on issues such as these.

The topic of unionization in the game industry has come up a significant amount lately, with pro-unionization organizations like Game Workers Unite appearing to make the case for a game industry union. 

When asked about Game Workers Unite, unionization, and labor organization practices, Gallagher told Waypoint that, so far in his time as ESA president, the topics haven’t “been a significant issue in the game industry.” 

“This is, fortunately, an issue we haven't had to deal with much in my time as the leader of the ESA, and I think there's a reason for that,” said Gallagher. “The wages in the video game industry are very high. The barriers to exit for employees are very low, and the opportunities to create within the industry are abundant. [There are] multiple platforms, multiple publishers, multiple companies, spread out all around the country.”

Gallagher explained that the global market provides opportunities for game devs to be “fully empowered,” noting that the ESA operates a website dedicated to highlighting the 3000 different game development studios operating out of states in the US. 

“So the industry has been democratized. The tools to make games have been democratized. The returns and the revenue have never been higher,” continued Gallagher. “When you put all of those elements together, it’s created great opportunity for individual laborers, or the game makers, at whatever level, to make choices that empower themselves. So I think that’s why we've had less... it hasn't been a significant issue in the game industry for the last ten years.”

Gallagher notes that the ESA is paying attention to ongoing labor conversations and that it’s important to pay attention to issues of that sort when they’re smaller because “when they’re bigger, they’re much more difficult to manage.”

But right now, the dialogue that's happening is at a level that is, I would say, in its infancy, to the extent that its going to grow, I don't know,” said Gallagher.

The conversation moves on to lightly touch on the issue of crunch as well. That and the rest of Gallagher comments can be found in the full Waypoint interview. 

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