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The road to unionization for employees at Croatian studio Gamechuck

Developers at Croatian studio Gamechuck have formed a union. Here's why they did, and what they got out of it.

Game Developer has learned that employees at Croatian game studio Gamechuck have successfully unionized under the banner of Workers of Gamechuck D.O.O. Members of the Zagreba-housed company signed the agreement on April 29, making it Croatia's first union for video game workers.

This news follows recent unionization efforts by workers at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software, and Keywords Studios contractors working at BioWare Edmonton. 

Gamechuck itself produces a mixture of interactive titles, including an upcoming stealth RPG called Midwintar, some contract game development projects, and more.

According to employee Lucija Pilić, who works as a marketing manager at Gamechuck, employees of the company decided to unionize because "it felt like there was much space to improve in terms of the rights of workers and their protection." The Croatian game development industry has been growing in recent years, and the workplace struggles of other studios have grown with it.

Pilić stated that the unionization process went "smoothly" because the company's founders were sympathetic to their cause. Negotiations with leadership and the board were apparently straightforward, and both parties saw this as a chance to improve life at the studio. "We want to set a good example, dispel the myths that the concept of unionization and the collective agreement are harmful to a company's business," Pilić said.

They explain that Croatian developers struggle with crunch, recurring fixed-term contracts, control over copyright, workplace abuse, and business transparency. In the contract, the unionizing employees sought to address these issues and establish a profit-sharing plan. 

Crunch at Gamechuck is now limited to four month periods at the longest, and there must be a 30-day period before the next marathon work cycle can begin. Employees working overtime are now entitled to extra days off as well.

Salaries for each position are spelled out in the collective agreement, and employees are entitled to business reports from leadership. The company also bears financial responsibility to employees harmed by workplace harassment, and must allow the union to check contracts between Gamechuck and third parties. This is partly to resolve the issue of "disguised employment."

"Disguised employment has been a problem in the local IT scene in the past few years and we want to ensure that other workers, who are not working full-time with us, are not exploited either," Pilić explained. 

Workers also successfully demanded copyright terms that allow developers to retain copyright of work if a game is cancelled or its "market valuation" has ended. This enables staff to sell prints, write their own spin-off stories, implement code in similar projects, and more.

They also sought to address abusive non-compete contracts, which are normally employed in preventing C-suite executives from sharing too much information with competitors. Unionizing workers of Gamechuck say they were aware of situations where developers working in "traditional" roles were being asked to sign such documents, preventing them from working at other game companies.

Gamechuck's positive reception to the unionization effort by employees mirrors the recent story of Los Angeles-based company Vodeo Games, which willingly recognized its employees' union without demanding a vote. 

For decades, the video game industry has attempted to resolve issues like crunch and disparate salaries by way of better production practices and organizational decisions from leadership. Though there has been some success on that front, crunch and different forms of abuse are still workplace problems. 

This trend of unionization appears to indicate that developers tire of older tactics, and are seeking new ways to improve their lot in life. We are likely to see more stories like this as the year progresses.

Fellow game developers interested in how Gamechuck staff handled their organization can take a look at the Workers of Gamechuck D.O.O agreement here, or just below:

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