Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Rockstar's parent company Take-Two, has recently stated that it is “hard to imagine” why his developers would want to unionize. If they did, however, management would work towards a collective bargaining agreement with them.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Zelnick spoke on the topic of unionization at length. The question of forming unions within the video game industry has drawn significant discussion as of late in development circles, and often becomes notable after controversies arise every so often in the past few years. Interestingly, Zelnick seems to show both his bias and ignorance when he explains what unions are for:
“Look, unions tend to develop when labor relations are not typically non-existent, and typically unions have been most beneficial when there were more workers than there were jobs. And where the jobs were low-paying jobs. We have fewer workers than we have jobs, and they're high-paying jobs. Right now, Take-Two has 500 open positions. There are 220,000 or so people employed in the US video game business. They make about $100,000 on average, maybe more. It's hard to imagine what would motivate that crew to unionize. But we're a compliant company and will serve the law. If our colleagues want to engage in collective bargaining, then we will.”
Where should we begin with the statement?
His definition of what unions are and why they exist seems to be missing the point. Unions have been historically fundamental in helping set the standards for education, skill levels, wages, working conditions, and quality of life for workers. Zelnick seems to believe a person in a high-paying position should not be need of any such organization. However, of all the problems we have heard from countless game development studios, not one was about compensation. Instead, they are all about working conditions and quality of life for employees.
And if Zelnick is not aware of what stories we refer too, pick any of the following:
- Blizzard’s Staff Is Still Unhappy, More High Profile Employees Are Leaving Due To Low Morale
- NetherRealm Takes Another Hit With New Toxic Workplace Claim
- Riot Games Employees Threatening Walkout Over Company's Response To Toxic Workplace Claims
- Founder Of Badly-Run, Bankrupt Company Says Crunch Is Necessary
- CD Projekt Red admits crunch period for The Witcher 3 was not ‘humane’
And of course, within Rockstar Games itself, which Zelnick should have a direct feel for the happenings of its workers, Inside Rockstar Games' Culture Of Crunch.
CEOs like Zelnick are either blissfully ignorant of the reality that developers experience when attempting to make good on the deadlines imposed by management for their games, or they are fully aware and do it anyways because they consider it a part of their culture.
So, which is it, Zelnick? Unaware, or evil?
For now, we can say with certainty that the gaming industry needs a fundamental shift in how it treats its workers, and some are making strides in that direction, but they are too few and far between.