On March 4, 2019, three creators—two of the creators of independent video game Night in the Woods, Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry, along with prolific artist/musician Wren Farren—announced rather suddenly that they’d established The Glory Society, a new worker cooperative video game studio. They announced, among other things, that they’re working on “A cool game. Or two.” As a midwest/rust belt socialist and queer gamer, I was ecstatic about the news. So I asked them a bunch of questions, and they graciously answered.
We’re The Glory Society, a worker-owned and operated cooperative that makes video games. Founded by Bethany Hockenberry and Scott Benson, two members of the team behind 2017’s Night In The Woods, along with artist and musician Wren Farren. We’re making a cool game. Or two. pic.twitter.com/1dpIdOKsHt
— The Glory Society (@theglorysociety) March 4, 2019
Establishing The Glory Society is such a cool and necessary thing you’ve decided to do. Some of our readers might not be familiar with the society, however. Can you explain in your own words what it is, and why you decided to found it?
Wren Farren: For me, our co-op is just a small close-knit team where we all have an equal say and our ideas and work is respected on a level playing field. I think we all decided to found this because we were all just tired of feeling stuck in that boss/employee hierarchy. I know we all, myself included, have dealt with awful bosses, ridiculous crunches, and feeling like we could lose our job at any moment. So when Scott and Bethany brought up starting this, it was a no-brainer for me.
There’s something exciting and liberating about just having a team of equals in the workplace, where we all own what we make and the proceeds from it.
Scott Benson: A worker co-op is just a business owned and operated by the workers in a democratic fashion, where the workers control where the revenue stays in the company. So no bosses above all of us, no shareholders, etc. For Bethany and I, when it came time to get a team together for a game after the release of Night In The Woods, and after we’d gotten to know Wren, it seemed ridiculous to perpetuate the kind of top-down structures we’d all worked in for most of our adult lives, with all the associated issues everyone’s probably familiar with.
There’s also a political dimension to it in that none of us are particularly big fans of capitalism, but you still need to work and pay rent. So why not try to get something better going? There’s something exciting and liberating about just having a team of equals in the workplace, where we all own what we make and the proceeds from it.
With all the turbulence in today’s video games industry, how do you hope establishing more worker cooperatives like The Glory Society will help stabilize the industry for the workers?
Wren: For one, I think incorporating unions and workers co-ops into the industry will just allow folks to be a lot healthier and happier. I think both the work environments and culture surrounding specific projects will vastly improve. It resolves the issue around poor pay and abuse of labor, and general decision-making can be a lot stronger by not having one person being in control of all of that. It gives the power to a team rather than one person!
Scott: It’s kind of a basic injustice that workers create the actual thing that makes the money, but don’t own what they make and have little to no real say in how the workplace is operated, how funds are allocated, where profits go, etc. The bosses generally get to make all of those decisions. So the goal is to get that power back into the hands of the workers. Unions are historically the biggest way workers do this, banding together to exert power in their workplaces, since you need that unified front to have any chance when confronting and dealing with the bosses.
Worker cooperatives are similar, except we are in a position to skip the boss aspect entirely and form our company as a collective of workers. This enables us to be self-determined in new and cool ways, and allows us to set expectations ourselves. So, for example, there’s a normalized thing in the industry of staffing up for a game and then letting lots of people go after the game ships. Or in more and more cases we’re seeing, just mass layoffs to get stocks one point higher and shareholders more profit. But if you’re all workers and controlling what you’re doing, you’re not really going to make decisions that will mean two-thirds of you get laid off after the project.
It’s of course worth acknowledging that there’s a huge difference between AAA studios and indie developers. While a lot of the worst offenders when it comes to workers’ rights are the AAA studios, how do you see organization impacting (or having a future impact on) small indie studios as well?
Wren: I think workers co-ops will just provide an alternative to the unhealthy climate that is the norm in the games industry.
Bethany Hockenberry: I think a lot of times small businesses of any sort assume (and are told) the only way to run a business is to follow larger corporations because that’s what you’re aiming to become. We’ve had many people ask us how we’ll scale up or what will happen if we become a large studio, which is something we don’t want to do. I guess I hope that seeing some more examples of studios working in a way that focuses on workers helps others see that there are different ways of setting businesses up, and that if you want to stay sustainable and focus on the workers that’s fine (and a good thing!).
Scott: Indie studios (and small businesses in general) can be absolutely horrible for workers, in part because they’re small enough to skirt attention and regulations, and also because as a culture we fetishize them to a ridiculous degree. Like a good chunk of those Mom And Pop operations are just awful for workers, and indie game studios have that same sheen of like integrity and stuff that is just unearned. So worker organizing is pretty crucial in this space as well.
I know Scott and Bethany, at least, are very involved in the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. How do you see socialism starting to affect the video games industry today, and how can it affect video games as it takes a bigger place in our society?
Wren: I think it will just bring a lot more balance and sustainability into the industry! If there’s more of a focus on the workers and their wellbeing, it’s naturally going to have a big positive impact on the games made by said workers.
We’ve had many people ask us how we’ll scale up or what will happen if we become a large studio, which is something we don’t want to do.
Scott: In general you’re seeing a big swing towards worker organization and just the need to push back on rabid capitalism right now. It’s like a lot of mainstream conversations lost that for 40 or 50 years. Like socialism isn’t a super dirty word anymore. People are getting back to those material understandings of like our relationships to production, and how economics and class exert this huge force on our lives and the life of the planet at large. I think people are just getting fed up and wanting better and discovering that hey, if we band together, we can actually work for better. And the games industry isn’t an exception to this.
Large video game studios keep announcing their biggest profit years to date, then making sweeping layoffs in seemingly the same breath. How do you see this co-op, and others like it, combatting or at least offsetting corporate greed and abuse of workers’ rights, especially in video games?
Wren: I’m not sure how much of an impact small team worker co-ops will have on big AAA studios, but I think it can start to show folks there’s a healthy and fulfilling alternative in the games industry. With co-ops we can at least combat the unhealthy work conditions in big studios by making better work conditions for ourselves.
Bethany: I’m not even sure how much at the moment we can offset or combat giant corporations, but at least we can carve out some niches where things can work differently and respect the workers and at the least there’s alternatives the workers can turn to. And at best, it can influence large studios to do better. I mean, ideally it would be great if capitalism were gone, but until then we can do whatever we can to make things better for people.
As I mentioned, Sidequest is a website dedicated to giving a platform to the voices of people of marginalized genders. I know in Night in the Woods your team was really dedicated to having queer representation in the game, with characters like Mae being bi and Jackie being trans. (Jackie is the best, thank you for her.) Can you speak a bit to The Glory Society’s views on inclusion and representation in video games?
Wren: With the games we’re making, I think we’re just putting in the stuff we know and have experience with. I’m a queer trans woman and most of the folks in my social group are some flavor of queer, so naturally that sort of stuff will leak into what we’re all making!
Scott: It’s so weird that it’s controversial to represent humans as they exist in the actual world. Like none of us are looking for special ribbons for being inclusive or anything, we just want to make stuff about the world we know, and the people we know. We’re just trying to be honest about what real people are like. And real people are a really diverse bunch. It’d be weird NOT to reflect that.
You’ve of course stated that you’re working on a secret game, and that you’ll make announcements about it when you’re good and ready. I’m not asking for details, but is there anything you are working on or excited about that you’re willing to share? What can we look forward to as we stay tuned?
Wren: Witches… and cats.
Scott: Free to play battle royale with witches and cats.
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— The Glory Society (@theglorysociety) March 4, 2019
Emily Durham is a science writer by day and a Sidequest copyeditor by night. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her playing Stardew Valley or Sunless Sea, sewing korok cosplays, or taking blurry pictures of her two perfect cats. She tweets sporadically at @EmilyRoseDurham.