Hey y’all, it’s Joan with another labor in games roundup to ring in the new year! For all your Baldur’s Gate 3s and your Tears of the Kingdoms last year, the human cost of making games feels especially neglected for chasing profits. We’ll get into some of the layoffs news for December as well as some grim overviews for the year as a whole. And some positive union news for a change, with wins for union contracts and labor rights against artificial intelligence!
As other GYGOs have mentioned, a quick reminder to support Palestine and Palestinian people however you can during this ongoing crisis. The team over at People Make Games, one of the only large voices in the games industry openly supporting Palestine, has a great video outlining why we can’t afford to be silent. If you’re in the United States, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights has a great toolkit to help get you involved if you’re not sure where to start.
Video Games Made $180 Billion in 2023, but Laid Off Over 10,000 People
Thanks to the hard work of a few games industry professionals, the scale of games industry layoffs for 2023 has been laid bare… and it’s not great! Technical artist Farkhan Noor over at Riot Games has been maintaining videogamelayoffs.com for the past two years, and Chevy Ray Johnston and @isabelboyd have compiled similar research at wrapped.games.
Both sources cite over 10,000 layoffs across the games industry last year. These 10,000 layoffs don’t include the hundreds of thousands of employees in adjacent fields (tech, etc.). As Farkhan points out, these numbers are likely underreported as they’re based on the layoffs that we actually know about. Given that videogamelayoffs and wrapped.games count different sources to reach 10,000—for example, VGL doesn’t include the 1000+ layoffs at Hasbro this month—I think that’s a safe, though grim, assumption to make.
— Chevy “look at my dog” Ray (@ChevyRay) December 29, 2023
Particularly notable among these layoffs is the story of Destiny studio Bungie. According to an IGN report, there is a “soul-crushing” mood within the studio after 100 people were cut at the end of October. In the wake of a takeover by Sony, these layoffs further remind us that such firings affect not only those who’ve lost their jobs, but those who have to pick up the work after the fact as well. Speaking of which…
Goodbye and Good Riddance, Bobby Kotick
The most hated man in the video games industry (for thirteen years and counting) stepped down from his job at Activision-Blizzard at the end of 2023 as part of the company’s restructuring following the merger with Microsoft. Kotick’s tenure as a CEO leaves a legacy of toxicity at Activision-Blizzard, including a report that he once threatened to have one of his assistants killed.
Despite an internal company investigation suggesting no evidence of wrongdoing at Activision-Blizzard, the company ended a sexual harassment lawsuit with a $54 million dollar settlement with the California Civil Rights Department. This is quite possibly the only good departure reported for games this year. Good riddance, Bobby Kotick.
Tender Claws Union Ratifies First Contract for Game Developers in the US
We have some good union news for a change, too! Tender Claws, the indie studio behind Virtual Virtual Reality, are going into 2024 as the first full studio with a union contract in the United States. Announced in July of 2022, the Tender Claws Human Union comprises 100% of eligible employees. This contract comes just weeks after a collective bargaining agreement between the union and Tender Claws management.
ANNOUNCEMENT: 100% of our members voted YES to ratifying our tentative agreement with management 🗳️🥳🔥. See you in 2024, where we'll be the first game developers in the US to enjoy the benefits of a union contract! pic.twitter.com/5x0oE5JHnT
— Tender Claws Human Union (@tchumanunion) December 22, 2023
Tender Claws isn’t the only studio likely to have a new contact for the new year, either. On December 11, Microsoft’s first US union of Zenimax QA professionals reached a tentative agreement requiring Microsoft to notify the team of 300+ workers when use of AI could affect their work and to consider bargaining requests for its potential impact. This news comes on the heels of Microsoft bringing on 77 temporary workers on as unionized employees for ZeniMax Workers United-CWA. Had Microsoft not had its own 10,000 layoffs this year (across all Microsoft divisions, not just gaming), I would be more excited… but a win’s a win, I suppose.
Considering Microsoft’s rush to embrace AI and recent news of AI development tools at Xbox, it’s nice to see efforts to curtail that rush working out.
In other news…
As if the good news has to be balanced with bad, Microsoft used AI image generation for their ID@Xbox social media late last month before quickly taking down their original tweet. The irony of a post about loving indie games using AI-generated art is not lost on me!
The Brooklyn Strategist, a board game and RPG café in New York City, is the third shop to unionize after a 17-1 vote on December 14th. Strategist joins sister stores Uncommons and Hex & Co; all three stores voted to unionize after owners/co-owners Jon Freeman and Greg May refused to voluntarily recognize them.
And in unused labor news, Waluigi’s creator Fumihide Aoki recently revealed unused designs for a Wapeach character made for 2004’s Mario Power Tennis. The original Instagram posts have since been deleted, but the Internet’s pretty fast with a Ctrl+S—the concept art is still available online. She’s cute!
Happy new year, Sidequest! Here’s hoping 2024 is slightly less of a garbage fire for labor rights—something less than 10,000 layoffs, at least? We’re at least one union stronger going into the year, which feels like progress to me.
Joan Zahra Dark is a writer, organizer, and interdisciplinary artist. They love talking about queer comics, stories that can only be told through interactive mediums, worker cooperatives and gay robots. They’re based in Queens, NYC.