They may not be a household name yet, but workers at Vodeo Games are trying to set a positive example for their industry. The studio, which was founded this year by Threes designer Asher Vollmer, has successfully unionized with CODE-CWA — the Communication Workers of America’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees.
Operating out of various locations in the US and Canada, the all-remote team of 13 is an unusual case for a few reasons. Foremost, about half of the bargaining unit are independent contractors – typically the exact sort of workers left out of, or deemed ineligible for, a union.
And while much of the push to unionize digital workspaces in recent years has focused on curbing abuses by management and pay imbalances, Vodeo’s does not appear to stem from a need to course-correct away from imminent disaster. Rather, their desire to unionize seems rooted in wanting to maintain an equitable workplace. “They’re not organizing because there’s some big scary boss, like Bobby Kotick or someone,” campaign lead for CODE-CWA Emma Kinema told Polygon. “They’re organizing because they care so much about the work they do, and they want more of a say over how it’s done — the conditions in which they work to actually make those games that they care about.”
As Kinema alludes to, the games industry has been going through a period of great internal upheaval. Whistleblowers within Rocksteady, Riot, Wildlife and Quantic Dream, have detailed harassment and discrimination. There has also been increased pushback against industry practices such as “crunch,” in which studios demand herculean overtime hours from staff in order to hit targeted release dates. Some Activision-Blizzard workers walked off the job, demanding among other things, the resignation of their CEO, Bobby Kotick. They’ve set up a strike fund and are in the midst of their own union drive.
“All workers deserve a union and a say in how their workplace is run, no matter where they work, what their employment status is, or what kind of conditions they work under,” Myriame Lachapelle, a producer at Vodeo Games, wrote in a statement to press. “We have been inspired by the growing worker organizing within the gaming industry and hope we can set a new precedent for industry-wide standards that will better our shared working conditions and inspire others to do the same.”
Vodeo released its first game, the Peggle-like RPG Beast Breaker, in September to largely positive reviews. It’s available for PC, Mac and Switch.