On September 20th 2022, the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) announced that workers at Anemone Hug Interactive, a game developer out of Vancouver, British Columbia, had agreed to unionise as part of The Canadian Animation Guild.
In what is reportedly the first union of its kind in Canada, IATSE International Vice President John Lewis stated as part of the announcement, “Today, a clear message has been sent to game workers in every province – forming a union is not only possible; it has been done.”
Unionisation in the games industry has been a hot topic for months if not years now. Issues such as crunch, harassment and poor working conditions have pushed many development staff to bring these issues directly to management. In many cases, the threat or indeed the actual realisation of unionisation proved to be a powerful tool in leveraging their requests for better treatment. Collective bargaining has been used in many industries in the past, but its only recently that we’ve seen its introduction in a major way to the games industry.
Earlier this year in May, Raven Software’s QA testing division voted to form a union called the Game Workers Alliance in response to alleged wrongful dismissal by management in Activision-Blizzard. Fortunately, Anemone Hug Interactive’s admission to the The Canadian Animation Guild appears o have been more cordial. The IATSE is one of the largest entertainment unions, founded in 1893 by stage hands in the theatre industry, and now covers a wide range of the entertainment landscape.
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb stated, “By working together, game workers can have more control of their working conditions and can address the issues that have been plaguing this industry for years.” The IATSE cites key issues such as overtime payment, harassment and crunch (the practice of extended hours in the lead-up to a game’s release) as being prominent issues faced by game development staff.
Given the recent mass layoffs that have cut a swathe through the games industry, especially in studios such as Lockwood which made a minimum of 29 roles redundant, it’s unlikely calls to unionise will soften anytime soon.