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Why Might a Videogame Developer Join a Union?
Labor Studies Journal (2017)
  • Johanna Weststar
  • Marie-Josee Legault, Universite du Quebec - Tele-universite
Union renewal remains an important topic because unions continue to struggle with membership decline across OECD countries. One reason for this decline is de-industrialization. Core union jobs in manufacturing have been replaced with a rising tertiary sector where unions have less historical presence. As such, the unionization of the service sector is an important opportunity for union growth. The challenges unions face in organizing low-wage service jobs have been well documented. However, the discussion of unionization in the growing sector of high-end service jobs such as business-to-business services, finance, and information and communications technology (ICT) is less developed (for exceptions see Amman, Carpenter & Neff, 2007; Haiven, 2006; van Jaarsveld, 2004).
Yet, the historical record shows that it was often skilled workers who were able to form viable unions as a counter response to threats of devalue and deskilling (Fiorito & Gallagher, 2013) and forms of occupational closure, including unionization, have been a protective tool consistently utilized by technical and professional trades (Campbell & Haiven, 2011). Therefore, these employment challenges can encourage post-industrial knowledge workers to consider unionization.
One such group of knowledge workers is videogame developers (VGDs). These are the artists, programmers, designers, writers and other technical specialists who design and develop videogames. Over the course of a systematic research program on VGDs, we have documented collective dissatisfaction with workplace conditions such as long hours, unlimited and uncompensated overtime (UUO), systemic underrepresentation of women, poor management, and employment insecurity (Legault & Weststar, 2012; Weststar & Legault, 2015; Peticca-Harris, Weststar & McKenna, 2015). We have also presented survey data from 2009 which showed a surprisingly high degree of interest in unionization on the part of VGD respondents. In the face of this apparent interest in, but lack of unionization (the classic representation gap articulated by Freeman & Rogers, 2006), we have qualitatively interrogated the fit of traditional mobilization theses (i.e., Kelly, 1998) for VGDs (Legault & Weststar, 2014, 2015a).
Among other barriers (Legault & Weststar, 2014, 2015a), we suggested that when workers carry out a cost-benefit analysis of unionisation, they find some drawbacks in the enterprise-based legal framework of unionisation in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Indeed, this model doesn’t suit an industry where mobility of labor force and capital, both national and international, is paramount. The knowledge economy has brought up important challenges to the decentralized Wagnerian organizing model found in Anglo-Saxon countries.
This paper further explores the question of the adequacy of unionizing models for VGDs through a quantitative examination of voting propensity for two types of union: enterprise-based (i.e. single worksite, employer and union) and industry or sector-based (i.e., multi-worksite, multi-employer and single union). Our analysis relies on exclusive data from the 2014 International Game Developers Association Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS) to test the relations between sociodemographic and occupational variables, on one hand, and voting proclivity toward enterprise and sector-based unionisation on the other hand.
  • videogame industry,
  • project management,
  • unions,
  • union renewal,
  • knowledge work
Publication Date
Citation Information
Johanna Weststar and Marie-Josee Legault. "Why Might a Videogame Developer Join a Union?" Labor Studies Journal (2017)
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