Friday, October 14, 2005

Argh! The Escapist Escapes from Reality.

I really like The Escapist. But this week's Friday special is a hopelessly naive call to unionize the game development industry.

No, dearie, it's not that easy.

Four reasons, in order of increasing importance:

1) There's about fifteen different jobs in game development. Are you unionizing into one giant union for all of them? Oooooooh. That's gonna be messy. That's not mentioning the fact that the cultures of the people who work those jobs is heavily anti-union, so they'll be even less likely to tolerate being marginalized.

2) There's a glut of people ready and willing to do these jobs. Unlike your primitive "coal mine" comparison, it costs EA almost nothing to bring in new drones from anywhere in the world - or go to them, if needed. On top of that, arranging for an effective strike is next to impossible because you'd have a hell of a time convincing the team leads to strike. They're not in nearly as bad a position.

3) This industry is a data driven industry with zero entry barrier. This isn't coal mining. Tomorrow will see the rise of a hundred teenagers trying to make games. None of them will belong to the union, and the union can't get them to join. If it tried, it would find that 99% of them aren't willing to do such a thing and the 1% that does join are among the 99% that will quickly fail.

4) If you do manage, against all odds, to create a union, this is still a data-driven industry. EA will shlep off to India for approximately zero cost, escaping the union and rendering everyone in it without a job. You even proposed this as a way to stop EA from shlepping off to India. Honestly, what are you thinking?

So you're proposing, if I get this straight:

A union specifically for EA employees, because nobody else would join. A union specifically for low-level, instantly replaceable EA employees, because none of the upper ranks would be willing to strike. Eight unions specifically for low-level, instantly replaceable EA employees, because one union for artists, scripters, programmers, sound technicians, etc would result in all of them thinking they're continually getting the shaft.

Which they would be. Unions are a shabby idea. In a matter of a decade, a union turns from something which helps workers get reasonable hours and pay into something which allows workers to slack endlessly while feeding the bloated monster it has become.

Collective bargaining is an excellent idea. But you don't need a union for that. You never did.

A union is an untenable idea for our industry and, worse, a bad one.

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