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a mouse talking to a hedgehog Image: Vodeo Games

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North America has its first video game union at Vodeo Games

Vodeo Workers United partnered with CODE-CWA

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Workers at Beast Breaker developer Vodeo Games have unionized, creating the first certified video game studio union in North America. Vodeo management voluntarily recognized the union, which includes both full-time employees and contracted workers.

Vodeo was founded this year by Threes creator Asher Vollmer, with the studio’s first game, Beast Breaker, released in September. The studio intends to release one video game a year. It describes its games as cozy-crunchy: “They are small, intimate games that you can curl up with and completely lose yourself in. At the same time, they are games full of complex, interlocking systems that can take years to fully master.” Beast Breaker, for its part, is a ball-bouncing, turn-based strategy game that’s been compared to Peggle.

The company is entirely remote, with its staff of roughly 13 employees and contract workers spread across both the United States and Canada. The union, called Vodeo Workers United, represents all eligible employees — more than half of whom are independent contractors.

“We were really inspired by what a lot of our colleagues were doing in the game industry and the tech industry and beyond — Voltage Organized Workers, United Paizo Workers … there was a lot going on,” Vodeo designer Carolyn Jong told Polygon. “It felt like a natural next step for us to be talking about, ‘Hey, maybe we should be unionizing,’ and help set a positive precedent for the digital games industry as well.”

With voluntary recognition from Vodeo management, Vodeo Workers United will not have to force a National Labor Relations Board vote. The group will soon begin contract negotiations to ensure a fair, equitable workplace, and to lock in benefits they already have and love — like a four-day work week.

screenshot from beast breaker, with a mouse bouncing around a screen Image: Vodeo Games

Vodeo Workers United is now the first officially recognized video game studio union in North America. Its staff follows in the footsteps of other game industry workers who’ve made history for workers rights. This includes Voltage Organized Workers, the Lovestruck: Choose Your Romance developers who went on 21-day strike in 2020 and won without official union recognition, and United Paizo Workers and Cards Against Humanity Workers United, which made history as the first tabletop gaming unions.

The video game industry has seen increased momentum towards unionization, with video game studios abroad — like Paradox Interactive workers in Sweden and Nexon workers in South Korea — forming workers’ groups. Collective bargaining and union efforts have also ramped up in North America over the past few years, as studios began to reckon with accusations of workplace misconduct and unfair conditions.

Game director Chris Floyd said Vodeo workers were focused on creating fair conditions at a studio where they love to work, but also to be an example to workers at other companies interested in unionizing.

“We’re looking at the wider industry, and all of us were aware of how necessary these kinds of steps are for our industry,” Floyd told Polygon. “Looking around, that’s just really obvious.”

CODE-CWA campaign lead Emma Kinema told Polygon that union organizing and workers’ rights are not goals that are at odds with loving your work and wanting to make amazing video games, or being proud of your studio. She pointed to Vodeo as an example of that. “They’re not organizing because there’s some big scary boss, like Bobby Kotick or someone,” Kinema said. “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.”

Myriame Lachapelle, a Vodeo producer, continued: “We’re here to say, ‘Hey, it can be done.’ It’s often said that the digital game industry is special — that unions are good for other industries, like film, that it wouldn’t work for games, especially smaller indie teams. [...] But everyone deserves a union, like three or 10 or 200 or thousands of people.”

CODE-CWA logo, a fist with a pencil, paint brush, and wrench Image: CODE-CWA

Vodeo Workers United partnered with the Communications Workers of America, specifically, the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), a group that supports organization efforts in the game and technology industries. (Some Vodeo developers are also members of the Game Workers Unite group in Montreal, too.) The CWA as a whole represents more than 700,000 public and private workers across education, technology, and media. CODE-CWA is involved in unionization efforts across the game industry, including at Activision Blizzard, where some QA workers are still on strike following layoffs at subsidiary Raven Software. A group of Activision Blizzard workers, called ABK Workers’ Alliance, announced a union push in December. More than $300,000 has since been raised for striking workers. Workers are still asking Activision Blizzard to ensure its workplace is safe for workers, following allegations — and multiple lawsuits — of a sexist workplace detrimental to women and minorities.

“We’ve been in a phase the past several years of groundwork building, laying the educational and narrative work around why folks should organize, and why game workers are just like anyone else,” Kinema from CODE-CWA told Polygon. “All workers deserve a union.”

She continued: “We’re starting to see a qualitative shift into a new phase of that, where you see workers en masse, whether it’s thousands of workers at Ubisoft or Activision Blizzard, or, again, the workers of Paizo and Vodeo organizing a union. We’re seeing a shift where it’s moving from talking about this thing — pushing for this thing — and actually seeing the thing come alive and weaving worker organization out of thin air.”