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Hardspace Shipbreaker support studio unionizes with Canadian Animation Guild

Anemone Hug joins Keywords Studios staff in Canada’s growing game studio union push

Hardspace: Shipbreaker art showing an explosion ripping apart a spaceship. Image: Blackbird Interactive/Focus Entertainment
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.

Canadian developers at Hardspace Shipbreaker support studio Anemone Hug Interactive have voted to unionize, the studio announced Wednesday.

Anemone Hug workers have joined The Canadian Animation Guild, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 938. IATSE largely services entertainment workers internationally, while the British Columbian animation unit focuses on local animation workers — and now game developers.

“For years, game workers in Canada have been working without the benefits and protections of a union collective agreement and without the strength of union representation,” IATSE International vice president and Canadian affairs director John Lewis said in a statement. “Today, a clear message has been sent to game workers in every province — forming a union is not only possible; it has been done.”

Polygon has reached out to IATSE and Anemone Hug for more details, including a staff count and information on how many of those workers are union eligible.

Anemone Hug was founded in 2015 in Vancouver, and supports game development for studios both small and large, including work on Hardspace Shipbreaker, Crossfire Legion, and Secret Ponchos. The studio is also working on its own original game, expected out in 2024, it said on the Anemone Hug website.

Hardspace Shipbreaker, developed by Blackbird Interactive and published by Focus Entertainment, is of particular note: The critically acclaimed game, which came out of early access in 2022, is centered around labor issues and union organizing in space. The game debuted on Xbox this week as part of Xbox Game Pass.

Workers at Anemone Hug joins Keywords Studios’ Edmonton, Canada location in pushing forward unionization efforts in the country. Earlier this year, 16 QA workers at the BioWare contractor voted “yes” to unionization after the studio reportedly implemented a return-to-office order that workers didn’t agree with. Keywords Studios QA workers unionized under United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local No. 401.

Unions have gained momentum in North America over the past few years — union elections are up, even when union membership is down overall, at least in the United States. Retail and warehouse workers for companies like Amazon and Starbucks are leading the headlines, but the momentum has reached the video game industry, too. Before 2020, no studio in North America had unionized; now there are several, forming at studios both big and small.

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