A staggering 53% of writers in the videogames industry have either experienced or witnessed workplace bullying with almost half (48%) experiencing burn-out or stress related illness, according to a survey of over 800 videogame workers and members of WGGB, which today is launching new guidelines for games writers and those who work with them.
The union is also dealing with an increasing number of game writing members seeking legal representation, advice and support in an industry which has an entrenched reputation for opposing trade union recognition and for allowing bullying, harassment and discrimination, including sexual predation and misogyny, to flourish.
WGGB recently represented a number of members employed in the narrative team at Fusebox Games, where dozens of staff were told they faced losing their jobs, weeks after raising concerns about content in a game. One WGGB member said: “I have never worked in an environment where such passionate, dedicated staff were so mistreated. I filed one of many HR complaints against senior-level management and my contract was immediately terminated in response without any form of resolution or investigation.”
Other companies have garnered attention in an industry blighted by the Gamergate movement, which first surfaced in 2014, years ahead of #MeToo. Ubisoft and Riot Games are some of the organisations to have faced scrutiny, while most recently legal action was launched against US-based Activision Blizzard, makers of Candy Crush, Overwatch and Call of Duty, following allegations that female employees were victims of discrimination in terms of unequal pay, sexual harassment, bullying and retaliation.
To establish best practice and encourage fair, productive and safe workplaces for those involved in the creation of interactive narrative in the videogames industry, WGGB has produced new guidelines, Writing for videogames: a guide for game writers and those who work with them.
The 29-page guide also serves as a handbook for games writers, both emerging and established, and for those who employ them. It provides a blueprint for the role of the game writer, setting suggested pay bands, and covering wide-ranging topics including contracts, agents and outsourcing companies, scripts, royalties and residuals, credits, awards, non-disclosure agreements and much more.
As part of the publication launch WGGB is engaging in outreach with videogames companies in the UK, to encourage them to recognise trade unions in their workplace or work constructively with WGGB, which can provide support and advice on all employment aspects, including equality and diversity, mental health, bullying and harassment policies and negotiations.
WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said: “A unionised industry is a safe industry and a fair industry, and we hope that our new guidelines will not just set best practice in terms of pay and conditions for game writers, but also act as a rallying call to videogames companies to work with us, to fall back on our expertise as a trade union with a long history of championing equality and diversity, standing against bullying and harassment, protecting workers and safeguarding their rights.”
WGGB Videogames Co-Chair Samantha Webb, who is a working game writer and narrative designer, said:
“Although the results from the survey are terrible, sadly I don’t think it will be a great surprise to a lot of game industry professionals. In releasing our new guidelines, we hope to give game writers more support and information, as well as advice on how to protect themselves and what they can do in cases of abusive or toxic workplaces.
“While we often hear stories of bad practice and mistreatment of employees, it’s worth noting that there are lots of studios doing really fantastic work to support and protect their game writers. We hope studios like these continue to flourish in our industry.”