LGBT+: neither doormats nor tokens, we need to act!


Each year, June is Pride Month, a time of celebration, struggle and remembrance for LGBT+ people. It is made necessary to oppose the stigma, discrimination and violence we face, to fight for our freedom and our living conditions.

Although it seems that the rights of LGBT+ people are progressing over the years, it is important to remember that these improvements are still, for the time being, merely hiding a wealth of existing discrimination. They are not evenly distributed, politically, economically and socially: laws and personal circumstances can vary enormously, and the upper classes have greater access to healthcare and safe environments. Violence against us is real, and it can kill. Every year members of our diverse communities die, either assassinated outright, driven to suicide, or left to die in poverty.

These oppressions do not only exist at the level of interpersonal interactions: they are systemic. And work, which dominates our lives, is a major factor in these oppressions. Companies, and the employers who run them, are directly responsible. Through malice, neglect or lack of interest, corporate executives turn a blind eye to the harassment we face, block our gender transitions and the use of our gender identity, allow the wage gap to widen and our precarity to grow…

By creating obstacles and fighting against employee representatives and trade unions, company administrations are directly responsible for the deterioration of our working and living conditions. They contribute to ruining our lives, exploit us for our labour power, and use us for their marketing.

Actual LGBT+ struggles, our struggles, are not about pandering to LGBT-phobic people to get them to ‹ tolerate › us. They seek to enable us to live normal, dignified and materially secure lives. They are intrinsically linked to the struggles of other marginalised groups and trade unions. This year, like all others, we will fight and organise collectively to support our comrades and hasten the fall of patriarchy and capitalism.

In the video game industry

Many of us are still speaking out against the discrimination we face in video game companies. Whether in big companies like Activision-Blizzard, Ubisoft, Quantic Dream, where high-profile cases have made serious problems visible, or in smaller companies that sometimes manage to escape media attention but are no less discriminating. And let’s not forget about schools which, long before we enter the workplace, are already hurting us.

All year long, but especially during the month of June, companies boast about their so-called inclusiveness: rainbow merch like at Ubisoft, big internal conferences to introduce half-measures to their employees, external communication about their LGBT+ employees, non-binding and therefore useless « diversity and inclusion » charters…

We are used as a banner, convenient to wave when useful for their recruitment or instrumentalized for their marketing campaigns, while suffering the hidden face of this « inclusiveness ». In reality, LGBT+ people are discriminated against at all levels: hired less easily, over-represented in the most precarious contracts, generally paid less than their colleagues, disproportionately fired.

As well as suffering LGBT-phobia on a daily basis in the workplace, we are also reduced to watching our stories exploited in the games we work on without being consulted or given the opportunity to speak out about them. At best, our opinions are ignored by a hierarchy that thinks it knows us better than we do. LGBT+ characters and relationships written by cisgender and heterosexual men, which don’t represent us but pander to their fantasies and fetishise us, become selling points for games and companies, but serve as reminders of the oppressions we LGBT+ workers face.

Our demands

To improve the working and living conditions of LGBT+ people, and those of all workers, we demand, among other things:

  • an end to the use of fixed-term contracts, to fight against the precariousness affecting LGBT+ people;
  • the mandatory introduction of publicly available salary grids in companies, to end wage discrimination that disproportionately affects minorities;
  • full coverage of all medical care by company health insurance schemes, including transitioning procedures for transgender people;
  • the use of preferred names and surnames at work upon request, without asking questions or requiring justifications;
  • the introduction of equal and compulsory parental leave, including in case of adoption, for all couples;
  • the inclusion of staff representatives and trade unions in the processes for reporting and managing discrimination and violence in the workplace, so that the voices of those affected can be heard;
  • the inclusion of all workers in decision-making and creative processes, and their total transparency, so that each person concerned can be consulted and act on the company’s choices.

We know from experience that such changes will not be implemented willingly by our bosses simply by asking for it: we must organise together, as we do at the STJV, in order to build the necessary power to force them through.

The struggle goes on

Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected president. While we can be happy that the most immediate fascist threat has been averted, the losers of this election and its campaign are easily identified: all the oppressed and the exploited. For them, 5 more years under Macron will increase their distress and anger, and they may not have the opportunity to sit on their rights again until the next election.

Likewise, we also know its winners: employers, tax evaders, polluters, racists, those who use fear and contempt to crush those more precarious than themselves. Broadly speaking, it is the rich and the selfish who want to knowingly destroy the lives of the losers – if not end them.

Thus, the capitalist order will not only be perpetuated, it will be strengthened. While it may be tempting to give up in this situation, it is the opposite that must be done. Solidarity, liberty and equality are built through constant effort, all together, much more than they are written on schools’ and town halls’ facades.

More than ever, they must guide and support our actions and commitments. As a tool for empowerment, unionism must commit itself in this direction, defend workers and marginalized people, and conquer new rights.

The choice of syndicalism

In a capitalist economy where work is unfortunately central to our lives, it becomes the main battleground for neo-liberal, totalitarian and fascist ideologies. We have seen this clearly in this election campaign with candidates’ stated intentions to force people to work, even in the worst conditions and always more, to prevent people deemed “not French enough” from working and therefore earning a salary, to reduce all welfare protection…

For decades, repeated attacks on labour law and individual freedoms have given more and more power to employers, and have reduced workers’ options for action even further. We already know that the next five years will be at least as difficult as the ones we have just experienced.

Politics cannot be reduced to participating in a few elections: the fight for a fairer world is played out every day, and on scales much more diverse and complex than the few institutional moments of electoral deadlines.

The STJV, which will celebrate its 5th year of existence this year, has assisted hundreds of workers and continues to do so. In doing so, we have witnessed workers and students in distress, exhausted and crushed by corporate performance logics, harassed and belittled by bosses, administrations and HR. But in winning the majority of these cases, we have helped them improve their conditions, and thus seen them regain the freedom, dignity and pride that had been stolen from them.

We have seen that whenever victory is possible, it is through collective struggle. We will carry on these battles together. By facing up to the employers’, governmental and state attacks every day, we can determine and try to build, together, the organisations that are best able to face them and to go on the counter-offensive.

All social progress is the result of the combined action of workers who, through strikes, demonstrations and occupations, have succeeded in establishing collective rights and protections. We are going to continue our struggle outside of electoral politics through collective action on the ground, in order to build a balance of power in favour of the people.

In the video game industry

As video game workers, we have everything to gain by defending our interests and those of our industry through union organisation. Our bosses don’t refrain from doing so, why should we? The end of capitalistic logics, of performance, crunch, but also the end of violence at work, sexist acts, harassment and discriminations of all kinds, this is what we have been fighting for at the STJV for almost 5 years.

In addition to the legal and social actions we support, we also work to reveal the shortcomings of the industry and of private/public video game schools, and assert our rights, for example by publishing propositions for a fairer industry.

Finally, and since video games play a significant role in shaping collective imagination and cultural, social and political spaces, we are fighting for video games to become a medium for positive change.

The lack of democracy in creative processes invariably leads to a tendency for our industry to become increasingly right-wing. Depoliticised themes in games, the use of our medium as a tool for military and nationalist propaganda, the lack of diversity in development teams, the industry’s passive attitude towards the proliferation of fascist groups online, the use of sexist and racist clichés in marketing campaigns… We, as video game workers, have better things to offer to the general public and to society as a whole, and to do this we must impose a balance of power in our favour.

This long-term work, from the creation of a union from scratch to our current strength, is made possible by our members. By pooling our volunteer work and dues, the union gives workers the means to undertake procedures and actions and to win them. Joining a union is part of this titanic work, made possible by the collective.

It’s time for us to take action.

For a fairer video game industry

While waiting for workers to have full control over their work, here, in the run-up to the 2022 presidential and legislative elections, are 8 proposals from the Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo to improve our industry.

1. Reduce working time: switch to a 4-day/28-hour work week with no income loss

Reducing working hours is a historical trend in the economic organisation, thanks to past struggles, which allows workers to gain time to live outside their jobs and to rest. This measure, which is perfectly suited to our industry, is spreading, as evidenced by its adoption by studios of all sizes such as Eidos-Montreal, Die Gute Fabrik, Young Horses and Armor Games, and must become the norm.

2. Effectively make permanent contracts (CDI) the norm, with no exceptions

Abusive uses of fixed-term contracts must be stopped once and for all, especially as a “disguised trial period”, a widespread practice, particularly in the largest French studios. Similarly, the use of other types of contracts and statuses, rarely justified in the video game industry, must be highly regulated and strictly limited to cases where they are explicitly requested by the relevant workers: companies must not propose them on their own.

It is also necessary to allow access to part-time work when workers request it, to take into account everyone’s needs.

3. Make paid and sick leave unlimited, abolish waiting periods and maintain 100% of the salary

As there are countless reasons for having to stop work temporarily to rest, care for oneself, one’s loved ones, etc., it is necessary that leave be unlimited as well, with a minimum annual number of days of leave to be taken. It is particularly crucial to remove the waiting period for sick leaves and compensate them 100%, in order to remove any obstacle to the needed use of these leaves.

In the absence of unlimited holidays, partial coverage of these needs can be achieved with: a 6th week of paid leave; longer, equal and compulsory maternity/paternity leave; the carry over of public holidays falling on a weekend to the previous Friday or the following Monday.

4. Strengthen the power of workers’ representatives, democracy and transparency in companies

Companies are anti-democratic environments by definition, and it is important to change this situation by involving workers in the life of the company and by strengthening the role of their elected representatives.

This includes granting a veto right for staff representatives on anything that already legally requires consultation, enabling workers to have their rights defended by their representatives.

This also requires a reform of the CSE elections to open them up to as many people as possible, by opening up the possibility of running for a CSE seat as soon as the trial period ends, and the possibility of voting in the CSE elections for anyone who has been working for the company for more than 3 months, whatever their status (thus including in particular freelancers, temps, contract workers…).

Since wages are a particular area of discrimination in companies, it is necessary to make the wage grids public, including their evolution with years of experience and inflation, and have them be voted by employees to put an end to it.

Democracy requires time to discuss, debate, and take decisions together, and therefore the allocation for all workers of part of the working time for life and democracy in the company, and the increase of delegation hours for staff representatives.

5. Give workers the power to choose the message and content of their work, and the technologies used

The video game industry, like all industries, loves secrecy and authoritarian power, and imposes choices on workers that go against their ideals or identities. In studios in particular, the design and pre-production phases are conducted behind closed doors or in small committees, with some workers considered “non-creative” or at the bottom of the ladder being systematically sidelined even though their work contributes just as much to the final result. All hierarchical levels and all professions must be involved in the pre-production of video games.

In the same way, it is necessary to impose a systematic consultation of workers on the content of games, on their economic mechanisms and technologies, on the games signed by publishers, and on clients and to attach to it a veto right for workers to be able to collectively reject a project, a feature, a technology or a particular client.

To make this effective, internal transparency on contracts passed with external actors and the relationship with publishers/groups/clients must be total.

6. Make hiring procedures transparent, accessible and non-discriminatory

In video games, hiring procedures are an excuse for all kinds of abuses. This must stop, in particular by ensuring that interviews and job tests must be carried out within a reasonable and very short time: no more tests that take days or weeks to complete. To prevent their exploitation as free labour, these hiring tests must be removed from the company’s final production, and a non-commercial exploitation agreement must be enforced.

To end wage discrimination in hiring, disclosure of the salary and status of the position sought should be made mandatory in job offers.

7. End the exploitation of freelancers and subcontractors through equal rights and working conditions

The video game industry largely relies on the exploitation of poor workers, and very often the improvement of working conditions in Western countries is done by subcontracting suffering abroad. This unacceptable situation must be countered: outsourcing contracts must guarantee that subcontracting workers are paid and treated in the same way as the workers of the contracting company.

Companies also engage in local social dumping by pitting freelancers in France against each other. Contracts of this type must become standardised and public, to ensure transparency and equality between the different freelancers hired.

8. Enforce and strengthen the control of public subsidies, integrate workers’ unions in the awarding commissions

From our direct experiences, it is clear that companies do not like to comply with rules so, in addition to imposing new ones, we need to ensure that they are enforced. The French video game industry is dependent on public funding, in particular from the CNC, to function. This funding, which is most welcome, already requires companies to comply with legislation and to fight against harassment, but without any control. In practice, the state therefore continues to subsidise companies that do not respect any of the eligibility criteria. The requirements for such subsidies must be systematically controlled before any money is paid out.

In addition to the effective deployment of controls, companies must be made more accountable through stronger sanctions in the event of non-compliance with the law. Any judgment against a company must lead to the reimbursement of subsidies received, and to the ineligibility for future subsidies. The law (especially labour law) is being violated across the board and this must stop.

To force companies to put an end to practices that are far too widespread in our industry and that disadvantage workers, contractual commitments must be extended to diversity in hiring, the limitation of turnover, compliance with labour relations and the improvement of working conditions throughout production.

Finally, workers must not be kept away from these transactions. Workers’ representatives must be consulted during controls and unions must be included in the subsidies’ awarding commissions.

8 March 2022: International strike for gender minorities’ rights

March 8 is the international day of struggle for women’s rights. The date was chosen to commemorate the women’s strike of March 8, 1917 in Russia that sparked the Russian revolution, and it has always been a day dedicated to demanding equal rights for all genders and ending gender discrimination through action. In recent years, this day has developed into a massive strike day in many countries.

Feminist struggles in 2021

With the French presidential and parliamentary elections approaching, the climate remains as tense as it was last year: the far right is rampant, democracy is declining, police violence is on the rise, and the Covid-19 epidemic is leading to an increase in precariousness and sexual and gender-based violence. Access to abortion is under threat in many countries, or even in decline, as in the USA, Poland, Russia, Hungary and China. Women and gender minorities are under attack in France and throughout the world. In the workplace, we note that the equal rights theoretically acquired and enshrined in the law are in fact very limited, not applied or simply non-existent, due to a lack of controls, resources and political will.

But despite this alarming situation, we must not forget the victories achieved during the year, which show that the feminist struggle can still win, that it must always go on, everywhere, and never falter.

In France, we can mention:

  • The Ibis Batignolles hotel chambermaids’ victory after 22 months of union struggle and strike action
  • Extension of free contraception until the age of 25
  • A ban on “conversion therapies”
  • Access to abortion increased to 14 weeks

And in the world, this list being far from exhaustive:

  • Progress on different scales on abortion in many countries: Japan, Gibraltar, Namibia, Saint-Martin, Colombia, Mexico…
  • Implementation of measures to combat maternal mortality among African-American women in the USA
  • Unmarried Saudi women can now choose where to live without the consent of their “guardian”
  • Inclusion of pregnancy and maternity leave in the calculation of pensions for women in Argentina
  • Inclusion of LGBTQIA+ history in the school curriculum in Scotland
  • In Indonesia, progress and simplification of administrative procedures, allowing transgender people to obtain an identity card
  • Creation of a domestic violence support scheme in Australia, allowing women to receive money to help them leave their partners

Equality for all is everyone’s business. Whether we are directly concerned by discriminations or not, they have an impact on our lives and fighting against them must be part of our common social goal. This is what we must constantly remind ourselves: our rights can never be taken for granted and it is more important than ever to fight, all of us together, to defend them and acquire new ones.

In the video game industry

Workers around the world are organising and fighting to hold their management and companies accountable, and to destroy sexism in the industry. This is particularly vivid and visible at Ubisoft and Activision-Blizzard, where workers have been fighting for over a year. The scandals revealed at these two industry giants are a particularly sordid example of the gap between theoretical rights and the material reality.

Gender-based violence and discriminations are widespread in the video game industry. Predominantly masculine, it combines in an exacerbated fashion capitalism, meaning the exploitation of workers by those who own the means of production, and patriarchy, the domination by men over people of other genders. This combination leads to situations in which marginalised people experience sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. violence and say nothing because the perpetrator has power over them at work, over their economic situation and over their careers. Very often, it is even the victims who suffer the wrath of their company when they speak out by being forced to resign, “put on the back burner”, suspended, etc.

A notable and telling fact to remember is that the percentage of women in the industry is lower than in video game schools, and their careers are on average much shorter than those of men. Women and other gender minorities are discriminated against in hiring and promotions, face harassment as early as their first internships and often even at school, and are on average paid less than their men colleagues.

Furthermore, practices such as crunch, the high frequency of burnouts and the industry’s incompatibility with family life, combined with the patriarchal division of labour and the predominance of men in the industry, mean that video game production relies on women’s work. These practices result in an overload of domestic work for women, which sadly already falls disproportionately on them in the current patriarchal social organisation.

The role of unions

This is why the syndicalist struggle is also a feminist one, and vice versa! As organisations created to defend workers in their relationship with the companies that exploit them, to improve their material conditions of existence and to empower them, trade unions are uniquely placed to fight for equal pay and against the discriminations, harassment, and harmful working conditions that plague gender minorities.

Trade unions are unique in their powers, as they can communicate directly at companies, represent and assist workers in disputes with their employers (both in court and in disciplinary interviews), negotiate with or pressure company management, etc. In short, by organising workers and reversing the balance of power in the workplace, trade unions are a powerful tool to lead the feminist struggle and ensure that not a single person remains isolated.

Everyone on strike on March 8, 2022!

The Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo is calling for a strike in the video game industry on Tuesday March 8, to fight against gender discrimination and inequality in our industry. We call on women and gender minorities to strike against reproductive work (housework, childcare, emotional work, …) for the whole week of March 8, and we invite everyone to come to the demonstrations on March 8, 2022.

This call covers the STJV’s field of action in the private sector, and therefore applies to any person employed by a company that publishes, distributes, provides services and/or creates video games or video game equipment, whatever their position or status and whatever the type of production of their company (console, PC, mobile, serious games, VR/AR experiences, game engines, marketing services, game consoles, streaming, etc. ), as well as all the teachers working in private schools in courses related to video game production. For all these people, and since this is a national call to strike, no action is necessary to go on strike: you just have to not come to work on the days you want to strike.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Changes need to take place in the educational content

This article is a sub-section of a large report on French video game studies published by the STJV. You will find the table of contents of this dossier, and links to all its parts, here :

Whatever the source of improvement in the situation – through global pressure at the society level, through sudden awareness of school administrations, or through internal activism – the actual changes will mostly target the hierarchical and political organisation of these companies. In the first place, the classes taught.

In many schools, especially private ones, there is an overabundance of technical classes, focused purely on practical applications, such as the use of a particular software program. Schools and companies have an agreement, more or less explicit, to train future employees to be docile and to be assigned to a simple, unjustified operational role. If they are not given insight into the creative, theoretical and technological world inside and outside of video games, they will be forced to remain at the mercy of companies. By only being considered, and sometimes by only considering oneself, as yet another person clicking on buttons, one locks themselves into a role that can theoretically be replaced at will by a multitude of candidates trained the same way. And by having learned only very specific technical tools, it becomes all the more difficult to sell one’s experience in places where they are not or no longer used.

It is therefore urgent to widen the field of disciplines taught, and to teach in the interest of students rather than companies. This will involve opening up to more “academic” and “theoretical” fields, often wrongly considered useless, especially when they are not directly related to “video games”.

To begin with, there is an imperative need for project management courses, one of the biggest gaps in the video game industry, and not to do it from a project manager or team leader point of view, since the majority of students will never be one. Some schools are already raising awareness about production planning and monitoring, in order to teach students to manage workloads and analyse their production capacities. This approach should be extended, in particular to teach students to detect any danger of going into crunch, and how to prevent it, but also so that future workers can understand the production processes at work in companies and identify the causes of organisational problems. Moreover, this would allow them to have an impact on it, and thus to improve their working conditions and no longer have to blindly trust their superiors and their abuse.

To move forward, it is crucial to enable students to develop critical thinking skills about video games, media and cultural products in general. Video games are one of the most significant media in the world, and it is necessary that those whose job it will be to create them have access to the knowledge that will enable them to handle its discourse and uses:

  • Critical classes about the video game industry, its current state and future trends, will help them to better understand the important economic and social movements that run through it, and to position themselves within it.
  • In addition, classes in art history, video game history, and even game history, could break down our industry’s exceptionalism myth, and expose its less glamorous sides (notably its links with the arms industry).
  • Opening up to video game research would be an important starting point for breaking down the barriers between video game production and the fields that study them, and allowing a better circulation and valuation of the knowledge that shapes this medium.
  • Analysis of mass media and their discourses would allow future creators to better understand their own role and place in the propagation of ideas to the public. Similarly, broad classes on sociology, philosophy, economics, politics, etc. could have a positive impact on video games as a medium. Understanding the social structures in which creators are embedded can only sharpen the understanding and design of the video game produced.

Finally, and this needs a paragraph of its own, it is crucial that students are taught about labour law. People graduating and entering the labour market, and this is unfortunately not limited to the video game industry, are unaware of their rights and the different employment regimes that exist. This makes them vulnerable when negotiating their contracts, and often delays their recourse to legal action when they are exposed to abuse, as we still experience all too often. Not informing them about these rights only serves the companies and reinforces predatory behaviour on young workers.

The STJV regularly gives talks in schools and universities to present the basics of labour law and provide information on how the industry works, but this is far from enough. In general, organisations and professionals that defend and represent workers (lawyers, workers’ representatives, unions, etc.) should have access to schools and give lectures there. Conversely, such classes should definitely not be given by entrepreneurs, speakers from employers’ unions, etc. whose material interests are diametrically opposed to those of workers.

For the same reason, it is also crucial that companies and their organisations no longer have a hold on schools, which must cease their partnerships with them. Representatives of employers’ lobbies and studios, who hijack presentations to advertise the industry and their companies, go so far as to lie, spread false information and cover up the disastrous working conditions that await entry-level workers there. They must no longer be tolerated. Even more necessary, partnerships between companies and schools for student projects must be eliminated. These must be pedagogical exercises, for the benefit of the students and not the companies! They must therefore be prepared by the school’s teaching staff. If the aim is to simulate a “customer order”, this can be done perfectly well without using companies. Making students work for an entity outside the school is at best a failure in the pedagogical process, at worst completely illegal and falls under concealed (“off the books”) work.

Finally, curricula that require the validation of numerous internships are detrimental to students, whether or not they follow said curriculum, and to the quality of their own teaching. When internships come to replace a third or even half of academic semesters, sometimes as early as the first year, the very point of pursuing these studies comes into question compared to directly seeking a job. The number of students looking for an internship each year makes this search so difficult, especially for short internships, that they are no longer done for any pedagogical or professional interest but with the sole purpose of validating grades, at any cost. Companies do not make the situation any better, the vast majority of them seeking to make interns profitable, not caring at all about the pedagogical aspect of the internship. This provides them with a weakened, abundant and almost free labour force to offload all sorts of tasks.

Schools must therefore reduce the number of compulsory internships in their curricula, in particular by eliminating short internships which are so difficult to obtain. While, given the amount of abuse it causes, we believe that the notion of internships as they currently exist in France should be abolished altogether, we understand that they are a real necessity for students in order to hope to land a job. In such a case, the STJV advocates keeping only an end-of-study internship, as a tool to validate and apply the knowledge acquired during the course of the studies in a professional environment. These long internships, which can sometimes lead to a job, are the only ones that can bring something to students that the school itself cannot. Reducing the number of internships also makes it easier for schools to set up a real educational project between students and host companies, and the monitoring that goes with it, which is currently lacking in the vast majority of internships.

NFTs in video games: harmful technology, speculative bubble, it must all go

A lot has been said about « crypto-currencies » and related technologies, and many have already done so, whether it is about the stability or the centralization of power (on a supposedly « decentralized » technology) of these systems. Also on NFTs to explain how, in general, this technology has no use. So, even if their environmental impact could magically be reduced by some imaginary new method of consensus, there is plenty to question about these technologies.

But let’s focus on the field of video games, which is what we are interested in here. There is a « virtual gold rush » by many video game companies on NFTs. Their announcements about NFTs are often hailed by investors and other « crypto-enthusiasts » who have very little to do with video games (and don’t seem to understand much about them). In video games as in other fields, the only reason people talk about NFTs is not for their intrinsic value, but for their market value. The parallels with the art market and its many, many abuses place this technology in an unfavourable light from the start.

Q: What do NFTs actually bring to games? A: Nothing

To summarise the content of the above links, blockchain and NFTs are technologies looking for problems to solve, rather than solving existing problems. This is a very bad starting point, going completely against the concepts of design and engineering. When all you have is a hammer, everything else looks like a nail.

This situation is all the more obvious and deplorable when the properties so touted by the promoters of NFTs in games are already feasible, and already exist, without blockchain nor NFTs. Unsurprisingly, these uses are already harmful even with « conventional » technologies.

  • Unique objects with various properties? Team Fortress 2 has been doing this for over 10 years, with trading possible within the Steam platform.
  • Items that can be exchanged for real money? Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has proven that this is possible, all while creating a money laundering system in the process.
  • Obtaining items « in exchange » for playing time (play-to-earn)? MMORPGs and gacha games have made this their raison d’être, long before NFTs were even mentioned.
  • Want to sell items? Diablo 3 did it, and since it caused all sorts of problems, Blizzard finally decided to remove this feature.
  • Want to make money by offering a game experience on your favourite platform? Roblox does that without a blockchain either, provided you do’nt mind child exploitation and censorship

It gets even worse: so far, we’ve been talking about NFTs « in theory ». But, in practice, video game companies don’t and never will have any incentive to provide « full » and free-to-use NFTs. For example, the terms of use for Quartz, Ubisoft’s take on NFTs, state that « you may not modify the Visual Representation [of the NFT] in any way […], use the Visual Representation [of the NFT] in videos or any other form of media ». Proof that, whatever the provider may claim, the use of these NFTs is not yours to decide.

As an aside, one may also note this extremely charitable formula: « Ubisoft is not liable to you or to any third party for any claim or damage that may arise from any use of the Tezos blockchain network, payments or transactions you make ». In other words, good luck if anything happens to you because Ubisoft will not help you.

An NFT is a reference to an object that can be used in a closed ecosystem, whose existence and usefulness (and therefore value) remain subordinate to the goodwill of the operator of said ecosystem (the company that publishes the game). For it to be usable anywhere else, it would not only require the agreement of the company publishing the NFT, but also the willingness of another company to integrate it into its games without any notable gain for it.

However, as we know, video game companies are the exact opposite of paragons of virtue or disinterested works; their executives’ pay is convincing enough. Have you complained about lootboxes, games sold piecemeal with dozens of DLC and other season passes? Don’t believe for a moment that these same companies will suddenly be generous on NFTs. They will just explain that you didn’t understand.

Why then is there such a rush to put NFTs in games?

The reasons for integrating this technology are varied, but let’s get the most obvious one out of the way right away: for some time now, there has been a speculative bubble completely unleashed around « blockchain » and NFTs. This is the reason why companies that have nothing to do with this technical field have found themselves boasting about having « their » NFTs, even if it means taking the occasional hit. This is primarily a promotional ploy by companies towards investment funds, a pathetic attempt to lure people who know even less technically than our executives (which is not always easy to find).

The second, more fundamentally vicious reason is a covert financialisation of games. Introducing NFTs into a video game allows monetised exchanges, in crypto-pretend-money, without having to assume the consequences. Indeed, in the event of a transaction problem, error, theft or scam, the video game’s publisher will be able to absolve itself of any responsibility by taking refuge behind the argument « everything is in the blockchain, the code does not lie! » This will in no way prevent these same publishers from promoting this « play-to-earn » model and the murky possibilities of making a financial profit from it.

If they were to assume their role as guarantors of this market, which they are in fact, these publishers would have to offer the same guarantees as banks, such as being able to give you back the money you store within the system, and ensuring the validity and traceability of transactions on their platforms. Surprisingly, companies are not rushing to the door when it comes to putting their responsibility at stake and deploying costly guarantees!

Artificial scarcity, illusory value

This subject of financialisation is crucial. Our daily lives are constantly affected by the impact of markets that are less and less correlated with the real world. Whether it’s the subprime crisis of 2008, the various speculative bubbles (of which crypto-currencies could very well be the next to burst), the lives sacrificed during the COVID-19 pandemic in the name of the sacrosanct economy: the carnage must end, in video games and elsewhere.

It is natural to see the way the economy works, the revolting profits made by the richest while many fall into poverty, and to conclude that there is something wrong with the system. But the answer and the solution is not to say « well, what’s missing is the possibility for me to exploit others too ». The solution is not to reproduce the scarcity of the « real world » in a purely artificial way in our digital spaces, but its exact opposite: to bring abundance for all in our physical societies.

Breaking our (block)chains

NFTs are not just a bad solution to a problem that does not exist and that no one has really raised, they are also another symbol of the harmful functioning of economies so greedy for profits that they seek to monetise the non-existent. Let’s not fall into this trap!

The STJV, one of whose goals is to extract video game production from the infernal capitalist circle in which it finds itself, is therefore opposed to the use of these technologies in video games. Video games should not be casinos that allow studios and publishers to exploit the most fragile and youngest among us. This is a demand that aims to protect our ability to produce quality works, as well as to protect the players who wish to enjoy them.

The STJV nevertheless supports the workers forced by their companies to work on these technologies, or their already existing equivalent such as lootboxes, and will support any struggle to stop their use. You are not responsible for the insatiable financial appetite of your bosses.

January 27, 2022 strikes for wages, pensions and benefits: call for strikes in the video game industry

Since the beginning of 2021 inflation, in France and in the rest of Europe, is dangerously rising, and with it the cost of living, especially this year energy costs. Wages, social benefits, pensions, allowances, etc. are not keeping up with this inflation, leading to a general loss of purchasing power. The job market is stagnating, the implementation of the latest elements of the unemployment insurance reform keeps impoverishing hundreds of thousands of people.

In this context of growing poverty, the latest annual report of the Secours Catholique explains, for example, that one in 10 people living in France has asked for food aid, and that among these more than a quarter (i‧e. nearly 2 million people!) regularly spend a whole day without eating. These numbers are rising for the first time in a while, and have particularly increased among young people under 25.

The campaign for the next elections, presidential and parliamentary, will see a majority of candidates calling for a reduction in state welfare. Rather than wasting time analysing manifestos to see who will be willing to leave scraps for precarious and young people, pensioners and workers, we must take the lead and impose clear demands.

While, since 2021, victorious local struggles for better wages are multiplying, an intersyndicale has called for a national demonstration on January 27, to demand higher wages for both the private and public sectors, higher allowances for young people in training and looking for work, and higher pensions for retirees.

In the video game industry, there is a high degree of precariousness for people at the beginning of their careers, for freelancers, for jobs that employers consider expendable (QA, CM, etc.) and, in the context of the Covid-19 epidemic, for people working in companies that receive visitors. Most of us know or have known the hardships caused by low wages, unemployment, the fear of not finding a (new) job.

The Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo (STJV) is thus joining the movement by calling for a strike on January 27, 2022, and is calling on video game workers, unemployed people, retirees and students to organise themselves in their companies, in general assemblies and in the demonstrations that will take place throughout France. The STJV will be officially present in several demonstrations in France.

This call covers the STJV’s field of action in the private sector, and therefore applies to any person employed by a company that publishes, distributes, provides services and/or creates video games or video game equipment, whatever their position or status and whatever the type of production of their company (console, PC, mobile, serious games, VR/AR experiences, game engines, marketing services, game consoles, streaming, etc. ), as well as all the teachers working in private schools in courses related to video game production. For all these people, and since this is a national call to strike, no action is necessary to go on strike: you just have to not come to work on the days you want to strike.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

New epidemic wave, same solutions: remote work, self-isolation, vaccines

In a previous communiqué, we reminded everyone of the threat posed by the French government’s political choices and misleading communication around the « covid pass » and the vaccines against Covid-19, which are not the infallible panacea they tried to sell us.

Discussions on the pandemic and public health are virtually absent from all media, which are more interested in spinning the latest far-right moral panic and campaigning for fascists. After nearly two years in a pandemic situation, a new variant emerges, the epidemic rises to unprecedented levels, and the government is still pursuing its criminal policy of inaction. It is as if Covid had not already caused more than 100,000 deaths in France, the majority of which could have been avoided by taking more deliberate measures rather than touting miracle solutions to benefit the capitalist agenda at every stage.

The new and particularly worrying variant, Omicron, could make the situation even worse, like Delta before it. It should be remembered that the higher the circulation of the virus, the more likely it is that these mutations will appear, kill more people and prolong the epidemic. The flaws in public health policies directly favour their emergence. This is why it is absolutely necessary to lift patents on vaccines in order to ensure equitable and global access to vaccination and to stop the pandemic.

At this very moment, many video game companies are trying to formalise their remote working policies, generally doing their best not to make it too widespread, and to maintain their control over their employees. Some have even forced a full return to the office for several months already. We demand the massive implementation of remote working in the video game industry, so that all voluntary workers can avoid risking their health at work and while commuting.

This demand is neither absurd nor complicated, as previous waves have shown that it is feasible. Companies had massively implemented remote work, which remains a practical, efficient and proven solution after more than a year of pandemic. Video games jobs are generally very well fitting to this kind of work, and so there are no longer any valid excuses for not reducing workers’, and their close relatives, exposition to the virus – and more importantly, for not reducing the industry’s workers contribution to virus circulation within the population as a whole.

If physical presence in the office is really necessary, the application of sanitary measures (disinfection and ventilation of the premises, physical distancing, protection by wearing a mask throughout the working day) is indispensable and compulsory. It should also be reminded that technical devices exist, and must be adopted in addition to individual measures: CO2 sensors (in french) can detect a lack of ventilation (this of course requires that the necessary measures are taken in case of insufficient ventilation !), and air filtration devices (HEPA standard) are a suitable solution for places where ventilation is not possible. These are not comfort measures, but necessary conditions for any work in shared spaces!

For workers, the benefits (significant reduction of risks for oneself (in french) and others (in french), and ultimately participation in the eradication of the virus) of vaccination are immense and undeniable but, contrary to the lies peddled by some ministers, it does not protect 100% and does not completely prevent infecting oneself or others. Vaccination is therefore not an individual but a collective solution.

It is important that as many of us as possible take advantage of having access to a booster dose (third for most people) to get vaccinated, not to blindly follow the government but for the health of us all. Let’s remember that the law passed last July by the French Parliament includes, in its article 17 (in french), the right for employees to go and get vaccinated during working hours, without any penalty to their salary or holiday rights. There is therefore no longer any excuse on that front, and we will be uncompromising with any company that opposes the exercise of this right.

From the beginning, the government’s vaccination campaign has disproportionately favoured the wealthy, like all its policies. Let’s act autonomously to build a vaccination coverage capable of protecting all workers!

To build the solidarity and mutual aid necessary to face the pandemic, let us continue together to :

  • get vaccinated and get the necessary booster shots;
  • encourage our relatives to get vaccinated;
  • help people who suffer from the discriminatory nature of access to vaccination appointments to get them;
  • remind and demand the strict application of sanitary measures in our everyday life and at work;
  • isolate ourselves and get tested whenever possible, at the onset of symptoms or if any doubt arises.

Schools are serving the industry, not their students

This article is a sub-section of a large report on French video game studies published by the STJV. You will find the table of contents of this dossier, and links to all its parts, here :

As a consequence of the problems cited, video game studies accustom students to working in poor conditions, being overloaded with work and having to organize and find solutions to problems alone, without support. This goes against the primary mission of schools: teaching. They also expose them to sexist atmospheres (often categorised by the term “boys’ club”) and harassment, while indulging in favouritism towards people with harmful or even dangerous behaviour. Finally, by promising them wonderful careers in an exciting environment, and dispossessing them of their work and knowingly ignoring labour laws, they push them into precariousness.

Taken together, these problems combine to reveal the true function of higher education as conceived in the video game (and many other) industry: schools serve the industry and companies, not their “clients,” i‧e. the students. Whether this function is conscious or not among school administrations does not matter, because the result remains the same regardless of the intention.

The first result of this submission to the industry consists in studies that ensure a pre-selection of future workers for the companies. While this occurs from the admission process, as previously stated, the material costs and studying conditions finalise the elimination of weakened, marginalised and disabled people. The “non-conforming” persons who manage to enter video game studies are under continuous pressure during their school years, pushing them to drop out. Among the few figures available on the French video game industry, there are two that speak volumes in the SNJV’s annual survey and expose the extent of the problem for women, one of the categories of people discriminated against, among so many others: for 2019, it indicates a percentage of 26% women in video game schools, but only 14% of women in the industry’s companies. This reflects discrimination in hiring, but also the large number of women who drop out during their studies.

This pre-selection allows companies to ensure that the majority of the people they recruit will be “fitted” to the industry, or “docile” enough to suffer in silence, and that they will therefore not need to adapt their offices, methods and work organisations, thus saving them money. It also has the effect of homogenising the industry: socially, by keeping a majority of employees from middle and upper classes, and culturally, by ensuring that the ideas, themes and intentions brought by workers do not go too far outside the current industry framework. Efforts to push students to create “marketable” games, and the consequent favouritism towards students who fit into the industry’s mould, play a huge part in this cultural standardisation. This is despite the fact that the industry would benefit from leaving more room for the exploration of new themes and mechanics.

In addition to this social selection, the schools also participate very actively in formatting students, pushing them to accept degraded working conditions in studios. Classes are mostly technical, to meet the requirements of job offers, and do not care much about the socialisation and well-being of students at work. Courses addressing labour law, corporate relations and the problems one encounters there are rare. But in a way this is understandable, since these same problems are present in schools (as evidenced by the number of them that do not respect labour laws). In the few schools that do offer them, they are particularly focused on entrepreneurship, which has multiple uses for the employers:

  • to make students dream of setting up their own studio;
  • to make them think like bosses;
  • to push them towards precarious situations such as self-employment;
  • to divert them from the legal recourses to which they have access.

« to get hired for sure, you should take on an auto-entrepreneur (freelance) status and ask for half the minimum wage for a full time job »

Statement from a manager at école Bellecour

« During a “contract and law” class, it was explained to us that if we had a problem, going to the labour courts meant taking the risk of being “flagged” as a troublemaker »

Former student at a video game school

Schools do not only offer talks by professionals and companies wishing to share their knowledge. They also invite professionals who simply come to advertise their products, production processes or studio like sales representatives, as well as employers’ lobbies (of which the schools are often members). It is thus almost impossible to escape from decontextualised business propaganda during one’s studies, the purpose of which being to teach students to love the degraded working conditions of the industry.«

« [We had] interventions from video game “professionals” to teach us how to crunch properly. […] We were conditioned to enjoy it. In our heads it was fantastic. »

Former student at a video game school

These professionals are now coming to select students directly in schools. This is done mainly through project juries, which are often treated by students and jury members as similar to job interviews, especially since these moments are presented by the schools as opportunities for companies to seek potential candidates. Typically, these juries are composed of professionals who volunteered after an announcement or proposal from the schools, sometimes relayed and approved internally by companies. What passes for a commendable initiative at first glance, is once again akin to free labour to the benefit of the schools, with many perverse effects. Indeed, these volunteers are almost never qualified to review student work, and their presence can be motivated by a wide variety of very personal and sometimes dangerous motives, with some seeing it as an opportunity to smear students’ work or even to harass them. Their presence also contributes to the reproduction and standardisation of the industry’s products, by favouring projects close to their personal tastes and to what they themselves produce.

« The school *** is looking for pros for its end of year jury. […] It’s the perfect opportunity to go and encourage the kids and/or to go take it out on them »

Internal mail from a French studio

The direct presence, at all levels, of professionals and representatives of the industry blurs the boundary between the latter and schools, particularly by ensuring the promotion of the industry to the detriment of informing students about its much less pleasant realities. Whether this is conscious and/or admitted or not, the purpose of schools remains to provide productive machines to companies, not to prepare people to live their work in the best conditions. The STJV’s interventions in schools, which we have been doing for several years and during which we introduce students to internship and labour laws and to the realities of the industry, are an attempt at compensating for their shortcomings and at counterbalancing the presence of employer lobbies within them. We will continue our efforts in this direction and remain available, with the aim of doing so in as many schools as possible. Do not hesitate to contact us.

Harassment: Ubisoft chooses delaying tactics and communication campaigns instead of protecting employees

This statement was written by French Ubisoft employees, including the STJV sections at Ubisoft Annecy, Ubisoft Montpellier and Ubisoft Paris, and adresses the situations we face in our day-to-day lives. While our conclusions may not apply to everyone within the company (due to legal differences between countries, for example), we believe that the principles described here remain valid everywhere and would be happy to get in touch with workers leading similar struggles outside of France.

NB: Throughout this article, we’ll refer to « CSEs ». A CSE (Comité Social Économique, aka Economic and Social Committee) is a workers council that’s mandatory by French law in any company over 11 employees. Its members are elected by the company’s workers, and they are protected from unjustified firing by their employer. A CSE is tasked with protecting the company’s workers by advising them on their rights, giving feedback to the company’s management on the problems they observe and making sure that the company respects the law.

A little over a year ago, Ubisoft faced an unprecedented wave of testimonies about numerous cases of harassment and aggressions taking place within the group. These reports implicated many people, including some high up in the group’s hierarchy, and revealed a corporate structure that felt no remorse ignoring the many alerts issued about its members, and drove victims to resign.

Our analysis of the situation has not changed since then. More than ever, it is necessary that workers (through their representatives, unions or other local structures) are fully involved in the decision-making processes to address these issues. As such, the members of our sections within Ubisoft who are also members of the CSEs, and in particular our section representatives, have worked hard to ensure that this is the case.

This exhausting work (see the timeline at the end of this article), engaging with a management structure that used any trick at its disposal to buy time, is now blocked by a brutal and completely out-of-touch response from the group’s management, which outright refuses our demands. Once again, they cannot in any way claim to be wiping the slate clean by replacing only one or two well-known « figureheads » in order to conjure up a cleaner image.

By refusing to include employees in the feedback and decision-making process on harassment, Ubisoft management shows that it never had any intention to do more than communicate to « save face ».

Another recent element illustrates this: the introduction of a sixth evaluation attribute (in addition to the five existing ones). This sixth attribute, « Act as a role model », would apply to everyone working at Ubisoft, and would not only impact their remuneration like the rest of the evaluation (see link below), but it would also be used as a multiplier for the production bonus in case of a game release. There are huge problems with this attribute, as it is given overwhelming importance, while its definition is extremely vague: « showing empathy », « being inclusive », « having a constructive approach »…

Ubisoft’s evaluation system is already deeply flawed and unfair, as we pointed out last June. This system is a factor of psycho-social risks, and adding a device that is highly likely to increase these risk factors rather than fundamentally reforming the evaluation and remuneration systems in place is simply irresponsible.

This addition is purely about public image: it will allow management to boast that it is fighting against harassment via a salary impact, while completely ignoring the fact that it is a tool that only intervenes after the fact (since it is used at the time of the evaluation), and that it is riddled with critical flaws: the predominant role of the manager in a situation where problems often come from these hierarchical superiors, possible discrimination against people who do not « fit in », etc. Therefore, this attribute could effectively become another harassment and discrimination tool available to the group’s management, rather than one used to fight against it.

This was not lost on our members from marginalised groups who immediately saw how these measures would exacerbate rather than reduce the discrimination they face:

  • There is a real risk that their marginalisation will be highlighted in the evaluations: in the event of a positive evaluation, the person will be considered « privileged » by nature, reinforcing potential accusations of favouritism, or of being a « token ».
  • A person who defends themselves against inappropriate remarks or misbehaviour may be evaluated negatively for their « non-constructive » approach or « difficulty in integrating with the team » even more than at present.
  • This attribute does not help to reveal or regulate harassment problems within teams: it can instead be an additional means of repression, and in all likelihood a harasser will not be « punished » at the evaluation if they have not already been subjected to disciplinary actions.
  • It should also be remembered that this attribute does not help to improve the evaluation process, since this process is dependent on the budget allocated for salary increases (see our previous article above).
  • It should also be remembered that marginalised people are already most often penalised with lower salaries. They are therefore particularly likely to be harmed if their manager abuses this sixth attribute.
  • People with neuroatypical empathic functioning could be blamed and punished in the name of this supposedly inclusive attribute.

The conclusion of this frightening, yet non-exhaustive, list is that this sixth attribute would rather encourage the people it is supposed to protect to remain silent so as not to be discriminated against further – or worse, that it encourages dangerous people to amplify their violence towards victims to silence them.

The STJV, on behalf of its members working in the Ubisoft group, is therefore demanding that the sixth attribute draft proposition be withdrawn altogether, as well as the integration of workers at all levels of the harassment reporting process, and not just downstream, after management has been able to water down or even cover up certain cases.