Discriminations in the video games industry: systemic problems require collective solutions

Waves of accusations of sexism, harassment, LGBTphobia and other forms of discriminations in our industry keep repeating and, even though their scale increases, the process stays unchanged. A few people raise their voice, putting their careers, financial stability, and mental health at risk. This in turn liberates others and motivates them to speak up as well. A few particularly toxic predators become the public face of the problem. Companies react by silencing the ensuing media storm and/or by firing the problematic persons (when they didn’t quit by themselves), without really changing their internal structure. At the end of the day, studios and aggressors suffer no real consequences, especially from a legal standpoint.

Multiple oppressions

It is noticeably clear that there are mechanisms in place to protect predators in the video games industry, just like in other sectors. Those lead to complete impunity for the people at the top of the chain. Conversely, younger and more precarious people form the bulk of the industry’s workers, yet they are seen as dispensable, which heightens their vulnerability and makes it virtually impossible for them to defend themselves from aggressions.

This is compounded by the low proportion of women in studios (in France, on average, they make up about 14% of the video game industry’s workforce), the culture of crunch and secrecy, as well as the industry’s employment pressure (“You’re lucky to have this job, if we need to replace you we’ll find 10 other people who are willing to”), all of which makes it harder for workers to oppose sexism. Not only are these elements fundamentally unbearable, they also worsen the violence enacted upon women and minorities. In a society where social roles unfortunately remain gendered and where women are still burdened with most of the day-to-day tasks, these industry practices put an overwhelming pressure on said women, which makes them even more likely to stay silent. The stakes, and therefore the risks, are much higher for people who are not men.

A toxic culture reinforced by its structural aspects

We believe the French video games industry is just like in other countries, and we know its structure does not encourage victims of harassment or sexual aggressions to speak up nor report these behaviours. The STJV regularly receives reports and grievances, by mail or through conversations, about working conditions and the everyday life within companies in general, and about sexism and sexual harassment in particular. Yet it is very rare for this kind of affair to be made public. This omerta is partly due to the concentration of power in the hands of employers and their organisations.

One can find the same kind of institutions, employer organisations, at the helm of every big industry event in France: the SNJV is behind the Gamecamp and the Pégases ; Capital Games organises IndieCade Europe and Game Connection Europe ; the SELL manages the Paris Games Week, etc. These spaces meant for showcasing your work, meeting other people from the industry and exchanging with them, are therefore managed by groups whose priorities do not align with forcing employers to solve their harassment problems as quickly as possible.

The importance of these meeting spaces (and of all their local, informal equivalents) in a video games career makes them rarely safe places, in which predators can use their power and connections to abuse others.

Company parties, another regular occurrence in the stories we hear, bar meet-ups or conference parties are not specific places where bad behaviours suddenly emerge, they are instead a magnifying lens that shines a light on the actual day-to-day reality of the industry. Matters are made worse there by the fact workers, overburdened with mismanaged quantities of work and omnipresent pressure, end up using those moments to let loose in a festive atmosphere, which makes them even more vulnerable.

This kind of behaviours also fit very closely to the testimonies we receive about the French video game schools. How could one expect meaningful change if students are taught before they even get hired that crunch is to be expected, that parties are an outlet, and that sexual wrongdoings are not punished?

While there are specificities, video games studios are not the only places where sexism and other discriminations run rampant. The problem is pervasive to our whole society, and it has to be addressed at every level.

When no other solution works, public call-outs are the last resort

The recent accounts point specifically to HR departments being at best passive, and at worst complicit in covering for aggressors. HR is presented as the first line of defence in situations of harassment or discrimination, yet they end up working against victims. That this many complaints did not lead to swift and efficient action is absurd. Let us remind all workers that, in France, employers have a legal obligation of results when it comes to protecting employees. They must use any and all measures available to prevent problems like harassment, and put an end to it as soon as possible if it still happens, and are legally liable if these measures fail.

The employees’ situations are made harder to cope with because legal complaints of harassment or sexual aggressions are extremely hard to follow through (be it because of the police refusing to open cases, or because legal proceedings are slow and rarely reach a conclusion). The global trend in diminishing the budgets of French employee protection institutions does not help the situation. It ends up being an unsurmountable task to actually face companies in court, when they have all the means necessary to defend themselves.

How can it be a surprise to anyone, then, that in the absence of any other channel, victims turn to social networks and broadcast their calls for help in the form of call-outs?

Crisis management over meaningful change

With employee defence groups being historically absent from the video games industry, companies have gotten away with ignoring their duties, worsening even further the isolation and precariousness victims are faced with. Recent initiatives such as the STJV aim at upending that situation.

When faced with call-outs, the studios’ first reaction is to protect their brand image. This is primarily geared towards consumers and financing firms, but also because they want to preserve the very widespread (and wildly misleading) idea that the industry is an informal place with a welcoming and safe atmosphere. To react to the call-outs and recognize that sexism is a reality of our industry would destroy this idyllic image that employer lobbies worked very hard to craft over the years. Admitting that there is a sexism problem in the company is admitting the employer’s responsibility, and weakens the position of some of the people of power in the studio. That is a step very few executives are willing to take.

While there have been sparse efforts, the situation mostly stagnates. More and more employees speak up and are aware of the problems in their studios but, as long as no structural change is enacted, no real evolution will happen. Most executives refuse to reconsider the way their studios work because of financial and managerial frictions, and because it would also question their own reactions and attitudes towards discriminations. Only a few independent studios have really managed to tackle these issues, but we attribute that ability to their small size, which means a small number of people feeling concerned or being aware of the problems is enough to prompt change.

What are the solutions?

We believe more than ever that a fix to those issues will not only come from management. Since the necessary transformations go against the economic interests and the domination structures companies are based on, they cannot be left to decide alone of the solutions.

External companies whose missions and goals are fixed by employers, and whose findings are not binding, cannot be a proper measure alone. Solutions must come from the workers themselves, and be overseen by independent structures. Unions, by nature, are properly equipped to allow marginalized people to organize and act while shielding them from management’s pressure.

The reports make one thing very clear: subordination within the company is a major obstacle to any honest and exhaustive evaluation of moral or physical harassment within studios. This reinforces our determination to keep creating strong union sections within companies, enabling them to counterbalance studios’ management and demand concrete action. These sections free the workers from the subordination they would otherwise encounter in the company, and make it easier to report the problems they encounter. They can then coordinate with other structures like CSEs (social & economic committees, elected workers representatives within companies) to find suitable solutions.

We call on studio executives to face the truth: up until now, what little they did was not efficient. If they really wish to change things, they should first stop treating call-outs or reports of discriminations as crisis management opportunities, but instead engage in true reflection, that includes workers, about the way discrimination accounts are handled, as well as the means to prevent further wrongdoings. If studio executives do not reconsider how subordination affects the freedom for workers to talk and denounce those problems, or if they do not include workers in the discussions, management will remain untrusted.

If we want to find a solution to those problems, all workers of the industry need to unite. The control mechanisms in place in game companies are very tightly linked to the general organization of work. We need to gather and rally to demand the proper means to protect ourselves from the toxic structural effects.

The STJV stands at the ready to help out workers who need it, whether they’re unionised or not, through listening to people’s stories or by providing advice. If the situation requires it, we are also ready to support legal actions.

Naughty Dog, content leaks, and what they tell us about our industry

As everyone is now aware, someone recently leaked the cutscenes from the highly anticipated game The Last of Us part II. While we do not feel like adding to the pile of reactions on the topic, this is a good time to take a step back and talk about what is really at stake: the video games industry’s obsession with secrecy and the developers’ emotional involvement in their work.

But first things first, let’s be clear: this article is not meant to clear the leaker of any responsibility. Much of the online discourse surrounding this event has been about finding out whether this was done as revenge against Naughty Dog (which, as you may know, is known for its practice of crunch), and this in turn has led to many mild reactions such as this one: https://twitter.com/jasonschreier/status/1254832952057434113

Again, our goal is not to find excuses for this action when we have no knowledge of the ins and outs of the leaks, but to remember that workers can – and will – break down under pressure, and that policing manners in such a way doesn’t help anyone.

But we must ask ourselves, why so much noise and heated debate around these leaks? Sure enough, spoilers are annoying, but the spoilers culture is first and foremost a marketing tool that has been (over)used very extensively by various entertainment industries. A blatant example can be found in this trailer (where it’s the only thing being discussed!), but one could also think of the huge wave of spoilers when Star Wars 7 released.

Let’s be realistic: spoilers have always been here, and there’s good reason to believe they’re here to stay. « Cutscene movies » of most games are up on YouTube on release day, or even earlier (when games are sold before street date for example). And this is without even touching on the topic of planned leaks.

So, why do spoilers matter so much? And why, in general, does the industry put so much stock in secrecy? One could think of it as a way to avoid negative reactions before release when most full-price sales happen. There is certainly a noticeable trend where big publishers and studios shun journalists by not holding preview events, or by putting embargo dates on reviews on the game’s release date. But since nowadays games have revenues smoothed over their lifetime (with the emergence of games as a service, patches, etc), does this argument really make sense on its own?

Clearly, the perception of a game is influenced by what relevant information is made available, and that can lead to missing the creators’ intended effect on the players. This is something you hear a lot from video game workers who want to see those leaks kept under wraps. But information filtering is also a technique companies use to assert their control over their workers!

Many of us have heard a variation of “think of your colleagues” when the topic of leaks comes up. By ordering us to stay silent, we are made to depend on the goodwill of our employers, our managers, our publishers and their marketing teams, to speak in our place, about the games WE make, under threat of punishment, firing or other legal consequences. This is a very strong form of control over all game workers, who end up being deprived of any power over how their work is displayed and perceived, or otherwise made to face unwarranted risks. The issue isn’t so much about forbidding any control over games information, but to know WHO is in control, and to wonder why such control is so omnipresent and widespread. Forbidding us to talk about our work to colleagues or friends is absurd and shameful for us. We are not secret agents!

Likewise, while calls to respect “the developers’ passion” are for the most part well-meaning, these miss the fact that said (undeniable) passion very often ends up breeding alienation in the same workers, in that it gets used to justify bad work conditions and low salaries. No one wishes to do away with passion, but we have to face the fact that our passion is used as a tool by company owners. As such, as workers, we need to distance ourselves from it in order to care for our own well-being and get back to the idea that a spoiler, as annoying as it may be, is only a minor bump on the road when compared to the product’s actual quality or the meaning it can convey to the audience.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that workers will feel affected by leaks. What else do we get from the games we make, since fame is reserved to “authors”, company owners and creative directors, and wealth to investors and shareholders?

We understand the pain one feels from such a loss of control over the one thing we’re left with: the pride of making a product people will enjoy. But this goes to show that our passion is exploited by employers. It allows them to obfuscate the hierarchical differences that exist within capitalist organizations, and to keep pushing the myth that games can be collective works made by & benefited from by equals even in such contexts.

Passion helps us cope with alienating work conditions, but if people are emotionally involved in a production, they should also be democratically involved in the decision making surrounding it, and also in sharing the profits. We cannot accept the status quo which dictates that because of the passion we hold dear, we should be made to suffer in silence.

About the Naughty Dog leaks: one person spoiling the whole game will have a relatively small impact on the studio as a whole, or on its owners, and the benefit of the action is dubious at best. But if the culture and myths surrounding secrecy didn’t exist, the same leaks would have sounded a lot less meaningful to the leaker. This seems like yet another instance of the Streisand Effect in action!

In conclusion, before we set out to condemn something that is, all things considered, quite benign, and someone who it seems wasn’t working at the studio anyway, let’s take the time to wonder why leaking the game may have looked to them like it could “hurt” the company.

To those who feel like they have their backs against the wall: unions exist for such a purpose. Contact us or other unions, depending on where you work, in France or abroad. Let’s organize together to defend ourselves, fend off loneliness and despair, and change the industry!

DONTNOD Entertainment workers’ answer to the studio’s communique about the COVID-19 pandemic

On March 19th 2020, Dontnod Entertainment issued a communique in which the studio congratulates itself for its management of the COVID-19 crisis. Many employees have expressed discomfort after reading this communique, as it does not reflect the events they experienced.

The workers would like to present some clarifications :

  • The elected staff representatives (the CSE) had contacted the company’s management on March 3rd, requesting the deployment of solutions to allow remote work, in reaction to the rapid growth of the pandemic.
  • At the CSE’s initiative two successive meetings were held with the management on March 6th and 9th, during which this request was declined both times.
    • When the CSE requested remote work to be opened to everyone at the company, the management answered it was « impossible for some employees » (the QA and IT teams in particular).
    • When the CSE then requested remote work to be opened at least to those who could do it, the management answered it would be « unfair » towards the teams unable to work remotely. The CSE tried to explain that, in the context of a pandemic, this would reduce physical contact between employees and would benefit everyone, but the studio’s management refused to see it that way.
    • The management also alluded to a decrease in productivity the studio was not able to bear, however without providing any document to back up this claim. It is important to note that most team leads, upon being asked the question, also expressed doubts about the ability for their teams to stay productive while working remotely.
    • Management also claimed that they did not have any legal obligation to accept remote work because there was no legal dispositions to force it yet.
  • On March 13th, following Emmanuel Macron’s first TV allocution, Dontnod’s management finally encouraged employees to work remotely in an email addressed to all the staff.
  • On March 16th, following Emmanuel Macron’s second TV allocution, Dontnod made remote work mandatory for all workers except for the QA and IT teams, in charge of the transition from in-office work.
    • These are the same teams the management claimed they were defending by forbidding large-scale remote work, who saw themselves compelled, by their work ethics, to keep going to their workplace for several more days in order to ensure the continuity of the services and implement everything needed for other employees to work remotely.
    • We think it is important to highlight that these teams are generally at the very bottom of the pay scale for video games professions, and are also the less recognized in video games production lines. Yet it was those teams who were, in fine, the most exposed, and who made possible the transition to remote work for all other employees.
  • Before March 13th, the measures taken by the studio’s management came down to those made mandatory by the government (hand sanitizer made available on each floor, email with instructions on how to protect oneself and other, quarantine for employees coming back from infected areas), and the cancellation or postponing of motion-capture shootings abroad.

All of this information comes in contradiction with the communique stating the protection of workers has been organised as soon as January.

Moreover, it appears today that remote work was not « impossible for some employees » but rather that the management didn’t want to spend the resources necessary to such adjusments, though they were essential to the workers’ protection.

Several of our colleagues are showing signs of COVID-19 symptoms. Taking into account the virus’ incubation time, it is likely that those actually infected have been so before social distancing measures and remote work came into effect.

Dontnod’s management first reacted by warning only the people working in the same open-space as those potentially contaminated, although we have a common cafeteria, common elevators and our work meetings gather employees from different floors. Eventually, the management sent an email on March 24th informing employees that « some persons are showing signs of COVID-19 symptoms » and that they might have been infected « at work or elsewhere ».

For all these reasons, we are meeting with great skepticism Dontnod’s communique declaring the health of its employees is the company’s top priority. We perfectly understand the difficulties presented by a crisis of such importance, however it does not mean we will accept such distortions of reality.

While our workers’ representatives were concerned with our health, Dontnod’s management refused on several occasions to establish safety measures, particularly in the name of productivity.

In addition, we wish to express our support and solidarity with all the workers forced to go to work or put at risk by bosses considering profits more important than their, and their relavites’, health. We will mobilise in person as soon as the crisis is over to defend our rights, the provisions of our Code du Travail (labour laws) and our public services.

Addendum :

After the publication of our statement, some colleagues have expressed doubt on a few of our points, to which we want to add a some precisions:

  • It has been omitted in the initial statement that QA team leads insisted on the optional side of their team being physically present at work, and on their right to stay at home ; in effect, no QA worker went to their office since the beginning of the lockdown.
  • We also want to remind everyone that this statement was published quite late: two weeks after the Dontnod’s PR team statement to which it replies. Between the publication of Dontnod’s statement and that of the workers we have noticed, with relief, that management has respected its obligation of protection of their workers and put into place all the means necessary so that the teams can telework properly, in the right conditions.

We remain united with and available to all our colleagues – unionized or not – if they have any comments, questions or problems: you can contact us at stjv-dontnod@framalistes.org.

Fight against the pensions system reform : a (provisional) report

On the 5th of December of last year, the Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo (french Video Game Workers Union) published, as part of a national fight against a planned overhaul of the french pension system, the very first nation-wide call to strike of its history. On the 1st of January, we published a second call to strike, which we extended several times until February 23rd, for a total of 54 days.

It is, as far as we know, the first time the video game industry mobilised this way for a national political struggle. And this mobilisation is much greater than what we expected. We were able to register several hundreds days of strike among the workers we’re in contact with; days which allowed the industry’s workers to organize, to learn, to rest, to meet each other and build new relationship; days taken back from the companies exploiting us and profiting from our passions.

The STJV was also present during protests with official groups at every big demonstration since the beginning of the movement, in 6 cities across France, gathering more than a hundred people on several occasions. These demonstrations gave us the opportunity to meet and chat with unions from other industries, feminist collectives, organisations defending unemployed people, students unions, etc. and to make new allies.

The rallying of (almost) all the unions and leftist organisations allowed us, all together, to win the public opinion battle. Indeed the majority of french people are asking for the complete withdrawal of the planned reform, while an even bigger majority wants the government to hold a referendum to decide whether to cancel it or not. In the meantime the government remains adamant, refuses to listen to the people and would rather get bogged down in a parliamentary process in which even the ruling party’s absolute majority cannot help. We’re even hearing rumors about the use of the 49.3 article of the constitution, which allows a government to pass a law without the approval of the parliamentary institutions, as if the insult to democracy was not already bad enough.

It is the time we choose, following other unions, to take a break. After more than 2 months of mass movement we are exhausted, our members need to rest, to save back money after all the unpaid striking days. This break will not only give us time to better prepare the future of the movements, but also to make progress on other important subjects. In particular, the STJV will be present for the March 8th actions for the international day of struggle for women’s rights. Do not hesitate to join the union to help us, we are always in need of more people !

However, and as long as the planned reform hasn’t been withdrawn, we need to stay alert and ready. We are already calling for a massive mobilisation on the 31st of March, and to form corteges all around France under the banner of the STJV. We will later publish an official call to strike for the occasion.

Call to strike in the video game industry 1st to 10th of January 2020

For the 5th of December, the first day of the social movement against a planned overhaul of the French pension system, the STJV (Syndicat des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Jeu Vidéo, or Video Game Workers Union) issued a call to strike. The movement has been largely followed in the video game industry : more workers than we expected went on strike and the STJV, present at every protest since the beginning of the strike, has been able to gather around 100 people in 4 cities in France on the biggest days of action. We have also been able to exchange ideas and info with other unions, and meet workers and inform them about our activities, their rights and how they can defend them. This strike movement is creating favorable conditions to build workers unity and a collective base to fight for a better future for everyone.

The revelations concerning Jean-Paul Delevoye, who was in charge of the planned pensions overhaul until his recent resignation, and his numerous conflicts of interest, showed clearly that the goal of this attempt at reforming the pension system is to favor private interests, in particular pension funds, and eventually wealthy people. Delevoye is gone but his reform stands. The new state secretary appointed to lead the reform, Laurent Pietraszewski, is not known for his love of workers and unions: we are not expecting anything from him. We do not wish to reach any compromise, and need to keep rallying until the complete withdrawal of the pensions overhaul project.

Every step back on a social benefit threatens all social rights, painfully gained through social struggle, by creating a window of opportunity to lower them. After the labor laws and unemployment benefits reforms, both already having the effect of impoverishing the population and making people’s lives precarious, the government will keep on its destructive endeavor as long as we do not put a stop to it.

Our demands did not change: complete and non-negotiable withdrawal of the planned pension system overhaul, improvements to the current pension system, better working conditions, less job insecurity, and overall more equality. More precisely, in the video game industry: end of the crunch culture, higher salaries, equality between genders, fight against harassment and every form of discrimination, end of the generalization of precarious contracts, end of the exploitation of interns!

Since the 5th of December we have been following the calls to strike issued by the large trade unions confederations, which we passed along to our members and on Twitter. We are now issuing our own renewable call to strike, which covers the STJV’s field of action in the private sector, from the 1st to the 10th of January 2020 included. The union will then assemble to discuss the future of the strike and the possible renewal of this call to strike. We are inviting everyone to organize or take part in general assemblies everywhere in France.

This call concerns: every person employed by a company editing, distributing, providing services for and/or creating video games whichever position or status they have in the company and whatever type of games or services produced by the company (console/PC games, mobile games, serious games, VR/AR experiences, game engines, marketing services, etc.), as well as all teachers working in private schools on video game related curriculum. For all these people, and since it is a nationwide call to strike, there is no procedure needed to go on strike legally: you simply need to not show up to work on the days you wish to strike.

We are also inviting freelancers, content creators, students, researchers, members of workers co-ops and unemployed people to take part in the strike effort and to join us in future protests and gatherings.

December 5th : the STJV’s call to strike

The STJV is issuing a call for every worker in the video game industry, every student in video game related studies, and everyone able to do so, to go on strike on Thursday, December 5th, to protest against the pensions overhaul project and, on the contrary, to ask for improvements to the current pension system, better working conditions, less job insecurity, and overall more equality.

This overhaul project’s goal is to make us retire later in life and to reduce pensions. We cannot accept more precariousness regarding pensions, especially after health-destructing and underpaid careers in video games. We do not want to lose our lives making a living! By attacking the “special” pension schemes, which have been won through social struggles, the government is trying to divide us. Every industry, every craft that loses benefits is one more excuse to justify lowering the standards for everyone. We must unite and defend, together, our desire for a better life.

When it comes to workers’ rights the current government, just as its predecessors, is on its way to dismantle everything that’s been gained in the past. Video game workers, already threatened by the neoliberal practices rampant in our industry, cannot accept more cuts to their rights. Between the unemployment benefits reform, which is already reducing the standard of living for many of us stuck between contracts in a slow-recruiting industry, and the incoming Project Contract, the future of our industry cannot be conceived without social struggle.

We demand better working conditions and the respect of our rights: end of the crunch culture, higher salaries, equality between genders, fight against harassment and every form of discrimination, end of the generalization of precarious contracts, end of the exploitation of interns!

We believe the unity of workers, across different industries and demands, will allow us to build a collective base able to create, with everyone carrying this hope, a better future not only for our jobs but also for the whole population and for the planet. This strike will be an occasion to come together and unite everyone’s struggle.

For all these reasons, the STJV is issuing this call to strike and will march along other unions in several cities. We encourage everyone who is working, has worked in the past, or is looking to work in the future in the video game industry, whatever their status, to gather at the meeting points which we will organize. We would like to remind workers in the private sector that, since it is a nationwide call to strike, they don’t need to do anything in particular to participate in the strike: you only need to not show up to work on the 5th of December.

Gumi Europe’s employees laid off at a discount !

We relay a statement from our colleagues at gumi Europe, from Paris. A japanese version of the statement is available below the english one.

 

Following the official announcement of the termination of its latest game, Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner, gumi Europe (developer and publisher) will be closing down.

The employees denounce cheap severance packages, and are pointing out the parent company’s, Tokyo-based gumi Inc., responsibilities in this closure.

What is gumi Inc. being criticized for ?

  • The conditions offered to people being laid off are minimal, in spite of all the mutual and personal investments during the game’s extremely tense development phase;
  • The company hasn’t considered finding alternative or exploratory solutions in order to facilitate the redeployment of gumi EU’s future ex-employees or the future of their careers;
  • gumi EU (France-based European branch of gumi Inc.) benefits from public funding in the form of a tax credit granted by the CNC, the french institution in charge of public funding for the video game industry, for a value of 1,5 million euros, while at the same time destroying jobs without considering ways to preserve them;
  • gumi Inc. is putting a lot of blame on gumi EU, going as far as questioning its own employees’ skills, in order to justify its decision to shut down gumi EU. However gumi Europe, being a branch of gumi Inc., cannot be held responsible for management errors attributable to the parent company, which held all decision power.

gumi Inc. is wasting human talent

After an important reorganisation phase between 2016 and 2017 (with the replacement of a large part of the workforce), after more than 2 years of development, and after the international launch of Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner, gumi Inc. has suddenly decided to shut down the game and to close the Paris studio (gumi EU). While the decision appears to have been taken by gumi Inc. as soon as October 2018, the workers’ representative was only told about it officially in April 2019, after 6 months of a demotivating atmosphere of uncertainty taking hold on the studio.

Consequently between October 2018, date at which the marketing budget for the game was gradually reduced (until it reached 0) and a month long waiting time followed the release of the game, and April 2019, date at which the employees finally learned about the studio’s closure, more than 20 people left the company after their contract were not renewed or following their resignation due to the lack of motivation. This lead to several departments being unable to operate correctly and having to resort to makeshift solutions in order to keep running the game and release new content for the community every week, a crucial element with the free to play economic model. To give a few examples, in February 2019 gumi EU started operating without a marketing department, and in April 2019 the internal QA team was reduced to… 2 interns!

A worsening phenomenon, after the effective stop in marketing in October 2018 gumi Inc. set extremely ambitious goals for gumi EU with a deadline for December 2018, too short to be realistically achieved. Achieving these goals was the condition set by gumi Inc. to start investing in marketing again. As gumi EU’s workers were already scrambling to fill out the positions left open in the studio, they had to invest themselves even more to try to achieve these goals, which meant they had to resort to working at night and on weekends. This renewed practice of crunch was already a recurring thing at gumi EU, to allow the studio to achieve the delivery goals set by gumi Inc. All of this happened while gumi Inc. was already considering shutting down the branch.

The workforce at gumi EU is talented and has skills that can be reused in other studios or activities of the group (video games, VR, crypto-currency, etc.).Gumi Inc. didn’t show any intention to do skill assessments of its employees or to try redeploying the, instead choosing to abruptly close the studio without caring for its employees.

Moreover, although it happened before in the group’s history (during Stockholm’s studio closure in 2016) and despite explicit request by some employees, gumi Inc. refuses to sell the game’s source code, which would have allowed to secure the creation of a new studio for at least 10 ex-employees who would have benefited from 3 years of technological development. Gumi Inc. never mentioned searching for an external buyer or the possibility to sell to the workers. By doing that, gumi Inc. shows yet again they have no intention to make any effort to secure the future of their ex-employees.

gumi demolisher of the community’s trust

The free to play model for games relies on the trust established between the developers and the players’ community. To help establish it, the teams at gumi EU have made – since 2014 and the first project operated by the studio, Brave Frontier – numerous efforts and listened to players’ feedback and expectations thanks to its community managers. It resulted in several hundred thousand hours of in-game play, and at least as many euros invested in the game by players. This virtuous circle was brutally brought to an end by gumi Inc.’s decision to shut down the game, which lead to a rapid breakdown of the built-up community following the announcement of the game’s closure on June 11th 2019. The community feels ripped off after so much commitment.

Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner sadly represents only one of several such cases at gumi. It leads us to think that gumi Inc. sees its community of players only as a financial reserve, while omitting the prerequisite trust in its relationship with them. It must also be added that community managers communicate with players non-anonymously, and that their identity is public. It causes a problem of reputation on the job market. How can they dissociate their personal reputation from the one of an employer whose commitment is untrustworthy?

gumi is getting public funding but does not respect its promises

1,5 million euros of public funding has been granted to gumi EU in the form of a tax credit, to help with the development and launch of Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner.

As a quid pro quo, it is implicitly asked that the development and commercialisation plans for the games be respected. But in the plan presented to the CNC (which grants public funding for video games), which allowed for the validation of the tax credit, 3,5 million euros over several months were planned. In the end only 500 000 euros were actually invested in marketing, speeding up the collapse of the game’s fame and giving gumi Inc. an excuse for their decision to close gumi EU, since the results they were asking for were not achieved.

The situation is both one of failure to respect these declarations and commitments, and one of deliberately creating the conditions that lead to the situation necessary for the group to justify the closure of gumi Europe.

For all these reasons, gumi EU’s employees feel cheated and not respected, considering their investment on the 3 years production of the game.

Moreover, the management at gumi hired some highly skilled persons outside of France (primarily from Europe and Asia) and had them move on promises of long-term career plans (promises of more games being produced by gumi EU). None of that will happen, and we have the common feeling that it is our duty to keep the bond of trust that made these people come to France intact, to protect our attractiveness and competitiveness.

The employees at gumi Europe are asking for the reconsideration and reevaluation of their severance packages, and hope that their demands will be heard before they have to take legal action.


Japanese version

gumi Europe の従業員が安く首切り!

最新のゲーム「Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner」の取り消しが発表された後、開発者と出版社gumi Europeは閉鎖する予定だ。

gumiの従業員はケチな調整手当を攻撃して、閉鎖の責任は東京で位置された親会社gumi Inc.にあるということを指摘している。

gumi Inc. はなぜ非難されている?

ゲームの緊迫した開発段階の間に互いと個人のインベストメントのくせに、首切った従業員に与えた調整手当は最小だ。

会社は gumi EUの元従業員の再配置、キャリアの未来を促進するために代替解決を考慮に入れていなかった。

gumi Inc. のヨーロッパの子会社で、フランスで位置されたgumi EUは公的資金から利を得るのに雇用を保つ方法を考慮せずに仕事を廃棄している。この公的資金はCNCというのフランスの協会が与えている税額控除で、15十万ユーロの価値だ。

この閉鎖を弁解するために、gumi Inc. は gumi EU に非難をつけていて、自分の従業員のスキルも疑問している。しかし、gumi EU は gumi Inc. の子会社なので、全部の決定を行った親会社の運営失態に責められるのはいけない。

gumi Inc. は人材を無駄にしている

2016年から2017年までの重要な更生段階(大勢の人員が入り変えた時)の後も、2年間以上の開発の後も、「Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner」の国際発売の後も、gumi Inc. は突如ゲームを取り消し、パリのスタジオ(gumi EU)を閉鎖するという決定をした。この決定が2018年10月の程度早く行われたようなのに、従業者の代表者はつい2019年4月に告げられていた。それまでに、やる気を失わせる空気が6月間にわたってスタジオで現れた。

その結果、2018年10月から2019年4月(従業者がついにスタジオの閉鎖について聞いた時)まで、請負が更新しなかった理由で、それともやる気が失ったから辞職した理由で20人以上が会社をやめた。そのため、いくつかの部門は正しく運営できなくなった。ゲームを続けて、新しいコンテンツを毎週にコミュニティに与えるために、その場限りの解決が必要になった。たとえば、2019年2月にgumi EUがマーケティング部門なしで運営しはじめた。2019年4月に、社内のQAチームが2人のインターンに切った。

もっとひどいのは、マーケティングが2018年10月に終わった後、gumi Inc. が gumi EUにすごく野心的な目標を設定した。締め切りは2018年12月で、遂げることは現実的にできなかった。マーケティングにもう一度投資するように、この目標を達成することは gumi Inc. が設定した条件だった。gumi EU の従業員はもう必死にスタジオの欠員を補充してみていたから、この目標を達成するようにもっとがんばらなければならなかった。それで、夜間と週末に働く仕方がなかった。実は、gumi Inc. が設定した目標を達成するように、この新たにしたクランチュという実行はもう gumi EU で繰り返されている現象だった。この時期に、 gumi Inc. はもう子会社の閉鎖を考慮に入れていった。

Gumi EU の従業員は才能があって、ほかのスタジオや活動に再配置できるスキルもある(ゲーム、VR、暗号通貨など)。gumi Inc. はこの従業員を能力評価するか、再配置する意向を示せず、むしろ不意にスタジオを閉鎖する決定した。

その上、gumi グループの歴史に前に起こったが(ストックホルムのスタジオが2016年に閉鎖したの間)、ある従業員がはっきりと頼んだのに、gumi Inc. はゲームのソースコードの売却を断っている。この売却は新しいスタジオの設立を可能にして、少なくとも10人の元従業員が3年間の技術開発から利する可能性もある。gumi Inc. は社外の購買者を探すことや従業員に売ることも全然話し合わなかった。このように、gumi Inc. は元従業員の将来を確保するに努力の意向がないということがまたまた明らかにした。

Gumi Inc. はコミュニティの信頼を破壊している

ゲームの「F2P」モデルは開発者とプレイヤーコミュニティの間に築いた信頼を頼りにするということだ。この信頼を築くために、gumi EU のチームは、スタジオの最初のプロジェク「Brave Frontier」が2014年に発売された以来、コミュニティマネージャーのおかげでプレイヤーのフィードバックと期待を聞いて、色々な努力した。その結果は、数十万時間のゲームプレイで、プレイヤーが数十万のユーロをゲームに投資した。この好循環は gumi Inc. がゲームを閉鎖する決定したので終わった。この決定のせいで、2019年6月11日にゲームの閉鎖が公表した後、既成のコミュニティが急に没落した。この程度の掛かり合いの後、コミュニティは巻き上げられたと感じている。

残念ながら、「Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner」はgumi Inc. で多くある中の一例にすぎぬ。gumi Inc. が必要な信頼を考えずプレイヤーコミュニティを資金しか視しないという情勢のようだ。その上、コミュニティマネージャーはプレイヤーと話す時、匿名ではなくて、むしろ氏名は公開だ。それで、就職したら問題を来す可能性もある。自分の評判をどうやって信頼できない会社から分けられるだろうか。

gumi EU は公的資金をもらうのに約束を守らない

「Brave Frontier: The Last Summoner」の開発と発売を促進するために、15十万ユーロの公的資金が税額控除の形式でgumi EU に与えられていた。

それの代わりとして、ゲームの開発と商業化の計画が行われることは暗黙的に要求された。しかし、CNC(ゲーム開発に公的資金を与える協会)に提案した計画で、数ヵ月の間にわたって35十万ユーロが約束した。とどのつまり5十万ユーロしかは実際にマーケティングに投資しなかった。それがゲームの没落を早めて、gumi Inc. の gumi EU を閉鎖する決定に口実を与えて、gumi Inc. が要求した業績は達成していなかったからだ。

宣言と責任を尊敬する失敗で、gumi EUの閉鎖が必要になった情勢をわざと作ったという情勢だ。

以上の理由で、3年間のゲーム開発段階に努力を考慮にいれて、gumi EU の従業員は裏切られたよな気がする。

その上、gumi の経営はフランスの外から(主に欧州とアジアから)熟練した人材を雇って、長期のキャリアプランの約束(つまり、gumi EU がゲームを作り続けるという約束)を通じでこの人材を引っ越させた。その約束は破れた。私たちは共通の感じがあって、魅力と競争力をまもるために、この人材がフランスに来させられた信頼を尊敬するのは義務だという感じだ。

gumi EU の従業員は調整手当の再考と再評価を願っていて、法的手段が必要になる前に要求が聞かれたと希望する。

Eugen Systems sacks 6 workers involved in ongoing pay dispute

On the 19th of December, 6 workers were fired by Eugen Systems. This represents about a quarter of the 21 employees left at Eugen. At the beginning of 2018, Eugen Systems staff numbered around 50. Although the firings were apparently unconnected with the ongoing dispute over pay, we believe that this was an act of retaliation and a preemptive move by management ahead of a case over low pay being brought against Eugen Systems by 15 employees as well as the STJV. The case is due to go before the labour tribunal in March 2019.

The dispute began towards the end of 2016 when Eugen Systems workers discovered they were being paid less than the mandated minimums set out by their employment contracts, which are governed by national pay agreement that covers the IT sector, including video game workers. Eugen workers asked for back pay and salary adjustments to bring their pay into line with the legal minimums.

A typical example is one Eugen Systems employee with a Master’s degree in games and two years’ industry experience who was being paid a salary of around 21,600 € (24,777 USD) per year. Such a salary is well under the already low minim um salary applicable in France for such a worker, which is around 28,200 € (32,348 USD).

On February 14th, 2018, after 15 months of negotiations that had gone nowhere, almost half the studio (21 workers out of a remaining 44 by that time) decided to take strike action upon receiving yet another pay slip showing they had been paid less than they were entitled to.

The strike ended on April 3rd, after having garnered international press coverage and support. With no progress made, the dispute was taken to the labour tribunal.

Low pay is a serious problem in the French games industry. This is particularly felt by game developers working in Paris, which is one of the world’s most expensive cities. Eugen Systems’ studio is located in central Paris.

The 6 workers were ostensibly fired for having negatively affected the mood (“dégradé l’ambiance”) of the studio and used insulting language in a conversation that took place in a private chat channel. All 6 were participants in this year’s strike.

6 weeks of struggle at Eugen Systems

We are once again relaying a communiqué written by our fellow strikers from the Parisian studio Eugen Systems. You can support them through their strike fund, all participations are welcome : https://www.lepotcommun.fr/pot/kfy5g3ta

[Version française]

Escalation

After 6 weeks on strike and an obvious lack of will to change the situation, Eugen Systems’s management finally show their true colours and aren’t trying to hide the fact they have no intention negotiating anymore.
Our last meeting of Friday, March 23rd lasted only a quarter of an hour. And for good reason, confronted with systematic rejection from management, we asked whether they would accept to negotiate anything. Their answer was brief and precise: no.

The previous meeting happened on the 21st of March. Management had unilaterally written an end of strike agreement draft, with all our demands either ignored or denied and stating that the strike was useless because the discussion had always been open. Quite bold of them after having ignored the strikers for two weeks and most of the observations brought to them by the personnel’s representatives for more than a year.

In this draft, management puts forward the efforts they agree to make that would justify the end of the strike. These promises are mainly legal obligations that should have been fulfilled without us asking for them.

  • Bring us proof that occupational medicine will be paid correctly next year. Contributing to occupational medicine is a legal obligation, we should not need such a promise to be sure it is done.
  • Install a break room at each floor of the premises to have room for enough people. This is once more a legal obligation and hadn’t even been mentioned in the context of the strike.
  • A promise of a future company agreement on job classifications. A discussion on that point was already planned. Furthermore, before discussing new classifications maybe it would be better to start by respecting those which are due to us?
  • Detail the calculations for the few wages that were caught up and for the holiday bonuses over a span of 3 years. This is the length of the legal prescription a tribunal would impose, with compensation. Knowing that the bonuses have never been paid, what about the previous years?
  • Counting the hours of negotiation as hours worked for the 4 members of the workers’ delegation. This is, once more, a legal obligation.

The strike began because of non-compliance with the law, management trying to pass its partial application as a charitable gesture on their part does not deceive us.

All our proposals have been denied, even those that did not create additional cost for the employer.
For example, they refused spreading the docking of wages from days on strike over several months, a standard compromise that would leave us with enough to live each month.
To justify this refusal, we were told that it was not a question of money.

Furthermore, after we insisted, management signed a written agreement the 5th of March to pay the mandatory contribution to occupational medicine and to bring us proof of payment as soon as it was done. The payment is dated the 12th of March, and management deigned to bring us proof only on the meeting of the 21st, so 9 days after the payment. Management seems to have a few difficulties respecting signed agreements.

Since neither negotiation nor strike seems to be affecting our employers and that compliance with the law seems to be an exaggerated demand from their point of view, we consider that it is time to harden our methods.
About fifteen previous and current employees of Eugen Systems have initiated a procedure with the prud’hommes (labour tribunal of justice). However, this only concerns previous litigations and will not help solve the background problems about working conditions and consideration for the work provided.

These 6 weeks of strike have not been entirely unsuccessful, however: we were able to consult each other, link up with organizations and people. Our situation is not unique, and many other companies take advantage of their employees’ passion to put in place working conditions that are illegal.
We invite every person, group and association that see in our struggle a just fight to help us, however the means: mediatically by sharing the articles talking about our situation, financially via the strike fund, morally with your messages of support and by testifying to the legitimacy of this struggle on social networks, with your advice, support, etc. Any help you can bring is more than welcome.

About the strike fund

We have done a first repartition of the strike fund after a month on strike (mid-March). At that moment, the amount in the strike fund was of 8070€ from 182 contributors, and 550€ of direct donations. For complete transparency here is our method of distribution:

  • Integral compensation of the strike’s cost to people that couldn’t do without. These people were able to bring active support to our movement for a while despite their financial difficulties entirely thanks to you.
  • Counting number of days everyone was on strike, coming to a total of 292 days.
  • Every non-reimbursed striker was able to indicate how much of their share they wished to receive. This let people leave a part of their compensation for others, on a purely voluntary basis, everyone receiving all of their compensation as default. There was a total of 261 shares.
  • Individual compensation equivalent to the number of shares multiplied by the value of a share. This comes to, for someone having been on strike the whole month and who didn’t redistribute their shares a sum of approximately 630€.

Thank you all for your messages of support and your donations. They help us to hold on and remind us that our cause is just, our action necessary.

Eugen Systems strike workers

Already more than 3 weeks on strike at Eugen Systems

We are once again relaying a communiqué written by our fellow strikers from the Parisian studio Eugen Systems. You can support them through their strike fund, all participations are welcome : https://www.lepotcommun.fr/pot/kfy5g3ta

[Version française]

 

Weeks of Conflict

We started our strike on February 14, more than 3 weeks ago. 16 months of contestation already.

On Wednesday February 28, after two weeks on strike, the management finally addressed us directly, offering to meet with a strike delegation to discuss.
We made ourselves available the next morning, yet we had to wait until Monday March 5 for the first meeting with management to take place, as the management refused to accept proposals of earlier dates. Once again, we can only note the lack of consideration for the urgency of the situation.

Our delegation therefore met with management on Monday morning, March 5, in the presence of the Labour Inspector as mediator.
We start the meeting by mentioning that our employer did not contribute to occupational medecine for 2018, which is mandatory according to French labour laws.
What is described as an oversight due to an unreceived invoice is extremely problematic: some of our colleagues are in the middle of burnouts and depressions, and the non-payment of these contributions prevents, for example, occupational medicine from planning preventive medical check-ups for other employees. Management assures us that it has requested to receive the invoice again, and is committed to paying it as soon as possible. At the time of writing this on March 9, it is still not the case.

As far as our complaints and demands are concerned, the management’s answer is simple: no. The current and past irregularities are still denied by management, and none of the proposals we have made are even considered an instant.
Management has indicated on numerous occasions that it considers certain contracts to be old or incorrect and therefore would not have to comply with them. For example, it considers that creative professions (game designers, graphic designers, level builders, etc.) do not need training and that these employees would be overqualified by their specialized training, often at the Master’s degree level.
The meeting was reconvened the next morning, so that management could take the time to prepare a proposed classification grid for the company’s positions.

On Tuesday 6, we received this proposal as a draft, incomplete – only programming jobs are mentioned – and filled with errors. We consider that this proposal from management is not serious, but even worse, it contains elements that are far less interesting for the employees than what is currently practised in the company. Funny way to negotiate.
Since it is only in draft form, we do not publish details, but express our mistrust of it. The fact that the grid only concerns certain trades and that it is still in the draft stage suggests that management is still trying to gain some time.

On several occasions during these meetings, we have been accused of spreading lies through our communiqués and not controlling the publications of journalists and users of social networks: management seems to ignore that we do not control public opinion, even though they refuse the right of reply journalists offered them.
We asked for specific references of what they disputed in our communiqués, but received no concrete response.

Since then, we have not had any other proposal for a meeting, and the management refused ours on Friday March 9, without even bothering to explain the reasons.

We are still waiting for management to recognize the seriousness of the issues raised and to demonstrate its willingness to resolve the conflict. It is unthinkable to continue denying irregularities and at the same time try to further reduce our working conditions.

Thank you again for the messages of support and donations that help us so much!

 

Eugen Systems strike workers