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 : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

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.

In order to move forward on schools’ problems, changes must take place at all levels

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 : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

While waiting for external actions and systemic reactions to occur, sometimes one has to take matters into their own hands. Indeed, students or teachers directly facing discrimination, harassment, health problems caused by their studying or working conditions need immediate actions, and cannot wait for large-scale changes. To this end, there are different means of forcing schools to respect the law, their teachers and their students.

It should be reminded that students of a private education institution are consumers of the services provided by the company behind that institution. Contracts with schools, which are often integrated or even merged with application papers, obviously fall under the law, mainly consumer rights law. Schools must comply with their clauses. In particular, schools must provide an outline of the courses to be taken. If the courses provided do not correspond to this, or if they are not provided, the school can be sued.

Moreover, as mentioned before, discrimination and harassment are already punished by law. Teachers, administrative staff, school representatives who discriminate against or harass students can also be prosecuted, and in many cases the school that allowed these acts to take place can also be prosecuted.

We explained in the first part of this report that schools are economically dependent on their public image, and disproportionately so. Although this dependence is a source of many problems, and one of the main causes of schools’ repression on their students’ freedom of speech, it is also a weakness. Schools are afraid of having their wrongdoings exposed publicly, which gives a relatively powerful leverage to the victims of their (in)actions. Asking for accountability and asking questions at open days, at fairs, in meetings that schools may have with parents, students, student delegates, can also fit into this kind of tactic.

Whatever the means chosen, acting and exposing oneself alone is always risky, financially, mentally or socially. We very strongly advise not to do things on your own and, depending on the situation, to approach unions, consumers’ associations, lawyers, etc. In the same way, it is always useful to communicate with colleagues, fellow students, external acquaintances, other parents… Warning each other, discussing our problems together, combining different skills, experiences and means, gives the opportunity to do more, and better, than alone.

Many suggested solutions to the issues of video game studies are dead ends or lies

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 : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

While schools are often the first to blame for these problems, they are hardly the last to attempt to solve them. Well aware of the economic risks of a loss of public reputation – or for members of the administration, the risks to their careers – they have found means of protecting themselves.

The first one, which we discussed in the first part of this report, is of course repressive measures. The “best” way to protect one’s reputation is to prevent the expression of any fact or opinion that might damage it. Intimidation of students, notably via school rules that violate basic freedoms, unlawful dismissals of people considered a nuisance, the use of crisis communication agencies to counter-attack and bury information, SLAPP suits … the range of options in this regard is unfortunately wide and heavily used.

These issues are those against which workers’ and students’ organisations, such as the STJV, are fighting on a daily basis through their actions: our goals are to prevent companies (and therefore schools) from abusing their power, to create a counter-power benefiting all workers, present and future, protecting whistleblowers, and, in the long run, to hand all power over to the workers.

Among the external actors of private education monitoring, we also find the state. Through schools’ subsidies mechanisms but also, and above all, through its system of degree certification via the Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles (RNCP). These certifications are very important, because a degree that is not recognised by the state “does not count” administratively, which has many repercussions:

  • Without ECTS credits, it is very difficult to obtain equivalences in order to continue one’s studies elsewhere, whether in the public sector or abroad;
  • some state subsidies are conditioned by the validation of a recognised education level;
  • some CNC grants for independent video game creators and studios require a recognised degree from a small subset of schools;
  • obtaining visas, whether in France to immigrate there, or abroad to emigrate, is often conditioned by the education level and therefore the recognition of the degrees achieved;
  • professional status and all that goes with it (salary, pension, holidays, etc.) may also be linked to the recognised education level.

If the monitoring of education by a public authority external to private education companies is useful and even necessary, these certifications are not without flaws, and schools are constantly seeking to hijack or circumvent them. Degree designations are sometimes misleading, for example the term “Mastère” which, unlike the term “Master”, is not an official designation and therefore does not guarantee the quality or recognition of the degree. The certifications given may not correspond to the classes taught, as is the case in a Parisian school where the Game Designer diploma delivered has an RNCP certification of “interactive designer”. But they may also have expired, despite being highlighted in schools’ advertising, leaving students at risk of obtaining a diploma that is not certified upon graduation.

As employers’ lobbies want to limit state intervention in their business, they often pretend to be ahead of legislation to show a positive image and negotiate the deregulation of their sector, in the name of some imaginary “self-regulation”. One example in the video game industry is the game rating and age recommendation systems, whose management by these lobbies is partly responsible for the uncontrolled emergence of gambling mechanics in recent games. This exposes children in particular to a practice that is normally highly controlled. As far as video game studies in France are concerned, this strategy takes the form of various labels, mainly the Réseau des Formations aux Métiers du Jeu Vidéo (RFMJV, formerly REJV, Réseau des Écoles du Jeu Vidéo).

But, like all private labels, this one is only a front for communication. It is impossible to trust it, and the people and organisations behind it know this very well, even going so far as to reject the title of “label” and any responsibility that goes with it when confronted about it. In an article in Libération in April 2021, the journalists recall that “admission conditions [to the RFMJV] do not imply any control over the content of classes, and the Syndicat National du Jeu Vidéo insists on the fact that this network is not a label“.

The shortcomings of labels are not only caused by the organisations behind them. Ensuring sufficient quality in educational programmes is a colossal task, beyond the reach of private actors, which in any case would only allow for a posteriori evaluations. It is simply impossible to guarantee that data is up to date, true or complete. This is why, rather than relying on necessarily imperfect communication tools, we prefer the implementation of systems that prevent schools from being judge and jury, and ensure that the problems and lies we are talking about do not occur in the first place.

Beyond labels, companies, including schools, have many other tools at their disposal. Practices such as over-communicating about the slightest effort, whether real or not, appropriating minorities’ struggles while undermining their core message, or exploiting marginalised people are unfortunately common. They are better known as pinkwashing or socialwashing. Inauguration of a building accessible to persons with reduced mobility while the rest of the campus is not and never will be, promotion of a gender discrimination awareness week while the school turns a blind eye to the sexual harassment that takes place within it, a ban on crunch in a school that explicitly leaves project rooms accessible 24/7 and overloads students with projects… There are many examples. Highlighting the 5% of things that are going well often conceals, sometimes intentionally, the 95% that are not.

While the benefits of making discrimination more visible, the representation of marginalised people and ‘role models’ have been demonstrated, these are just the tip of the iceberg, and can never replace fighting discrimination from within and in a systemic way. Attracting marginalised people is a small and inexpensive step to take, preventing discrimination against them throughout their education and career, whether one is the perpetrator or it comes from someone else, requires far more effort.

In this respect, charity is a good example of dissonance between publicly stated intentions and actual impact. For example, but this is not the only case, the positive direct effects of a private scholarship are completely undeniable, and one can acknowledge the light it sheds on the material problem of access to private education. But one can also lament the far greater benefits it brings to video game companies, and to individuals who capitalise on the positive image of such initiative to promote themselves despite any misconduct they might be accused of.

Many schools and studios have been quick to jump on the bandwagon to give themselves a ‘humanist’ image, making financial donations that are cheap compared to their annual budgets: tax exemptions means that 60% of them will actually be paid directly by the state. The motives of institutional sponsors can thus be seriously questioned when they include schools that explicitly discriminate against some students during the recruitment process and continue to raise their tuition fees every year, or companies that cover up the material and personal discrimination they impose on their marginalised employees.

In recent years, many schools also added various ethical codes of conduct to their communication arsenal. These codes consist of a series of proposals to improve diversity and inclusion in schools, and can be incorporated into the school’s rules. On paper nothing negative, and schools have not hesitated to stage the signing of these codes during important events of the French industry, in the presence of ministers, or to communicate intensively on their introduction to their students and during their open days.

However, these codes are only notes of intent, or recommendations. They are not tools for solving problems, only communication tools to express the intention to solve them. This is why, unfortunately and not surprisingly, there are schools that have signed an ethical code of conduct but continue to cover up problems internally and to repress the people who try to solve them. Some of the first schools to communicate publicly about such codes were reported to have actively protected sexually abusive students or teachers in the year following the implementation of their respective codes.

Ethical committees, whose name and composition may change locally, are a key measure found in the majority of recently adopted codes. When they are set up, they are usually composed of volunteer students and teachers and can be tasked with collecting testimonies and complaints, discussing problems in the school, and/or proposing solutions to the administration. The existence of such representative bodies is good news, as it is a significant step forward in student representation and democracy in schools.

However, a number of biases remain, of which we must be aware. The composition of these committees, necessarily only people from the school and mixing teachers and students, can lead to difficulties of judgement, as in a recent case where an ethical committee initially did not want to study in detail reports about a former and high ranking teacher, or when students are deprived of their right to speak (voluntarily or involuntarily) because of the hierarchical superiority of teachers over them. The members of these committees are very often temporary, preventing a long-term monitoring that is often necessary, and preventing the identification of repeated situations: no matter the band-aid solutions, the obstacles that marginalized people face are systemic. But in most cases, the main problem is the lack of resources and power allocated to these committees, and the resulting inactivity or inefficiency.

This is in fact the main problem behind all attempts to solve problems. Actions and regulations without the will to allocate resources to ensure that they are respected and carried out properly are in fact merely propaganda and camouflage tools for employers (or the state, depending on the type of regulation).

As in almost all fields and sectors, more resources are needed first and foremost. There are already laws, decrees and other regulations that take into account existing problems: we don’t need one more law (let alone a code) to prohibit (again) rape, harassment, breach of contract, embezzlement, etc. Before talking about more regulation, the existing ones should be enforced.

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 : https://www.stjv.fr/en/2021/09/report-on-french-video-game-studies/

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.