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Many game developers support unionization, but few think it’ll happen

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GDC Photo courtesy the Game Developers Conference.

One of the big talking points at last year’s Game Developers Conference was unionization, and it’s a subject that’s only become more important in the wake of events like the closure of Telltale Games. According to GDC’s latest annual survey, which includes responses from close to 4,000 developers, nearly half — 47 percent — of those who were polled support unionization, with only 16 percent saying they’re against the idea. “It is critical that people who work in games are able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, live normal lives, and be able to enjoy a high quality of life that will work well for their spouses and families,” explained one anonymous developer.

However, despite this growing support, it seems that most in the industry don’t believe unionization will actually happen — at least not anytime soon. According to the survey, only 21 percent of respondents believe that workers will actually unionize, with the majority — 39 percent — saying that they’re unsure. “There is too much supply: too many people want into the industry,” explained another of those polled. “Those who unionize will be shoved out of the way as companies hire those with fewer demands.”

One of the major issues plaguing developers, particularly at large studios, is the idea of overwork and crunch. The topic became especially prominent when stories surfaced that some developers working on Red Dead Redemption 2 had work weeks in excess of 100 hours. According to GDC’s survey, that kind of extreme crunch is rare, but overwork is still an issue: 44 percent of respondents say they work more than 40 hours a week, while the remaining 56 percent work an average of 40 hours or less. Among those who work more than a 40-hour work week, 3 percent say they work more than 60 hours on average, and 5 percent said they average between 50–60 hours. When it comes to crunch, 1.4 percent of those polled say that the most they worked in a week was in excess of 110 hours.

The GDC survey is an annual poll that asks developers about a range of topics. Last year, for instance, we learned just how popular the Nintendo Switch was. In addition to labor issues, this year’s survey also provided insight on a number of other topics. Check out the highlights below.

  • Steam is still king. Despite rising competition, Steam is still the dominant PC gaming platform: 47 percent of PC developers polled said they sold games on Steam, and 54 percent of that group said that the majority of their revenue (between 75 and 100 percent) comes from Valve’s digital marketplace. Other stores like GOG, Discord, and the Humble Store accounted for less than 10 percent of revenue for the majority of developers who use them.
  • A 30 percent cut is too big. Steam may account for a huge chunk of revenue, but most developers believe that Valve is taking too big of a cut from sales. Only 6 percent of respondents believe that Valve’s 30 percent cut from sales is justified, while 32 percent said it isn’t. This discontent has opened up room for other digital stores, most notably Epic’s new shop, which offers a more developer-friendly revenue split.
  • Games for new platforms are already in the works. We still don’t know what the next PlayStation or Xbox will look like, but there are already games in the works for when they inevitably launch: 2 percent of those surveyed said they are making games exclusively for unannounced platforms, while 16 percent said that they’re working on games for both current and upcoming platforms.