Five Years

The IWGB Game Workers inaugural committee

I have one of those vivid memories you can't ever forget: Sitting on a bus on my way to the Waterloo Action Centre in London five years ago on August 11, 2018. I was listening to music to calm myself down because I had a million butterflies in my stomach. I kept telling myself that they were there because I was doing something new and exciting, but that didn't make the butterflies go away.

I was still getting used to living in London as I'd moved from Seattle six months prior, and I didn't know many people aside from my new coworkers. The reason I was nervous was I was on my way to the first London meeting of Game Workers Unite UK, and I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know I was about to join something incredible, and make some life-long friends.

Game Workers Unite

I remember learning about Game Workers Unite (often referred to as GWU) after they received a lot of notoriety when they organized a response to a Game Developers Conference panel in San Francisco titled “Union Now? Pros, Cons, and Consequences of Unionization for Game Devs.” The panel was set up by a former CEO, so a room full of game workers showed up in response to demonstrate support for the idea of unions in the games industry. I was intrigued to say the least.

Game Workers Unite received so much press that it felt like the entire games industry was watching with a collectively held breath to see what would happen next. Would the games industry instantly unionize with improved working conditions or would this be a momentary blip and we'd go back to the way things were? I didn't know it at the time, but it wouldn't be either of those things.

My First Meeting

This meeting I went to in London was the second meeting of Game Workers Unite UK, the first having been in Manchester almost two months prior. GWU UK was formed as a chapter of Game Workers Unite shortly after the notorious GDC panel in March. I'd followed the group on Twitter, signed up to its mailing list, and joined the Discord. I was a lurker who wanted to learn more as I knew absolutely nothing about unions.

I didn't know anyone else who was going to the meeting in London, and I wondered how I'd know if I was in the right place. I shouldn't have worried though. Once I got there, I saw a group of people who looked like game developers, walked up, and awkwardly said hello.

When it was time, we went inside and sat in a circle of 25ish people. I remember us talking about unions and what we could do together, but I don't remember many specifics. I just remember how many questions I had because I didn't know anything. I don't think we came to any decisions in that meeting, but I do remember I offered to research and write up a frequently asked questions document about unions in the UK to distribute at the next meeting. I figured one of the best ways to learn was by reading as much as I could, and then I could share that knowledge with others. A couple of other people offered to help, so we all exchanged email addresses.

After the meeting was over, we decided to walk a little ways away to an outdoor market, and socialize for a bit. While we were chatting, people often asked where everyone worked but I was too scared to tell anyone. I was terrified of what could happen to me if my employer found out I was talking to people about unions. I was being exceedingly cautious because my partner and I were living in the UK on a visa that was tied to my employer, and I didn't want to do something that could accidentally lead to us losing it and having to move back to the US.

Getting Involved

A couple of weeks after the meeting, I received an email from one of the people who attended asking if I was still interested in creating the FAQ. I'd completely forgotten that I'd agreed to do that! I said of course, and promptly researched as much as I could find out about unions in the UK. I shared the document, and a couple of people made additions and edits. One person, who was a journalist by trade, did an entire editing pass on it, and made it much more readable. We had created something I thought was really useful for people like me who knew nothing about unions in the UK.

We had our second London meeting about a month later at the University of London's School of Arts and Sciences. I showed up early with the printed off FAQs and handed them out to everyone who showed up. It was nice to see some of the same people again from the first meeting and others who were coming for the first time. I was less nervous this time because I somewhat knew what to expect, and it also felt like I had a purpose for being there as I'd brought the FAQ.

In that second meeting, and the many more in the months that followed, we talked through what we wanted to do as a group, which eventually led to us forming the Game Workers Unite UK branch of the IWGB (later renamed to the IWGB Game Workers). It took a lot of work in the months before the launch to get a constitution we were all happy with, find people who would like to run for positions in the branch, create a logo and branding, write up press releases, and so much more. It was a magical time and part of the magic was us working so closely together towards a common goal.

We launched the branch in December of 2018, and I was elected Secretary at the inaugural meeting of the branch as part of the five person committee. Co-founding a branch of a union is one of the proudest moments I have, and is up there with shipping games.

Toward the Future

I marvel at the amount that we've done since that first meeting in London. It's been five years. Five years. That feels like both a blip and an eternity. We now regularly hold meetings and socials in multiple cities each month and have several committees that contribute to the overall running of the branch across the whole of the UK. Members build power together by organizing in their workplaces, and are materially changing their lives in the process. We have a casework team that has handled some pretty serious cases and have won some incredible things for members including hundreds of thousands of pounds. No single person is responsible for all of this - we're doing it together.

When I talk with people who are nervous about joining the union, I am reminded of how much courage it took for me to go to that first meeting. My next step of writing the FAQ was a little easier, and was only possible because I’d been willing to take that first step. Each subsequent step became more and more effortless. I set out to change the world and as a bonus I ended up changing myself along the way.

I don't know what's in store for us in the next five years, but I'm absolutely excited to find out. If you're a game worker in the UK, there's a spot for you here in the IWGB Game Workers if you'd like to join us. Seasoned veterans and nervous first timers are both welcome. Let's work together to make the next five years even more memorable than the last five. Let's change the world.

Thank you Ashley and Mags for your wonderful proofreading and feedback. <3