Video game publisher and developer Paradox Interactive is expected to sign a collective bargaining agreement with two Swedish labor unions, the company announced Wednesday. The agreement, which will give employees influence over pay, benefits, and workplace culture, is expected to be finalized “within the quarter,” according to a news release.
Paradox Development Studio programmer and union rep Magne Skjæran told Polygon that negotiations took “a few tries,” spread over approximately 10 hours of formal negotiations, but that Paradox had been interested in signing since February.
“Once Paradox realized how strongly our members feel about this, they were very receptive,” Skjæran said. Negotiations over the collective agreement began in November 2019, he said.
Paradox Interactive is a Swedish company headquartered in Stockholm. It’s made up of a number of development studios as well as a publishing arm. It’s likely best known for its strategy games, like Stellaris, and for publishing Cities: Skylines and Pillars of Eternity.
Paradox Interactive has studios throughout Sweden and around the world, including the United States, Spain, and the Netherlands. The collective bargaining agreement, in collaboration with Swedish unions Unionen and SACO, only applies to Paradox Interactive’s Swedish studios: Paradox Interactive, Paradox Development Studio, Paradox Arctic, and Paradox Malmö.
A Paradox representative told Polygon that this particular agreement is “specific to studios in Sweden and Swedish labor laws,” but that the company is “very much open to similar agreements with other studios in the States and elsewhere.” However, Paradox was unable to confirm or report anything “on that front at this time.”
Chief human resources officer at Paradox Interactive Marina Hedman said in a news release that the company’s size influenced its decision to “ensure that our employees continue to feel valued and empowered to shape our company.” It reported 453 employees as of its annual report published in April. In a news release published on June 1, announcing a new studio in Barcelona, Paradox Interactive chief operations officer Charlotta Nilsson said 70 jobs are currently open across the seven studios, and noted that the company plans to “recruit roughly 200 people in 2020 alone.”
Skjæran told Polygon that there are around 200 union members spread across Unionen and SACO. He expects more members after the collective agreement is signed.
“Our union predates the collective agreement,” Skjæran told Polygon. “We’ve got a history of advocating for Paradox employees with management, raising potential issues, and suggesting possible improvements. We offer support in conflicts between employees and their manager on request, and help ensure people have the info they need about their rights and obligations and employees. With the collective agreement in place, our position to advocate for our members and the employees-at-large will be strengthened.”
Skjæran said the union is looking forward to the salary revision process for next year. “Other than that it’s largely a case of raising issues where we see them and doing what we can to ensure Paradox is a great place to work for everyone,” he said. “This is similar to before, but having the collective agreement gives us a mandate anchored in Swedish law, which should make that easier.”
Support for unionization in the video game industry has been growing for years. A 2009 International Game Developers Association survey suggested 32% of developers supported unionization. That number has increased — a Game Developers Conference survey in 2019 suggested 47% of developers support unionization, with only 16% percent of people surveyed reporting they’re against it.
However, 39% of surveyed developers are unsure if unionization is realistic. That’s because the technology industry has historically been anti-union. Like tech industry workers, video game developers work long hours — in extreme cases, workers report 70- to 100-hour weeks — over periods of weeks or months. The industry has also been criticized for sexist and racist culture. Often, some workers are misclassified as contract workers, which complicates organization.
But, despite the challenges, workers have increasingly called for unionization in the video game industry, as workplaces are forced to reckon with inhumane working conditions and unfair practices, including the forced arbitration at Riot Games.
Unionization is still rare in the industry, but there are groups — like the unions at Paradox — looking to change that. In January, a 700,000 member union, the Communications Workers of America, announced a new initiative aimed at organization game and tech workers. It’s called Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE), and is expected to push forward the effort to unionize the industry.
Elsewhere in the world, others are organizing, too. Game Workers Unite U.K. — which describes itself as “a worker-run labor rights group” — paired with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain to further its message. (Game Workers Unite was criticized this past week over a member’s “exclusionary behavior and bullying,” according to a news release published May 31. The member, Marijam Didžgalvyte, is no longer affiliated with the group.)
Things are moving forward, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It feels to me like we’re starting to see some momentum in the wider games industry,” Skjæran said. “For instance, that one panel at GDC a couple years ago about unionizing. We believe having unions to advocate for the workers’ health and rights will in the long term make the industry a better place for everyone.”
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