King June 19, 2019

For the past few years, game developers have increasingly sought to unionize amid growing concerns over layoffs and burnout in the industry — and, today, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders applauded their efforts.

“The video game industry made $43 billion in revenue last year. The workers responsible for that profit deserve to collectively bargain as part of a union,” Sanders said in a tweet. “I’m glad to see unions like @IATSE and the broader @GameWorkers movement organizing such workers.”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which works to organize creatives, responded to Sanders saying, “Too often, workers in the entertainment industry are underpaid and overworked because they are so passionate about their crafts. By joining together and negotiating as a group, we can make our workplaces better.”

It’s been a turbulent few years in the gaming industry with hundreds of employees being laid off from giant studios like Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard, despite some companies citing “record results” in their earnings reports. At Riot Games, which develops titles like League of Legends, more than 150 employees staged a walkout to protest policies on forced arbitration, something we’ve seen in other tech-related industries and companies like Google.

On Monday, Take-Two chairman and CEO Strauss Zelnick responded to the growing support in the industry for unionization in an interview with “There are 220,000 or so people employed in the US video game business,” Zelnick said. “They make about $100,000 on average, maybe more. It’s hard to imagine what would motivate that crew to unionize.”

Lawmakers often get heated over debunked claims that video games inspire children to become violent, but have yet to really cause a stir as it relates to labor policy in the industry. Over the past few weeks, Sanders has been occasionally praising other labor movements and unionization efforts on Twitter, making it a central theme of his 2020 presidential campaign.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have cited the industry’s record profits when criticizing other behaviors, including the use of loot boxes. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), along with two of his Democratic colleagues, introduced a bill last month called the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act that would ban the sale of loot boxes to children.