Former Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime has shared his thoughts on unionization in the video game industry, saying he is neither for nor against it. Speaking to GameSpot sister site CNET, Fils-Aime said unionization is an “output” that happens when workers’ core needs are not being met.
“I think it’s important to step back and really think about, What does a worker need in order for that part of their life to be fulfilled? The first thing they need is economic stability. They need to know that they have a job. They need to know that they’re going to have a paycheck,” Fils-Aime said. “The second thing they need is economic mobility. So when, as a worker, you’re ready to grow and take on that next big challenge, the company needs to provide that. Then the third thing that workers need is they need to be recognized at their workplace. There needs to be not only the basics of safety, but there needs to be emotional rewards provided by the job and by the employer.”
When any one of these three needs aren’t being met, “then you have a problem,” Fils-Aime said. This is where a team of workers might decide to try to form a union, the former executive said, adding that this is also true for other companies and organizations outside of video game development.
“Specifically within gaming, you see that when a workforce that doesn’t have a stable work schedule or they feel they are not being paid adequately or they are being forced to relocate and their relocation expenses aren’t being reimbursed…. these are the behaviors that have given rise to a push for unionization at different developers in different situations,” Fils-Aime said.
A push for unionization isn’t the only challenge a game studio might face, Fils-Aime said, adding that staff can become demoralized and there might be great turnover and churn within a team, for a variety of reasons.
“I am neither for nor against unionization. I think unionization is an output that happens when those three core needs of a worker aren’t being fulfilled,” he said.
Following Fils-Aime’s departure from Nintendo in 2019, contract workers at Nintendo reported being treated like second-class. One person speaking to Kotaku said they were fired after discussing unions.
North America’s first major game studio to unionize, Vodeo Games, recently shut down. Workers at Call of Duty studio Raven Software are now attempting to form a union.
After leaving Nintendo in 2019, Fils-Aime joined the board of directors at GameStop, though he has since left that position amid the upheaval related to the short squeeze/meme stock situation of 2021. He is currently the chairman of the UTA Acquisition Corp., while he also sits on the board of Brunswick Corp., a company that makes very nice boats.
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