Why One Indie Studio Gives Every Employee The Same Salary

Why One Indie Studio Gives Every Employee The Same Salary

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about fairness and transparency in the video game industry. On Kotaku Splitscreen, we speak with a studio head who takes things to the extreme, paying every employee the same exact wage.

Last week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, we interviewed Tanya X. Short, who runs Kitfox Games, an independent studio in Montreal responsible for games like Moon Hunters and the upcoming .

I’ve talked to Short in the past about crunch, as she’s long been an outspoken advocate against the practice of extended overtime. On this episode of the show, we talk crunch, unionisation, and why Short’s studio has gone full socialist.

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Jason: Could you potentially be in a position where your employees unionized, and they wanted a salary floor that’s higher than they make now, and you were like, ‘OK I can do this but I’ll have to lay someone off?’

Tanya: That’s already the case, that I can’t pay the amount that most triple-As can. Part of the deal when I hire them is I tell them, this is our situation, this is how much we’re affording to pay.

Kitfox is particularly socialist – we’re not mandated to do so, but currently we all make the exact same salary per hour. Some of us work part-time and some full-time, but we’re a certain rate. And that will probably change as we are able to afford people closer to their experience levels, but for now, everyone’s underpaid.

We’re very transparent, and even if we did move to a model where some are paid more than others, I’d still want to be very transparent about that, and I think everyone wins.

Kirk: Is that something other studios do as well? It’s not something I’ve heard of before.

Tanya: It’s very unusual in North America. I first encountered it because my first job was in Funcom Games in Norway, and they are a publicly owned company. And in Norway, all publicly owned companies must publish all of their employees’ salaries.

It was really weird – three months after I come in as a junior designer, I go on and I can see what the CEO is being paid, I can see what my creative director is being paid, I can see all my leads, and I can see all my colleagues. It made me deeply uncomfortable – I’m an American by birth, and I was very offended, almost. It feels very private.

But after I started thinking about it, it gives everyone the leverage to demand something fair, and I think that’s for the best.

So even though I try to respect people’s privacy as much as possible at Kitfox, I do warn them that I feel like it’s in the interest of the community as a whole that we are transparent with each other, so we can trust each other.

Jason: Interesting. I think there are other indie developers that would argue otherwise because they don’t have that sort of flat structure, and they have more of a system where if they were forced to organise they wouldn’t be able to do what they’re currently doing, for one reason or another.

Tanya: I think entrepreneurship in capitalism turns you a little bit conservative, politically. It just has a natural force that way. I’ve learned a lot about capitalism, and I’ve gotten almost more radically socialist as a result of being a business owner, but that’s not the natural inclination.

Jason: Being in Canada also gives you a different perspective. You don’t have to worry about healthcare as much.

Tanya: It’s true, it’s true. But you still have humans, and you still have greed, and you still have capitalism. We try to escape that as much as possible, but I definitely feel more and more that if it were possible for me to continue to make the games at Kitfox that I want to make as a co-op, that would be so much better.

I couldn’t have — in this world unfortunately, investors don’t want to invest in co-ops, they want to own equity and be capitalists, obviously. But if we could somehow have venture co-opers, that would be great. That’s what I would do.

For much more, listen to the full interview. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at splitscreen@kotaku.com with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.


    • Well it’s working at KitFox? Heck id be more than happy to see more people do it, my last job paid me peanuts but paid the new juniors a lot more when I had more experience. That’s when you get unhappy workers.

  • If the pay is relatively good, it’s a decent way to manage a team work ethos, especially in an industry where your employee base is potentially mobile…joining and leaving, without a ‘career’ path structure in your company. I’m a cop, and one of the biggest problems facing us as an employer is retaining good staff, which is an internationally recognised issue for law enforcement, as we are competing against a lot of other potential employers who can throw a lot of dollars around, and have a far less demanding and far safer work environment (and yes, cops game…surprisingly, the majority of cops who are dedicated gamers who I know are crusty old types rather than the younger ones, veterans with several decades service generally).

  • I’m not sure the whole socialist route of paying everyone the same would work universally – but for a small company it’s a smart move to ensure you build trust with your employees.

    For bigger companies transperancy is the best way forward – even if it’s only internal transperancy. At the very least it will claw back the inequality we (still) see in salaries for women.

  • Different people have different jobs with different amounts of stress which should equate to different levels of pay. Don’t like your pay? Negotiate, get a desired skillset or leave and find something better.

    • Bingo. It’s the responsibility of the individual to look after their own best interests – by levelling the playing field like this you remove the incentive for excellence.

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