Some Worrying Figures From The Local Games Industry

Recently we spoke about how the size of the Australian gaming industry was a fair bit larger than we originally knew. But there's another side to the coin: while there's more people making games in Australia than ever, many aren't well paid, and many don't stick around.

The figures were part of a survey put together by Game Workers Australia (GWA), a movement designed to encourage game developers — as well as streamers, esports professionals, media and any employee in a gaming-related field — to unionise. Part of that push has been over conditions: the amount of people with permanent full-time positions, as opposed to "full-time equivalents" or full-time contractors, is surprisingly low.

The Australian Gaming Industry Is Much Bigger Than We Thought

Every so often, figures from the government or industry are published illustrating the size of the Australian games industry. One developer, however, thought the figures seemed a little small. So he started compiling a list of his own.

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Out of 155 local developers who responded to the survey, only 30% had full-time permanent positions. 80% of those surveyed had some or immediate concerns about the stability of their role, while another 35% of respondents said they were earning less than $50,000 a year.

A key issue for the local industry is retention, with only 70% of respondents saying they had been in the industry for 5 years, and "only a handful" with 10 years or more ongoing experience.

The survey also notes that "a qualified game developer in Australia" should be legally earning a minimum of $49,998 annually, which is the minimum set out in the Professional Employees Award that covers the IT industry. (There is no industry-specific award for the video games sector in Australia.)

In an explainer over email, GWA argued that the Professional Employees Award was designed to cover "professional engineering and scientific duties" but that the definition of the IT industry locally also covers programming, the "design and manufacture of computer software", and the design and development of "online internet architecture". Voice actors, content creation or general writing are covered by other industry awards, however.

Given the estimated numbers compiled earlier this year — which includes numbers of staff at studios that opted out from the official industry survey — it's a decent, although incomplete, snapshot of some of the conditions people are under. That's largely GWA's pitch to developers as well. It's an educational piece, reminding workers of their legal entitlements and offering some perspective on what their work is worth.

More info about GWA, as well as Game Workers Unite International, can be found here.


Comments

    Sounds like it's not too much different than other employment sectors in the country. Low Full Time Employed ratio, lots of casuals and contractors and the worrying about job security.

      It's by design. Business has discovered that the easiest way to fight all the hard-won gains in workers rights is to transition the workforce to a style of employment that doesn't qualify for them.

        Partially this and partially that smaller game studios often don't have work for a specific role to do the whole year round.

      Sounds like it's not too much different than other employment sectors in the country.

      It's the same in academia/education. Just couldn't get a permanent position at my old work place and it was basically living year to year on the casual register.

      I'm self-employed now but at least I'm in an area now where there will not be a shortage of work any time soon.

    So pretty much the same as most other sectors, except this one is based on artistic pursuits which can hit or miss.

    a movement designed to encourage game developers — as well as streamers, esports professionals, media and any employee in a gaming-related field — to unionise
    Streamers aren't employees! They can form associations to represent their collective views, but a streamer is not an employee and is owed a total of jack shit by Twitch, by patrons, or by viewers. They can't unionise because they're not employed by anybody. There's a massive difference between a steamer, who throws content up on a platform in exchange for what amounts to donations and sponsorships, and a game dev employed by a studio to write code with agreements on hours of work and productivity output targets.

    Esports professionals are a bit closer to an employee but they're still a long way from an employee with comparatively limited negotiation rights.

      While I understand what you're saying, streamers can technically be employees if they are streaming as part of their job in a company. For example promoters running official company channels where they showcase upcoming content and games as well as talk shows and e-sports commentators.

        Then they’re just PR people, not really streamers as it applies to common usage. If you’re employed by a company with a workplace agreement and all the trappings of a regular job, then sure, you’re an employee. xXx_CheekyScrubLord_xXx who streams on Twitch on his own is employed by nobody.

      Hello! Yes, that is correct, many streamers are not employees. However, they can unionise, as can every self-employed person in Australia, and can stand to benefit hugely by doing so. You are correct in that there is a difference between a dev and a streamer, but both can benefit from standing together and pooling resources. Unions like MEAA already offer massive benefits to self-employed people like streamers and can assist them in a variety of important ways (I expanded on this in one of the comments below).

      There's no denying that the current payment model used by Twitch/YT/etc heavily favours the company. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. However, as with every other industry on earth and throughout history, the only way for that to change is for the workers to stand together and start demanding a better deal.

        You don’t get a better deal because Twitch doesn’t employ you and owes you nothing. It’s a literal platform to deliver your content. It’s like demanding the shopping centre you have a lease with pays you sick leave. You’re still not a union the same as say the nurses union or construction and manufacturing union. You own the means of production.

        Even from your description of the “union” you mention, it’s more of an alliance or society rather than a true union.

          It is correct to say that it's not the same as the HSU or the CFMEU etc, but it is wrong to say that streamers who, for example, all joined the MEAA would not be a "true union". It's a union in every sense of the word, conceptually and legally. The fact that the bargaining process is not the same as it is for other unions doesn't change the way the it would operate, and ultimately, the only way the rights and conditions of streamers are going to improve is if they work together. If you want to call it an association, or an alliance or whatever, it doesn't matter what it is - a "true union" isn't one that "engages salaried employees in collective bargaining", a "true union" is "workers standing together for a better outcome".

            Exactly how do you “represent the rights of streamers” when they predominately rely on what amount to donations?

            Streamers, unless under a contractual obligation with a company to deliver content, are owed nothing by Twitch or their donors. Any suggestion otherwise means that the streamer is beholden to some sort of obligation to perform for their donors - which we’re repeatedly told they’re not.

    Speaking as a full time professional game developer in Australia, these figures seem pretty suss.

    Firstly I've never heard of this survey. 155 responses is nothing. Some studios are larger than that.

    It also lumps in a bunch of self - employed people with employees. There are hundreds of indies making a go of it on their own and making very little money, at least initially. It makes no sense for them to be averaged in amongst employees, and unionisation won't change their situation.

    Then there's everything @soldant said.

    It's not a perfect industry by any means, and it's not an easy one, but these aren't realistic numbers.

      Yeah, the percentage of people on full time hours making less than minimum wage is less than the percentage of people on full time hours working on contracts. Survey only asks for weekly hours, never taking into account that people on contracts might not have work the whole year round.
      The whole thing is slanted towards selling the idea of a union, however the problem seems to be less of us having poor working conditions and more that we don't even have the jobs to have working conditions in the first place. A union isn't going to change the fact that most aussie dev teams can't afford to employ people full time.

      I wrote something similar but the comment system ate it. The company I work for has around 50 full time staff and isn't included in the survey. We don't pay anyone less than $50k for full time work

        Hey troutmonkey, I'm glad to hear that your company isn't paying anyone less than $50K. I don't know if your company is included in the survey or not, because the survey doesn't ask anyone to name their workplace. But if you can give us more information about your company and the wages they pay, that would be fantastic. One of our initiatives is to start building a database of wage rates so that employees have more data when negotiatiating.

      Hi! I am Tim Colwill, one of the organisers with GWU Australia who is running the survey. Thanks for the comment. I want to make a few points in response:

      1) We have been running the survey since March this year, trying to get the word out via social media, word of mouth, FB IGDA groups, etc. We don't have money or resources to get it in front of everyone unfortunately. I hope you get a chance to take it if possible, and tell as many of your colleagues to do so! It would really help us out (and it's anonymous). http://www.gameworkers.com.au/survey/

      2) Yes, 155 responses is not very many. The intention is to keep running the survey and releasing data. Ahead of MIGW, we wanted to release what we had because we felt it was enough to start painting a decent picture. As time goes on we hope that picture will gain clarity through further responses.

      3) Self-employed people have been lumped in with employees because we looked at hours worked as well as employment status. This has been a frequent criticism of our release, I understand why people want those figures separated and in future we'll do that. However, this doesn't change the fact that Australia has a ton of people working full time hours and earning nothing for it, and that's not good enough.

      4) Unionisation has a lot to offer self-employed people - for example, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which has thousands of self-employed journalists, videographers, actors etc among its members, provides them with great unionised benefits that they couldn't get on their own, including legal support, assistance with contract drafting, standardised wage rates and agreements, databases of rates that outlets are willing to pay to assist with negotiations, public liability insurance for $3 a week, and more. Unions can assist everyone, not just direct employees.

      If you have any questions I'm super happy to help out as much as I can. If you're a full-time game dev we would love to have you on board to help shape the future of the movement. Please consider joining us! Our membership form is here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdKRJv8DKsOT92V4r2mzWHVaYfwHrG405hea8UV9tZTgW36Ig/viewform

    Not sure what any of this has to do with Joe Hockey other than appealing to the soft-left bias that former Treasurers are somehow responsible for ... something something gaming unions?

    The way images are used in medfia articles are usually designed to subliminally create an impression of soemthing else. This one's puzzling since Joe's the Ambassador to the U.S now.

    As another poster mentioned, these figures don't seem quite right. I get the impression that the majority of gamedevs are out there are indies rather than working in studios, but rightfully identify as gamedevs, despite not being explicitly employed by anyone.

    Just scrolled down to read the comments, holy crap the Kotaku site is a nightmare these days, my screen is mostly ads for the bachelorette and stock images telling me one weird trick people in my area used to make millions.

    Game Workers Australia (GWA) @alexwalker can you clarify? Their
    Twitter and all but one instance on their website is Game Workers Unite Australia or GWU Aus - even the embedded image uses the former.

    I'd say the biggest problem is that we have universities and games colleges churning out roughly 10 times as many over eager graduates every year as can ever possibly find work here. It means predatory studios have an infinite supply of kids to bring in, work absurd hours for practically nothing and then replace with the next one.

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