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Daily Reaction: Supporting the Riot Walkout, Better Working Conditions for Game Developers

It’s probably the worst kept secret in the games industry that working conditions can often be less than ideal. For something that’s a dream job for many, there are plenty of reports of hostile work environments and crunch culture that work developers to the bone and then grind those bones to dust. Today, Riot Games held a walkout where more than 150 employees walked out of the Los Angeles-based offices to protest new forced arbitration clauses that take away a lot of the employees’ rights. But this walkout symbolizes a lot more than just this single arbitration issue at Riot Games. It’s a major step on the path for better working conditions for all game developers.

For those unaware, forced arbitration is a clause that requires any employees to settle disputes through in-house arbitration, waiving rights to be able to sue or pursue legal action against the company. While this sounds like reaching an amicable conclusion in theory, more often than not forced arbitration can be used as a way to keep the skeletons in the closet, as it were. Instead of airing dirty laundry via messy lawsuits, companies (not just game devs and publisher) will handle everything in house.

Riot Walkout 1

Image Credit: Nathan Graysun (Kotaku)

Too often, in-house arbitration leads to some form of nepotism rather than justice. That’s a blanket statement of course. Arbitration can be a good thing, when it’s voluntary. Amicable solutions can be reached by both parties in a dispute coming to an agreement. Forced arbitration, on the other hand, typically favors what’s best for the employer rather than doing what’s best for the employee. If a company puts forced arbitration in place, it’s never because it has the interest of its workforce in mind. It just doesn’t want to get caught up in courts and legal battles. Investigations can uncover some nasty and dusty corners of a company’s operations.

We didn’t report on the Riot Games walkout today because it’s not PlayStation related (Riot Games is the company behind PC MOBA League of Legends), but I felt it was a prime topic for Daily Reaction, which reacts to the industry as a whole. The walkout is huge because it’s the first notable one of its kind in the games industry. We’ve heard issue after issue with employee conditions within the game development industry. Now that Riot Games employees have stood up to their company, a precedent has been set.

The Bigger Picture

While certainly not the first, stories about Rockstar’s crunch on Red Dead Redemption 2 really got the ball rolling on outside interest in conditions within development studios. After that we heard report after report from different studios, different companies. Stories that would make your head spin and would easily turn any prospective game developer away from even wanting to dabble in the industry. And crunch isn’t the only issue facing devs. There are concerns of inappropriate conduct at some companies too, including sexual harassment allegations. And this is happening at studios you may know and love.

I’m not going to go into a whole history of misconduct at game development studios here. That’s a whole encyclopedia in and of itself. But like issues being a symptom of a bigger picture within the industry, the Riot Games walkout is a window into what could be a broader solution. Stories of misconduct at Riot Games have game up in the past, but it wasn’t until the company moved into forced arbitration that employees really felt like they were backed into a corner and had to take some action.

Riot Walkout 1

Image Credit: Nathan Graysun (Kotaku)

The Riot walkout could be the start of a big movement across the games industry in an effort to demand better working conditions and a safe environment for everyone at a studio. It could be the catalyst needed to make game development about the hundreds of people who make the games. It remains to be seen how Riot will react to the walkout or if it will affect their forced arbitration against their employees, but just seeing more than a hundred developers standing up for the ability to have a safe work environment, free from harassment and being ground to the bone doing thankless jobs. Remember that it’s people that make the games we love, not a company, and Daily Reaction stands with the people who want to stand up for themselves and each other.

Daily Reaction reacts daily to the video game industry. Have suggestions for the column or subjects you’d like us to react to? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out previous Daily Reactions for more dives beyond the headlines.