Collective agreement marks a “big step” for Croatia’s gaming industry workers

Collective agreement marks a “big step” for Croatia's gaming industry workers

Representatives of the Croatian video game development company Gamechuck and Novi sindikat sign the industry’s first collective agreement on 29 April 2022.


At the end of November, Croatian gaming company Gamechuck signed an annex to a landmark collective agreement raising the salary for all of its workers by 13.8 per cent above inflation. This latest move is an important strengthening of the agreement formalised in April 2022, a first in Croatia’s fast-growing gaming industry.

The collective agreement – described by Gamechuck union representative Igor Gajić as “a big step for workers’ rights in the gaming industry in the Republic of Croatia” – guarantees transparency of salaries and the company’s business, 10 per cent profit share for workers, better control over the copyright, and “protection of workers’ dignity”, among other things.

It stipulates, for example, that the company’s full-time work week is divided into five working days, lasting 33 hours and 45 minutes in total, or six hours and 45 minutes per a day. It also states that everybody – from the director to the junior artists – is paid the same salary.

Tomislav Kiš, general secretary of Novi sindikat (New Union), which helped Gamechuck draft the agreement, tells Equal Times that it has regulated several issues within the company but that its commitment on profit-sharing is especially important, as it ensures that a part of the profits generated by the company go to the workers.

Reflecting on some of the common problems facing workers in the gaming industry in general, Aleksandar Gavrilović, director and co-founder of Gamechuck tells Equal Times that many workers in the industry, even those with more experience, “want to work for lower salaries than they would get in other industries, because game production is their passion”. This new agreement helps prevent these eager workers from being exploited.

Workers’ rights “were disregarded for decades”

Croatia’s gaming industry is on the rise, due to both a growing interest in gaming in Croatia and in Croatian games internationally. Over the last three years, the revenue of the ten biggest companies in the industry rose from HRK 274 million (approximately US$40 million) in 2019 to HRK 446 million (approximately US$63 million) in 2021, and Gavrilović estimates that the sectors employs around 1,000 people directly and indirectly, up from just 230 people in 2019.

Gamechuck, which has 17 full-time employees and has developed games such as the medieval action-horror title Midwintär and the retro arcade-inspired Speed Limit, was founded in 2017. From the very beginning it was motivated to make sure the company was unionised, according to Gavrilović.

“Collective organising and bargaining were disregarded for decades in our industry, which led to bad working conditions and even examples of abuse from Europe to the United States. The motivation [to unionise] stems from the desire to reassess these working conditions and build it on healthy foundation – not only in one company, but within the industry as a whole,” Gavrilović explains.

Gamechuck’s landmark collective agreement includes elements that were not particularly pressing for the company at the moment of drafting, but which were included, according to Gavrilović, “to make a collective agreement which could be used [as a model] by other companies in the industry”.

He continues: “For example, there is no overtime work in our company, or it is immediately followed by a day off, but overtime work is a problem in some companies. In that aspect, we added [in the collective agreement] that periods of overtime work should be regulated and have to be sufficiently far apart from one another.”

Tackling the industry’s problems

Zvonimir Barać is the founder of Porcupine Parkour, another Croatian gaming company which signed a collective agreement in June, just two months after Gamechuck, using theirs as a guide. He tells Equal Times that his company received “huge encouragement” from Gamechuck during its negotiations. “Since we work together often, they suggested that we join with the gamedev [game development] companies that show they don’t want to be a part of the problem.”

Some of the issues endemic in the gaming industry include incredibly long hours and unpaid overtime, especially before a project is due (which is known as ‘crunch time’). A lack of knowledge among gaming workers about their labour rights, but also minimum acknowledgment of the fact that they are actually workers is also common.

“One of the main problems is that many believe that they have come to work in a decent industry of nice, office jobs, as well as outdated convictions that workers’ rights struggles are important only to those working in factories and mines,” Barać explains.

Meanwhile, this ‘decent industry’ “normalises working during the weekends, working from home, and living for other people’s companies,” he says.

“The problem is especially prevalent in the gaming industry because many see this job as fulfilment of a glamorous childhood dream and the people around them don’t take them seriously when they try to explain that they are losing valuable hours of their free time. The common misconception is that people do this work ‘because they love games,’” Barać explains.

Kiš and Gavrilović also point to burnout as a major industry issue. “The majority of gaming workers are educated people and they usually believe themselves to be self-sufficient, that they will be able to solve their problems by themselves. This unfortunately sometimes goes hand-in-hand with a lack of solidarity,” Kiš tells Equal Times, adding that Gamechuck is a good example exactly because it promotes collective action.

No industry standard

Lucija Klarić, a freelance dramaturg and narrative designer who has worked with Gamechuck, says the collective agreement – and the fact that other companies are beginning to use it as a template – is significant because historically, there has been no industry standard, “either when it comes to workers’ rights, or business management, which often leads to the violation of workers’ or authors’ rights”. She continues: “The gaming industry in Croatia is relatively small and because of that, the events at Gamechuck will resonate with others.”

She says that people for whom games were a childhood passion are often those who venture into game development. “So, along the road they encounter many challenges that surface during the process of game development. It is not uncommon that this happens to the detriment of labour rights, in the sense that people invest their own private capital in order to try to develop and market their ‘dream game’ and then find themselves in a situation where the money dries out and the process is far from over. There is a lot of uncharted territory there,” Klarić says.
She continues: “The biggest problem, of course, is when a certain attitude is deeply rooted – that it is exactly the exploitation of workers and maintaining minimum salary standard which ensures the business will be successful and profits higher. That conviction is illusory, but it certainly happens.”

She believes that the recent push to unionise the US$85 billion dollar game industry in the United States – exemplified by the success of workers at Activision Blizzard, which makes the world’s best-selling video game franchise, Call of Duty – “points to the fact that the gaming industry has matured to the point that we can start addressing some other important questions within the industry.”

Klarić continues: “It has been proven that working in game development is a serious job where good money can be made. The market and the industry have grown exponentially, and it seems that it will only continue to grow because now the industry is finding new audiences and existing ones are almost insatiable. It is evident that this is a crucial moment for the industry to turn inwards and see how it wants to function in the future,” Klarić concludes.