Don't Gamble with Competence

In many ways, the Swedish computer game industry is a success story. The growth in the industry has been enormous. No wonder there is a shortage of competence, which has largely been solved through labour immigration. But there is an easier way to attract talent: decent terms and conditions.

Detta är ett innehåll från Unionen Opinion.

Publicerad 21 okt. 2021

In 2019, the Swedish gaming miracle had a turnover of just over 24 billion SEK and a growth of 27 percent, according to the Swedish Games Industry’s game developer index. This roughly corresponds to Sweden’s paper pulp or iron ore export. As Sweden is a fairly small country, the industry began to make games for a worldwide audience. This was a stroke of luck. And it didn’t stop at successes such as Candy Crush and Minecraft – over the years, it has proven to be a national forte.

‘Being a young industry, we can do things in new ways, try new paths, which is great. At the same time, the industry has certain teething problems, not least when it comes to health and safety issues, such as an often-romanticised view of overtime. So, in some areas, the industry needs to "grow up",’ says Alexandra Dahlberg, Narrative Lead and union representative at Thunderful Development.

Yes, the quick growth has resulted in certain difficulties, typical of those that occur when smaller and more intimate companies, where everyone hangs out with everyone, become larger businesses. Dahlberg had staff number 18 when she was hired. As an example, she mentions that they were over 90 employees before there was a somebody in HR. ‘And it took a while before we understood that we were legally required to have a safety representative,’ she says.

’Of course, a company enjoys growing, and some manage it really well. However, the big difference between a smaller and a larger company is that the latter needs a more professional relationship between employer and employee. As a manager, it is no longer viable to be too matey with your staff. To think that informal chats work with several hundred employees,’ says Magnus Gerentz, investigator at Unionen, who has looked at the gaming industry.

Perhaps that is why Unionen has noticed a great deal of interest in the industry for classic health and safety issues. Grassroots movements have also been formed, internationally as well, demanding, for example, collective agreements.

‘It’s a long time since this industry consisted of 20-year-olds who saw it as their hobby. This is our profession. Of course, we want the same regulations, rights and benefits as in other industries,’ says Petter Karlsson, Play Designer at Toca Boca. 

Petter Karlsson

Petter Karlsson

Toca Boca

A well-known stumbling block is overtime, or "crunch", i.e. periods of extremely high workloads before specific deadlines and game releases. Sometimes due to lack of planning, with insufficient margins should problems arise. And sometimes because of a romanticized image of colleagues working hard through the night, that is difficult to shift.

‘Just like in many other creative and artistic professions, some expect you to be passionate about your job. I love my job and like to go all in, but I am also a parent and love my child. In the long run, I need to have a secure job with reasonable expectations,’ says Dahlberg.

Karlsson knows of colleagues in the industry who testify that overtime at their company is the norm, if anything. Elsewhere, "invisible overtime" is common practice, as in taking work home and carrying on with it when the children have gone to bed.

‘I suppose intense work during the final stages of a project is okay, but long-term stress does not increase creativity. It can break people. In the long run, people don’t want to work themselves into the ground. I think that drudge can actually lead to people resigning,’ Karlsson says.

’Companies should take these aspects seriously, because as a programmer, you don’t have to stay in the industry. You can just as well work as an IT consultant, with a good salary and decent terms and conditions,’ Gerentz explains.

To meet the lack of competence, the industry has made extensive use of labour immigration. However, there are simpler solutions. At Alexandra's company, Thunderful Development, a group of employees pushed the issue of collective agreements for quite a while. ‘In the end, all the knots were untied and we had an agreement in place. It was a relief. More than 90 percent of all employees in Sweden have collective agreements, and this was proof that we are just as valuable as everyone else,’ she says.

’Yes, a company can have good benefits and regulations, but many of those can be removed in the blink of an eye. This wouldn’t be possible with a collective agreement. It’s a seal of approval, in other words,’ Karlsson concludes.

3 clever ways to stay creative

1. Decent working hours. Those who get to sleep, eat and laugh with friends come out on top at work.

2. Equality. Equal workplaces have fewer conflicts, are healthier and more profitable.

3. Skills development. Curious, creative people want to develop.

3 benefits for companies with collective agreements

1. Seal of approval. Attracts talent.

2. Simplicity. Not everything has to be negotiated with each and every employee.

3. Clear rules, less fuss. E.g. when someone falls ill or takes parental leave.