Freelance writers for popular visual novel collection Lovestruck have won a significant pay increase from their publisher Voltage, following a strike that lasted 21 days.
The victory, declared on Tuesday when Voltage agreed to raise the wages of all 21 striking writers, marks a successful labor action in the game industry, which has long been resistant to collective organizing efforts.
Writers are especially important for visual novels, where players mostly read large volumes of text and, at times, make decisions about where the story should go next.
"We wouldn't have been able to do [this] if we hadn't come together collectively,” AK Fedeau, a contracted Lovestruck writer, told VICE Games. “The video game industry has a reputation for being very competitive, and I think this is what can happen when we look to each other as friends."
The collective of workers, dubbed Voltage Organized Workers (VOW), say the strike will bring in hundreds of thousands of additional annual income for the 21 writers.
Voltage released the following on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook on Thursday.
Prior to the strike, the 21 freelance writers earned an average of 3.5 cents per word. In their new contracts negotiated with Voltage, writers will be paid an average of 6.5 cents per word. The pay increases won as a result of the strike ranged from 66 to 94 percent.
According to VOW, all of the workers who won raises are women, non-binary, and LGBTQIA, and write interactive romance novels for Voltage—and many of them rely on their contracts with Voltage as a primary source of income.
“My wage increase is substantial and I’m very pleased with it,” Frances Maples, another contracted Lovestruck writer, said. “But beyond that, this means everything to me. It got to a point with our union where I felt like I wasn’t fighting for my own wages but for the wages of my fellow writers. In the games industry, it feels really historic.”
Lovestruck workers initially approached union organizers from the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE for short)—an initiative launched by the Communications Workers of America union in January to organize workers in the game and tech industry—for guidance and expertise on improving their working conditions.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) is one of the country’s largest and most powerful unions, which represents 700,000 media, tech, and telecoms workers and has a legacy of organizing tech workers dating back to the 1990s. In addition to being an unprecedented victory for the game industry, Lovestruck writers’ strike and subsequent raise increase marks the first major win of the CODE-CWA campaign.
VICE Games first reported on the strike several weeks ago. The event was especially notable because of the reaction by Voltage. In the midst of the strike, the company published a lengthy and hostile “statement about writers” on its website, in which Voltage criticized the workers for wanting to negotiate as a group and disputing their claims as outright “false.”
"Voltage has made all its attempts in good faith and in a professional manner, however we recognize that with no resolution in sight the company must move forward," Voltage said in its statement.
The statement is no longer on the Voltage website, but remains available via archive.
At the time, Voltage had also said it would contract new writers to continue writing storylines for Lovestruck, suggesting it wasn’t interested in negotiating any further. The workers, however, pointed out that despite the threat, none of their contracts had been terminated. They had also encouraged fans to continue supporting the game, despite their demands.
Strikes are uncommon in the video game industry, where workers are not unionized, despite plenty of evidence they are overworked and underpaid.
Unlike many other industries, video games have benefited from millions of people staying at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. People are playing—and importantly, buying—more games than ever before.
The strike’s resolution in favor of its workers comes during another historic moment in the games industry, after Bloomberg News reported that “hundreds of employees” at Overwatch and World of Warcraft developer Blizzard are compiling a list of demands to management, including “fair pay and increased sick time.” Blizzard told the publication it was looking forward to “hearing from them [workers] directly.”