Have your say on Game Developers’ rights and the Screen Industry Workers Bill

The Government is changing the law about how game developers and other “screen production workers” – primarily those on contracts – are employed. The goal is to strengthen contractor’s employment rights while still keeping New Zealand an attractive place to make games and movies.

While the Bill focuses on film, TV and VFX the Government has acknowledged that gaming is a big part of a modern screen industry. It will be the first time New Zealand law has ever defined what a “game developer” is. 

It is important that the details of new law work for kiwi game developers, so we want your feedback. You can email us feedback at info@nzgda.com or comment on our Facebook Group.

The NZGDA discussed this law change in a panel at NZGDC 2019, at a meeting of studio managers and in a previous blog post, and received ‘cautiously positive’ feedback from many game developers who spoke with us. MBIE and the industry working group also consulted NZGDA throughout the process. We plan to make a written submission on the Bill (due 3 April 2020).

MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) have a useful website with background on the changes.

What this means for individual game developers

If you are a permanent employee (eg, with a salary and employment agreement) then nothing changes. If you don’t have any form of written agreement, the new law makes it clear that you are a contractor.

One of the original purposes of the Bill was to support people who contract regularly, moving between various projects. This is common in film and TV production and increasingly in indie game dev and freelance game dev roles. The Bill introduces new protections for contractors:

  • Contractors doing screen production work must have written contracts with mandatory terms about contract termination and protection from bullying, discrimination and harassment.
  • A new duty of good faith will require parties to a contract not to mislead or deceive one another.
  • A tiered dispute resolution system will support parties to resolve issues that may arise, including access to mediation and facilitation.

In addition it sets up:

  • A framework so that contractors who choose to form a workers organisation will have the option to bargain collectively as a “game developer” occupational group or with a particular company.

What this means for indie teams and game studios

If you hire contractors, you will be required to include some clauses about health and safety, termination, discrimination, bullying (see section 17 of the Bill) in your all written contracts and have procedures to put them into action.

Amateur and volunteer work, like community collaborations or unpaid modding, is not covered. Student projects and unpaid internships are not covered.

Once the Bill becomes law, employers will have 12 months to update their contracts. The NZGDA can help educate studios about their obligations and workers about their rights. 

The NZGDA Supports this Bill. Do you agree?

Broadly, the NZGDA supports the intent of this Bill to improve contractor and freelance game developer’s rights. 

In particular, we think contractors and freelancers are particularly vulnerable to possible bad practices. Although the law doesn’t affect permanent employees, we think it will send a strong signal about what best practices are.

We also think the requirements asked of employers are reasonable or are best practices that should be encouraged anyway. Many established New Zealand game studios have indicated to us that they have no concerns formalising these practices. It is likely that indies or startups with less experience hiring people will need education and support about their new responsibilities.

The NZGDA’s membership is very inclusive – it includes students, contractors, permanent employees, hobbyists and studio employers – and we plan to consider all viewpoints in our submission to Government about the Bill. The NZGDA hasn’t made any decisions about whether we would take a role in any possible future collective bargaining, but are committed to educate the industry about the law change and workers’ rights.

What is a “game developer”?

The Bill also provides a framework if contractors in the games industry choose to work together to form a collective worker organisation to negotiate a collective contract – either as an industry group or with a particular employer such as a large studio.

For the purposes of collective bargaining the Bill proposes that “game developer” is one occupational group that includes all the specialist roles involved in making a game. Here are the proposed groupings:

Occupational groupDescription
Composerindividuals who create or modify musical compositions for screen productions

 

Directorindividuals who direct the making of screen productions by visualising scripts while guiding performers and technicians to capture a screen production’s vision

 

Game developerindividuals who create and manipulate computer animation, audio, video, and graphic image files into multimedia programmes to produce data and content for games

 

Performerindividuals who portray roles in screen productions, including stunt persons, narrators, voice-over actors, extras, singers, musicians, and dancers

 

Technician (post-production)individuals who work on, or contribute to, screen productions during the post-production phase, and who do not fall within the description of any other occupational group in this schedule

 

Technician (production)individuals who work on, or contribute to, screen productions before the post-production phase, and who do not fall within the description of any other occupational group in this schedule

 

Writerindividuals who write, edit, contribute to, and evaluate scripts and stories for screen productions

 

The category “game developer” would therefore include roles with job titles such as game programmer, game designer, level designer, quality assurance, game tester, game artist, animator, illustrator, concept artist, technical artist or producer.

Game composers would fall under the Composer category. Game audio engineers would be game developers not Technician (Post-Production). A voice or mocap actor for a game would be a Performer. It is not clear where a game writer or narrative designer would fit, or if esports athletes and professional streamers are Performers. 

The Bill does not cover people who provide support services, such as those providing legal, accounting, marketing or management services “peripheral to the actual creation of the screen production” and anyone working for a company whose primary business isn’t in the screen industry. 

The Bill proposes that it does not apply to (amongst other things): 

  • computer-generated games for educational, training, and advertising purposes
  • training and instructional programmes
  • amateur productions

This definition of “game developer” is only used for the purposes of collective bargaining for contractors. It does not affect permanent employment agreements or government screen funding programmes. 

The NZGDA did discuss with Government alternative ways of categorising the various roles involved in game development, such as a separate category for game art disciplines. We also raised the example of artists moving between film productions (being part of the Technician – Post Production group) and game projects (then being part of the Game Developers group). However, one all-inclusive category for Game Developer means that all contractors working together on a game would have the same collective contract or that someone moving from film productions to a game production would change collective contracts at that time they change job.

How you can give feedback

Currently the NZGDA plans to give feedback to the Government about the wording and definition of “game developer”; clarifying the roles of programmers, producers, quality assurance, narrative designers, esports performers; how to best exclude IT companies who sometimes make educational games or gamification projects; and raise issues like the abuse of unpaid internships. We believe the additional responsibilities placed on employers are best practices that will make the New Zealand games industry a better place to work in for everyone. 

What else should we consider? Should the Bill change?