In a historic move yesterday, dozens of employees at League of Legends developer Riot Games got up from their desks and took part in a walkout demonstration over the company's highly controversial forced arbitration policy. Like many US industries, the field of game development is in desperate need of greater worker protections and equality, and these developers' actions are paving the way.
Last year, numerous Riot Games employees came forward with their stories of workplace discrimination and harassment. Once exposed, Riot's culture of discriminatory behavior prompted some developers to file lawsuits against the company, and Riot's legal apparatus responded by forcing employee lawsuits into private arbitration. This sparked outrage within Riot and throughout the industry, as arbitration is well-known as a common tactic that disproportionately excuses corporate wrongdoing and forces physical proximity between perpetrators of sexual crimes and their victims. Murmurs of an employee walkout grew, and Riot developers were left no other recourse when the studio recently announced it would only discontinue its policy of forced arbitration for new employees rather than do away with it entirely.
Standing with their affected peers, Kotaku reports that more than 150 Riot employees took part in the April 6 walkout, holding signs and giving speeches showing their solidarity. The self-proclaimed Rioters made the cause for their organized demonstration clear, with social listening strategist Jocelyn Monahan saying, "We’re asking that forced arbitration be ended for all past, current, and future Riot employees, including contractors and [those] in current litigation." Meanwhile, the hashtag "#riotwalkout" began trending on Twitter, showering the Riot developers in an outpour of support from the rest of the industry.
Today myself and several of my co-workers are standing up for what is right, just, and fair in regards to Forced Arbitration and Sexual Harassment. Its 2019, and forcing anyone to sit in a room with the company/person who did this and "talk it out" is unacceptable. #riotwalkout— Mel Capperino-Garcia (@Riotswimbananas) May 6, 2019
Solidarity with those who are part of the #RiotWalkout today. Given the range of systemtic problems at play in this industry, labor action like this is all too rare. I hope that one day, this walkout is looked back on a bellwether for change and not just an exception to the rule.— austin walker (@austin_walker) May 6, 2019
Though they ought not to be so easily forgiven until workers' demands for the cessation of forced arbitration are met, Riot Games leadership admirably did nothing to stop the walkout and promises that no one will be punished for taking part. Riot provided Kotaku with an official statement on the matter, claiming, "We respect Rioters who choose to walkout today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not)." However, in an industry notorious for weeding out those who won't work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion through practices like developer crunch, only time will tell if Riot makes good on its word.
The Riot Games walkout may seem to be smaller in scale when compared to similar demonstrations at other companies in the past, but make no mistake - this is a huge first step for game developers everywhere. Other AAA development staff are undoubtedly taking notice of the wide coverage the Rioters are receiving. If these and potential future demonstrations are successful in ending forced arbitration and a culture of inequality at Riot, it may start a chain reaction within the industry as other groups of developers remember where the power in their workplaces truly resides.