Liz DiFiore, president of the Graphic Artists Guild, an organization that advocates for graphic artists’ work rights, knows firsthand how independent artists can be taken advantage of in the games industry.
“The guild’s whole mission is to educate and build the confidence of professional creators,” DiFiore said. “We advocate for ethical labor practices, business practices, and standards within the industry.”
DiFiore is also a graphic artist and has worked on several video games, so she understands the importance of advocating for artists in the games industry.
“It’s one of those unique industries that employs almost every type of creative professional,” she said.
The Guild directly fights for changes at the legislative level to protect creatives and defend their rights.
“What makes us unique to a lot of the other associations within the creative industry is that we lobby on specific legislation,” DiFiore said.
A key issue
One the issues the Graphic Artists Guild is currently focused on is the laws around hiring homework, or take-home tasks graphic artists must complete when applying for jobs.
“We see it with concept artists, as well as game developers and engineers, where companies will ask for specific tasks to be completed in an interview process,” DiFiore said. “It’s not paid, and it often takes up to a week to do the free labor. The unethical practice that we’re seeing is that they’ll ask for things like assets to be created that they may be able to use in marketing materials or in other projects, regardless of whether the person gets hired.”
Rebecca Blake, the guild’s advocacy liaison, outlined how companies can take advantage of graphic artists when they give hiring homework.
“One thing we’re seeing is people who see their original work incorporated into client deliverables,” she said. “We have had guild members say ‘I saw the work I did for hiring homework appearing in this company’s campaign.’”
Knowledge is power
The Graphic Artists Guild aims to educate artists and employers about these issues in the hopes that change can be implemented within the industry.
“What we’re working on is the grassroots effort to make people aware,” DiFiore said, “to educate people, not only the people who are doing the interviewing, so they understand what their rights are and what the red flags are, but also amplifying all of those individual voices as an association and working with other partner associations in order to work with companies to change some of those practices.”
The guild has partnered with similar organizations that advocate for other creatives, including photographers, writers, and musicians.
“What we realize is there is a commonality in how creative workers are being asked to do more for less,” Blake said. “Creatives are being asked to give up more of their rights, more of their copyrights, more of their work conditions.”
In the games industry, it can be hard for people to speak up about their individual rights, particularly for workers from marginalized groups, DiFiore said.
“There has to be allies who are not just women within the gaming industry who are able to support their female counterparts,” she said. “It’s also not just strictly about women. There’s also transgender and gender-fluid people within the industry who fall into those marginalized categories of not having a lot of allies within their departments and their companies.”
In order for marginalized groups to fight for their rights, they need to harness their collective power.
“The most powerful thing somebody can do trying to enter the industry as a creative professional is to not be afraid to ask questions,” DiFiore said. “Seek out those communities, like the Graphic Artist Guild, where you can have a support system, and get educated on what your rights are.”