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The Time Sierra On-Line Nearly Unionized

Ken Williams has released a new book, Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The rise and fall of Sierra On-Line. In the process of telling Sierra’s entire story from his perspective for the first time, he reveals what was surely among the very earliest attempts at unionization within the game industry.

This story apparently takes place as Sierra was leaving the scrappy start-up phase (and the wild party/questionable culture phase) and entering a period of explosive growth in which the company had to meet the demands of holiday retail. The story is told in an “interlude” chapter, so the unionization events aren’t marked clearly on the book’s somewhat loose timeline.

There are certainly unsatisfying elements about the story (fuller write-up here) like Williams’ deflection of Sierra’s treatment on to “labor laws at the time.” Clearly labor laws didn’t bar employers from exceeding state or federally-protected minimums when compensating employees. It would have also been interesting to learn more about the specific changes, if any, made after what he describes as a “wake-up call” about employee relations. Nonetheless, this is the most we’ve learned about these events since they unfolded.

The book is available at KensBook.com.

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is an independent game developer and industry commentator. He is the founder of CodeWritePlay and owner of Artistry Master Systems, Inc. Follow him @Mechatodzilla.

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