Yesterday, Privateer Press announced the end of their Press Ganger (PG) program. Our local PGs are, understandably, upset. Many of our Warmachine and Hordes players are, also, understandably upset. The end of the program came with little warning, and as a surprise to many. We hope our PGs will remain active parts of our community, and we thank them for their many years of passion organizing this great game.
This, however, is an example of a company in our industry doing something very important. As upsetting as the end of a beloved program is, this is an example of company taking the long-sighted action in an industry that is struggling to grow up and act like an adult. This is a sign of maturing thinking and management from the game industry, and that’s huge. The game industry is growing massively, by leaps and bounds, and with that growth comes increases scrutiny. Volunteers who get injured on the job might be a sudden liability lawsuit. A suit for back wages might completely destroy a small company. This is an example of a company trying to do the legal and ethically correct thing before someone sues them into the ground. We should be applauding that.
There is some question about whether the PG corp was “really” employees. Weren’t they volunteers? Well, I’m not a lawyer (check my CV, I’ll wait), but legally a for-profit company can not have volunteers. The IRS is pretty clear on this in the United States, though it may vary elsewhere. You can disagree if you like, or say that’s silly, but those objections don’t change the law as written. Besides which, the issue isn’t whether it’s dumb that it applies to the game industry – the law doesn’t care what industry you’re in. Part of our industry growing and thriving is us undergoing the struggle to make ourselves more professional. Part of being a professional is protecting ourselves from lawsuits. And for a manufacturer, who gives specific directions on what PG can and cannot do, Press Gangers are legally already employees. The fact that PP hasn’t been sued yet doesn’t remove the stain of liability from them.
No one is arguing that Privateer Press, or Wizards (see the Judges suit against Wizards), or really any game company is evil. How would it work out in the long run if a small company, like PP, knowing that this was a liability, got sued and put out of business? No more company, no more game. Being on a high horse about how a company should have “stuck it to the man” counts for absolutely nothing if your favorite company gets flushed down the toilet by a lawsuit that could have been easily avoided. And make no mistake; those are the stakes here, and the room to wiggle on it is evaporating in this industry.
Yes, warning the Press Gangers would have been nice. Yes, having the replacement FLGS program rolled out simultaneously would have been better PR. Maybe, unless everyone just crapped on it because it was “different” and we’re on the internet. But I want companies in this industry to grow up and be held to a professional standard. And I want them, ideally, to do it voluntarily, without getting sued, without being threatened, because following the law is the correct thing for a business to do. Not because “all laws are right” but because a business has more responsibilities – to it’s owners, to it’s employees, and to it’s customers – that can’t perform if it gets stomped by a labor suit.