Unlike its poster boy Mario, Nintendo cannot seem to jump high enough to clear accusations they are working to stomp out unions among contracting staff harder than a boot planted squarely on a goomba’s head.
In an interview with Axios, the person who filed an April complaint with the National Labour Relations Board against Nintendo and its contracting firm Aston Carter finally spoke out. The unnamed worker who filed the report came out as Mackenzie Clifton, who worked as a quality assurance tester for Nintendo from 2018 to the start of this year.
The tester said he loved his job at the start, but quickly came to learn just how poorly the company treated its contracting staff. A strong Super Smash Bros. player, Clifton worked on bug testing for games like Super Smash Bros.: Ultimate and its post-release content. He and fellow contractors grew annoyed at their lack of agency and forced breaks. He learned that in 2021 his and other testers’ names weren’t being added to the credits of Ultimate.
During a January Q&A with workers sitting down with Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser, Clifton said they asked “What does [Nintendo of America] think about the unionization trend in QA in the games industry as of late?” The ex-Nintendo tester said one of their bosses from Aston Carter later reprimanded him for asking a “downer question.” Clifton said they were fired a month later.
Clifton filed a NLRB complaint against Nintendo and Aston Carter in April this year claiming the company and contract agency had discharged an employee who supported unionizing and surveilled employees who talked about unions.
Axios cited a past comment from Nintendo saying the person they let go was leaking confidential information. Clifton said Nintendo showed them a tweet they posted in February that did not reference any game or actual asset. The tweet reportedly read “in today’s build someone somewhere must have deleted every other texture in the game [because] everything is now red. Just like, pure red. it’s very silly.”
Ultimate was finally updated with their and other contractor’s names in 2022, only after they were let go. Neither Nintendo nor Aston Carter immediately responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Our friends over at Kotaku reported on a second set of labour violations in May, alleging Nintendo and contract hiring firm Aston Carter interfered with workers organising, and further mentioned possible accusations of retaliation and coercion. Nearly a dozen Nintendo contractors came out of the woodwork to complain about how the company treats temp workers and pays them less than — or close to — minimum wage for quality assurance work. Those same temp staff said a fellow contract worker was being retaliated against for a meeting in which they hinted at the very idea of unionizing, which may well relate to Clifton.
After those complaints came out, Bowser reportedly called such accounts of a bad workplace “troubling” in an internal message and promised they would look into it.
According to Axios, Clifton sat down with Nintendo to settle the complaint. Clifton wanted a letter of apology from Bowser, but the company countered with a HR letter and a neutral letter of reference.
Just a few weeks ago, Nintendo of America’s former president Reggie Fils-Aime offered CNET some very noncommittal comments about games workers unionizing. He seemed to recognise that so many of those working in the games industry don’t have a consistent work schedule while suffering with low pay and the threat of forced relocation. However, he seemed to put unionization efforts as a company’s failure to adequately meet workers’ needs, rather than the workers standing up to have a seat at the table to make sure those needs are met.
Fils-Aime retired as NoA’s president in 2019 before Bowser took over.