Motion Twin The Devs Behind Dead Cells Are An Anarcho-Syndicalist Workers Cooperative


re: Valve, a lot of that was really weird hype back in… oh god. Back around the Orange Box, i think, actually. And honestly I don’t think there’s any water to it-- the biggest “example” I heard about Valve was “Oh, all our desks are on wheels, so if you decide you’re better for X project you just wheel over and hook up with them!” Which actually, more honestly, sounds like some of the hubbub around EA forcing everyone to switch to the Frostbite(?) engine. It’s not about making the company more even for the designers, it’s about making people more modular so you can up and move them at your will.

This is different, it seems like, and I’m thrilled to bits.

Also, if anyone was on the fence about pulling the trigger on Dead Cells, please jsut do it. Treat yourself. I am not even a Metroidvania players, but I got pulled in by the visual style, and there is something amazing about how that game feels, how impact feels, how movement feels so kinetic. I highly recommend it.


From what I’ve read over the years, Valve’s thing isn’t making sure everyone’s equal, it’s about a lack of explicit supervision or structure. People still get paid different, it’s just decided by “peer review” rather than management. Meant to be the ultimate meritocracy, which, we all know how well that always works out in practice.

If anyone wants some (necessarily limited) insight into Valve/flat structures, pcgamer just ran a story about a former employee talking about it, which Rob retweeted recently.

This, on the other hand, seems rad as hell.


You can pre-order it already at a slight discount.


I think that, where Motion Twin is a heartening example of anarcho-syndicalism in action, Valve is a miserable experiment in anarcho-capitalism

that’s what happens when your company’s guiding ideology favors profit over employee equity I guess


Anarcho-Capitalism is a bullshit paradoxical idea anyway. Ancaps are just confused Neo-libertarians.


Yeah, with Motion Twin, you’ve got the company coming together and asking “how can we create a collaborative environment in which everyone’s contributions matter and everyone is compensated equally for their contributions?” At Valve, you have a company dumping their new employees into The Cabal Chamber and saying “try to see how much money you can make us!”


Kind of bummed that even a company structured like this still has crunch and isn’t willing to disclose wages.

Last one in particular because to me it says they don’t believe that their fellow workers aren’t also believers of that structure and would just drop the job if someone came around with a better offer.

Kind of curious how firing works in that structure. If it’s vote based that seems like it could cause a lot of internal problems if a vote happened and failed. Some might take it as needing to self reflect while others are definitely going to hold a grudge.


They are probably disclosing wages to the people that they are paying…they aren’t disclosing to you and other random people on the internet, which is very different and probably wise.

It’s entirely possible that it is less than average. Software devs in the worlds of academia, non-profits, and NGOs are often funded by grants or have other restrictions that keeps salaries lower than those at large companies for similar work. But as was stated above, there are benefits to working at a place where you might feel more valued, your contributions are more meaningful, and you have more freedom and flexibility. A job that pays less because it’s better in every other way is an option that people would take more often than you might think.

The firing question is a good one, and a simple majority vote seems odd. We don’t know how they’ve decided to run the place, but there are certainly rules in place for it that you agree to when you join.


Is it though? Like I mentioned it shows to me they have little belief that the others in the studio are there for the right reasons if they think another studio can poach them with a higher salary.

For something like this to work everyone needs to believe in the system.

On a broader topic sharing salary information is considered taboo because companies want it to be taboo. There’s nothing to be lost by knowing how much your peers are making in your field compared to you and it helps you to determine if you are being paid fairly. HR would love it if companies like Glassdoor would not post that kind of data because it means they can’t lowball you as well.


Also important to add that companies try not to let salary information out because making that kind of info available makes it easier for employees to organise. The taboo of talking about how much you get paid in professional jobs is one that exclusively benefits employers because prevents workers from establishing common ground with people across the company based on your position with the company’s award structure, and fosters paranoia and competitiveness between workers.


Jumping straight to “since they didn’t publish HR records, it is obvious they do not believe in the system by which they organize their own workplace” isn’t being curious in good faith. It’s unreasonable to demand numbers just because you think they should give them to you when you (and keydemographics) are both are clearly aware this is a complicated topic, subject to a lot of scrutiny by armchair economists that other industries don’t get.

I’m not defending the interviewee’s answer as much as imagining if a bunch of twitter randoms started questioning my commitment to my politics, then asked me what my take home before taxes is.


Speaking from the perspective of someone whose partner has to manage a small payroll and who has never forced employees to keep their pays secret: y’all are 100% right about why the taboo exists in the first place, but a lot of y’all are ignoring the fact that companies can’t just erase the culture it created. My partner has had to deal with so much crap from people being pissed off about other people making more than or even the same as them, despite pay being determined entirely and specifically by position and seniority. Which is not to say that that is probably the specific reason, but just that there are consequences to revealing information that y’all aren’t considering and that we may not be able to forsee at all.

There’s also just the fact that, it’s not really necessary information for the story? It’s both very personal information, for a lot of people who (because of the company’s structure) would all need to be ok with sharing, and info that would be deeply revealing of the company’s financial status that they may not want to share. Not to mention, I’m sure it changes year to year, and so would either quickly become inaccurate or require a great deal of additional context that for any number of good reasons they might not have wanted to go into just then.

Point is, I frankly can’t think of very many good reasons to give that info to balance out the many many reasons not to.


This is nice, but the problem of governance isn’t in extended family sized units (where evolution is on our side in terms of uniting a small in-group under values of equity and compassion, against a larger environment), but in much larger groups.

My company went through the same change — started small, as it grew we added (all good) people, but we hit a point where just being a group of cool guys and gals no longer served as sufficient driver in operating the company effectively, and in came bureaucracy, HR, corporate horseshit, and the general sludge you inevitably encounter when pushing past the small tribe/extended family sized unit we are evolutionarily adapted towards cooperating in.

Another point no one has touched on, is that design-by-committee is good for some applications, but you will never get a Dark Souls (to take an influence on Dead Cells) from this methodology. Design-by-committee excels at smoothing out edges and hammering down the nails that stick out, but you also hit a wall in terms of highest common factor. Design-by-committee is not good at innovating or the highly personal and visionary nature of creating great art. Dead Cells is a polished implementation of existing genres that, while artistically competent, isn’t trying to tell us anything new about the human condition, making it a wise choice of project for a design-by-committee.

It’s interesting that Japan is considered the more collectivist culture, yet the Japanese gaming industry does a much better job of supporting the best of the best auteurs by giving them resources to realize their vision in AAA projects. In the west AAA funding is tied to moderation and playing it safe. This is one of the main reasons film (which supports auteurs) continues to be the superior art form, and gaming, at least in the west, has stagnated (despite a thriving indie scene in which auteurs like Johnathon Blow are creating games out of pocket).


I would argue that arteur-ship and singular vision is not necessarily a very good indicator of the quality of the artform personally. We are talking about an industry that throws hundreds of millions of dollars at David Cage every time he decides to parade his stilted monstrosities out at E3, the idea of putting creators pedestals like that has just as many drawbacks as benefits, and probably even more.


Its interesting that you call Dead Cells a good one of those but both Giant Bomb and Waypoint say it’s not just another one of those.


lol touche at David Cage

I think that’s a different angle at failure to foster the great auteurs — fostering the not great auteurs

but if it’s not clear in gaming, you need only look at the wider art world to show that in mature art forms, the great works, both in terms of innovation and in terms of being widely accepted as great, are products of personal artistic vision


I reject the idea that collective artistic vision doesn’t exist or is somehow lesser. I would even say that a lot of the “great products of personal artistic vision” are collective in nature.


I don’t know, I feel like so much of the issues we see in the industry these days are kinda hung up on the idea of singular artistic paragons, when in reality a game is the product of a massive collective effort of an entire team. One of the reasons that workers rights in the gaming industry are so paltry and the general apathy towards the issue seems to me to be at least partially linked to this idea of the single artistic luminary who brings it all together. And those people definitely exist, don’t get me wrong! But I think we as a culture would do well to remember how many people work on and contribute to games.


It also isn’t actually design-by-committee, right? Not any more than it is program- or art-by-committee. Design is just one more discipline, and the article talks about how they absolutely do specialize in the standard roles, even if there is the usual small team-related wearing of multiple hats. Just because everyone gets a say in big decisions and everyone gets paid the same doesn’t mean there isn’t room for individual authorship (as opposed to auteurship).


This is going to sound a bit abrasive, but absolute adherence to auteur theory as a guiding principle just seems like denial of reality at this point. Even moving past the troubling existential implication that forces/entities outside the already-dubious idea of an “absolute individual” can’t heavily or entirely influence said individual, there’s a more material denial of labor and contribution at play there.

Like, I get the stigma of design-by-committee, but that stigma doesn’t exist because collective decisions in art somehow inherently dilute its ability to “be innovative” (an intensely ideological yet vague and arbitrary judgement of merit by nature, but I digress), that stigma exists because it’s a term that’s been used by a lot of consumer advocate reviewer types (like Ben Crosshaw or Jim Sterling, if we’re sticking to games here) that still believe in status quo hierarchy, and blame lapses in “quality products” on people doing hierarchy wrong, rather than hierarchy doing people wrong.

Case-in-point, design-by-committee is bad when it’s done by an opaque upper echelon overriding creative decisions of any and all actual laborers seen as “below” them (even those with “lead” in their title) with little to no input taken seriously from the majority of said laborers actually putting together a piece, and when that upper echelon is comprised of people distanced from the realities of creativity and the labor it comes with, they’re incentivized to be more interested in extracting value than supporting the work or the workers.

Another example is development hell that makes a production change hands a lot, Thief 2014’s guiding design was technically a collected work of a lot of different people, but it was made in a linear sequence of uncommunicative hierarchies that at one point made animators animate “Cinemax-level sex scenes” they were uncomfortable making, basically meaning they had to endure sexual discomfort (to a degree we’ll never know because of contract NDAs and unspoken career threats) for however long they had to animate sexual writhing to keep their job because a lead told them to do it, and like many other productions in dev hell they could have still gotten their name rearranged in credits to diminish their contribution out of spite, because that can happen on a lead’s whim in most game productions with no repercussions.

These two examples are just examples, there’s a bunch of other combinations and further ways that workers can be exploited without recourse that are incentivized by a hierarchical structure and/or individualist auteur-worshiping behavior, and part of that can include the appropriation of the idea of collective decision-making by inherently right-wing boards of publishers and/or executives that get to lord their power over the people who actually work on projects.

Anarcho-syndicalism is also, like most other reasonable & practical forms of anarchism, an elimination of all unjustified forms of hierarchy, not all existing forms of hierarchy altogether. A lot of laborers want or need people to tell them where to go and what to do for the jobs they’ve chosen, they just get direct democratic input on project & management decisions they care about regardless of position, rather than needing to convince someone with arbitrary power over them to maybe decide to give their input up the chain and only get to know if it’s even been considered if they get a gracious response. On a wider scale, this still means representatives would likely be necessary, but those reps wouldn’t get to pick and choose who’s/what input they represent or to what degree, and would likely be rotated without elections on a regular basis, with direct appeals available if any worker(s) feel inappropriately represented.

There is still probably someone akin to a “lead designer” on Dead Cells, there’s probably someone who singularly came up with a cool idea for a game and pitched it to others at the company, and very well could still be steering the overriding themes, motives and design of the game, but it’s because all other laborers are able to continually consent to that deference and can have their input weighed if they are uncomfortable with a decision made by that directorial figure. Even if this is the case, and even in hierarchically-produced media, no singular directorial figure invalidates the input of other laborers, they all influence huge amounts of what the final piece says and does and functions as, even when they aren’t technically the first to pen design ideas in an empty Google Doc.

Film also has a problem with this, by the by, it may be more mature but it still has really toxic ideas about how it’s made woven into public perception (and will never be “fully” matured, same as any other cultural medium). Think about how many times a cinematographer and lighting crew set up impactful shots to deliver the theme of a script beat written by a screenwriter, and then on the critical/consumer end it’s all attributed to the director. The amount of times is: all of the time, and there’s ongoing attempts to get more people to recognize that disparity, and critics to change and deepen their vocabulary in regards to labor in the film industry.