“There are 16 hour days for 3-4 months.”
In Episode 7 of Humans Who Make Games podcast, host Adam Conover talks with two game developers and advocates from Game Workers Unite. For the purpose of privacy because both people still work in the industry, Humans Who Make Games has changed their names to Emma and Steve to keep them anonymous.
Emma and Steve chat about what it’s like to work in extreme overtime, gender equality and the challenges of unionizing in the games industry, and how God of War was reportedly a 5-year crunch game.
Steve begins by explaining what the organization really is. “Game Workers Unite is essentially a completely horizontal organization. We don’t have any directors or leaders. It’s just a grassroots organization of game developers and workers who are coming together over the common cause to unionize the games industry.”
As to why there are very few veteran workers in the industry, Emma says it’s simply due to burnout in those positions.
“The main issue behind the lack of jobs for game devs coming out of school or just entering the industry is that essentially the industry burns through its workers every five to six years. We have heard this number and that means its just churning and burning talent.”
Steve goes into talking about the lack of women who are also mothers in the industry, saying the studio he currently works at prides itself on having a family, but wonders if it’s because fathers are expected to come back to work right away, and there’s a different perception on mothers taking maternity leave.
“There are women at the studio, but I can’t think of a single person who had a kid and came back who wasn’t a dad. Which makes me wonder like there is a social expectation if you are a dad you will keep working versus the mom staying at home. But I wonder if the studio not even trying to bring those people back in.”
“In the game industry, there are the added benefits of if you are a woman in the games industry – not only is your workforce extremely dominated by men but actively hostile workplace culture,” Emma added. “So like your consumer is also particularly hostile to female developers and really any developer who isn’t a straight white cis dude. So just working in games, in general, is hostile for women.”
In regards to work-life balance at the studio Steve is at, he says there are issues, despite it being his “dream” company, but overall it’s a very supportive environment.
This the one good studio in the industry. If I leave, it’s only going to get worse.
“That being said, it’s not perfect. And when things happen, there is part of me who feels guilty when I say this studio so great but I just saw something bad happen and I want to leave. How can I say that? This the one good studio in the industry. If I leave, it’s only going to get worse. But bad things happen, I will work with people who are toxic and encourage toxic environment. I’ve been on projects where decisions have been made for short term gain to the cost of all the developers who were on the project. And it’s strange to see those things happened because it’s supposed to be the good studio.”
Both Steve and Sarah go into why unionizing the industry is important, explaining how the benefits and working conditions are controlled by the executives at the studio, and that lack of proper healthcare and expected overtime is a problem.
They explain that unionizing would also help with with support and coverage when workers are between projects and studios, similar to the film industry.
“Crunch TM is essentially overtime work at extreme lengths of periods of time,” Emma said. “So it’s overtime work for a period of a month to two months to six months to nine months to whatever absurd decisions of management have put you under. Easily from 10-12-16 hour days. There are 16 hour days for 3-4 months. And often many studios don’t even pay that overtime.”
In terms of expected overtime, Emma goes into how God of War was reportedly a 5-year crunch and how she’s frustrated that it is now so highly praised, saying that is not an example of games that should be made under those working conditions.
“I actually have friends who have now developed PTSD and various mental illnesses from that experience specifically working on that game. This kind of thing is rampant throughout the industry and there is no support for these types of people. If you end up at a studio where you are pulling 80 hour work weeks, that’s poor management,” Emma said.
To hear more about the legal concept of a union and what you can do as a consumer to help with fair working conditions for developers, listen to episode 7 of Humans Who Make Games podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts so you don’t miss any episodes.
Jessie Wade is a writer at IGN and thinks fair working conditions are of the utmost importance. Chat with her about your thoughts on Twitter @jessieannwade.