Over the past few months, it’s become increasingly clear that there are very few protections for those in the video game industry. Something that many would be horrified at, especially those who want to create games themselves.
The Video Game Industry Is Bound For Profits
If you’ve been out of the loop then you would have missed the sudden team reduction at Telltale Games which included the cancellation of all their projects without the developers being warned in advance or being given a severance pay. This month has alerted us to the treatment of those who worked on Red Dead Redemption 2 with Rockstar Games.
On October 14th, New York magazine posted a feature about the development of Red Dead Redemption 2 where co-founder Dan Houser of Rockstar Games stated they were working “100-hour weeks” at times for it. Houser later stated that his remark was about the senior writing team and their limited timetable but it did nothing to stop the response from the gaming community.
Survivor of GTA V crunch here. It was hell.
— Dylan (@christs_chins) October 15, 2018
One of the most notable comments came from Dylan Wildman who actually worked on Grand Theft Auto 5 while working at Rockstar Games before he left. His first response to a news post covering the story was “Survivor of GTA V crunch here. It was hell” confirming that this issue with RDR2 is not a ‘one off’ event. In response to comments, Wildman adds that to fix this problem, it must be dealt with at the very top of the ladder and that developers must move away from the traditional release calendar.
Another game developer, Adam Orth who created the VR game Adrift, also tweeted commenting that if people need to do “crunching” then “the people above you are not doing their job correctly”.
Crunch is unnecessary and almost always used as a weapon against those who, for a variety of totally valid, basic life reasons, can’t just walk away from a job. Looking back on my career, I’ve crunched a lot and it was never worth it (even on the good games).
— Adam Orth (@adam_orth) October 15, 2018
What is Crunch?
This is an industry term that describes when the development team puts in hours that are longer than normal to finish the game. It’s nothing new and has been a major problem for a long time. When the first Red Dead Redemption game was created, it also had a huge crunch problem to the point that the developers’ spouses posted a letter in 2010.
Crunch tends to be viewed in different ways such as being a problem of poor management or an attempt at exploiting workers. Rockstar Games told their employees recently to publicly talk about their experiences on social media, none of which were very negative. However, Kotaku posted an article looking into it which was the complete opposite and painted the image of a terrible working environment that resulted in mental harm to developers.
No game developer should need to go through this to do the job they love and work on the games they care about. Companies should not force overtime onto their employees, regardless of the industry. It’s twisted and a very outdated kind of thinking.
What happened with Telltale Games?
If you missed what happened with Telltale Games, it’s very simple. The company decided to shut down and “let go” almost all of their development teams and employees. One day there was 250 employees at Telltale and then the next, there was only 25 left. According to reports from developers, they simply came into work the next day and were told to go home and that they no longer worked for the company. There was no advanced warning and no severance pay has been given. Many of the employees discovered they had been let go when the media began to report the sudden event. A small group of them have now launched legal proceedings against Telltale Games for this.
This huge close also means that they have suddenly cancelled all of their games. All upcoming ones like The Wolf Among Us 2 and the final season of The Walking Dead which was in development at the time. The last season of TWD saw the release of two episodes and it’s still uncertain what will happen with the game now.
In short then
There are very limited protections in place for game developers it would seem. How can this be fixed? With a union. A union would force companies to listen and drastically reduce the Crunch time being forced onto developers. The sudden closure and loss of jobs for 225 employees at Telltale would not have happened, they would have been given fair warning instead.
The big problem with the games industry is that, there are so many people trying to get into it that companies can get away with things. Why do you need to be paid a good wage for doing what you love? Why do you need to be paid for overtime when you love working on this game? They get away with this because there are always people desperate for a slot on their team, new developers are easy to replace and should feel privileged to have this chance… according to them at least.
No one should be pressured into unpaid overtime and no one should need to skip meals or time with their family to finish a game. Even if they were being paid for that, it’s not healthy or sustainable.
We as gamers should be willing to help and support developers. We need to support them as much as possible in their fight for better treatment. Imagine how much better the industry and games would be if everyone was happy and working decent hours. How much more creative and imaginative people could be if they didn’t need to spent 80 – 100 hours a week on a game just because corporate doesn’t want to miss that ‘perfect’ release date.