Identifying the Reason for Worse Treatment in the Video Game Industry
There have been notable and visible controversies in game development in recent years regarding the treatment of employees. These include demanding impossibly long hours during crunch (“crunch” happens at various points in development. Throughout game development there are milestones that the development team must meet for the publisher and if the team is behind schedule they “crunch” to make up for lost time, and nearly all developers go into crunch as the game nears launch due to the multitude of activities that must be completed but by their nature cannot be completed until the game is near completion), to some companies running essentially crunch hours and demand year round.
Additionally, because working on video games comes in waves, you often see companies scale up their workforce once a game enters active development and scale down once the game is complete, repeating this process ad nauseam. As a result, layoffs of talented and hardworking people are rampant throughout the industry.
The closest analogous industry would be the movie industry. Like the movie industry, video games are a visual/audio medium that requires a tremendous amount of people behind the scenes to make the final product. Like movies, video games are a massive multi-billion-dollar industry that is not only large domestically, but in international markets as well.
However, unlike the movie industry, the stars of the industry are not the creators. The strength and weaknesses of a game are primarily dependent on people rarely scene. The programmers, the designers, and the producers. There are no direct comparisons to make of these people as unlike with actors in movies, programmers are the people that make the virtual characters come to life. The most prominent behind the scene person from a game studio is generally the lead designer. However, even these people rarely become household names.
In fact, the most prominent members of the video game industry are the voice actors, game journalists, and YouTube personalities. Only voice actors actually contribute to the creation of the game itself and they have their interests fought for by the Screen Actors Guild. The people that put their blood, sweat, and tears into video games do not have a similar organization that represents and protects their interests.
And these are the two main problems that I see impeding employees in the video game industry from having the protection and advocacy of their rights that they so desperately need: there is no union, and there are very few prominent members of the industry that have mainstream appeal and cache.
The former is easier to fix than the latter, but I will discuss both in turn in future blog posts.