2016 may have been a pretty rough year generally, but it was a pretty excellent year for games. Awesome games like Dark Souls 3 and Uncharted 4 capped off beloved series, #Overwatch revolutionized the multiplayer FPS and Indie games like #StardewValley took the gaming world by storm.
But despite all the successes, the year saw one big failure for #VideoGames.
The Games Industry Needs To Treat Creators Better
When famous game developer Hideo Kojima split with Konami, many people were shocked. For those who'd been following the news of Konami's workplace practices however, the news was less surprising. Since 2010, the company had slowly become a prison for its workers. Developers were monitored at all times by security cameras and time cards and workers who were deemed to have violated unspoken rules (like contacting the outside world at work) were suddenly and unceremoniously demoted to factory work and janitorial positions. Kojima himself was kept in a locked office, not allowed to communicate directly with his team, leave the office unsupervised or access the internet while he worked crushing work hours to develop Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
The conditions at Konami may be on the extreme end of things, but not as unusual as one might hope. Many developers have come out against the conditions that the games industry is subjecting them to, with 80 hour work weeks, unpaid overtime and temporary contracts that result in mass firings at the end of projects becoming the norm.
The Routine Crunch
One of the biggest problems with conditions in the game industry is "Crunch-time". Crunch periods are when a game falls severely behind schedule or a publisher makes sudden demands, which require emergency work that goes above and beyond the normal working week. These periods can extend an employee's work week to 80 or more hours, with many developers reporting having to sleep at their desks or being unable to see their families for weeks on end.
"Crunch-time" is an emergency measure, one that should be avoided at all costs, it results in burned out employees and sloppy code. But increasingly in the games industry, Crunch is becoming the norm. As one anonymous developer put it:
“Crunch is any time a milestone is behind schedule, Crunch is any time a project is due for review by management. Crunch is any time an issue comes up that prevents other people from working. Crunch is any time a publisher decides they want to see something now or wants new features that weren’t planned previously. Crunch is when any trade show or article requires a demo/trailer/screenshots/you name it. Crunch is after the public sees said PRE-RELEASE content and starts tearing apart something that’s not finished… Crunch is not uncommon. It is the norm.”
This might be somewhat acceptable if employees were at least well compensated for their time. But contracts in the industry are almost always salaried, with no additional compensation for overtime, no matter how frequent or egregious. This means that employees who were hired for a 40 hour work weak sometimes spend 60 hours of that same week working completely free. The result is frequent burnouts, high turnovers and buggy messes of games that are missing key features.
Not Just The Developers
One of the big stories of the end of 2016 was the SAG-AFTRA voice actors union strike. Voice actors are the lifeblood of the modern video game, and a good actor can spell the difference between a memorable character and a complete dud, just look at the fanbase that Mass Effect's female Shepherd garnered thanks to the excellent work of Jennifer Hale.
Despite their importance to the finished product, voice actors were receiving poor pay, no royalties and frequently being forced to perform Mo-Cap and voice work that was dangerous and damaging to their bodies and vocal chords (aka. the money makers).
Luckily for the voice actors, the SAG-AFTRA is an old and respectable union, with the clout to help their employees get fair compensation for their work. Many in the industry aren't nearly as lucky—designers, musicians and artists are frequently hired on temporary contracts and fired as soon as a project is over, with no recourse if they want to avoid being blacklisted from the industry. Because of this lack of security, health care and benefits, many of the most talented creatives in the industry end up leaving for other, more secure positions outside of games.
It's Time To Make A Change For The Good Of Games
If we want games to keep getting better in 2017, the industry needs to make a resolution to treat their employees better. Great games are made by great creators. While the game industry may seem like a "dream job" for many, the truth is that you can't keep great talent around if you don't treat them well. As games become more and more complex and the work more and more intellectually demanding, they need talented people working on them to ensure the result isn't a sloppy, poorly-coded heap made by burned out employees.
So this year, it's time to make a resolution, and unlike that one about going to the gym, it needs to be kept.
Do you think the games industry needs to improve their conditions? Do you have a crazy Crunch-Time experience to share? Let us know in the comments.