The Dark Underbelly of The Gaming Industry
For many people around the world, working for a game developer is the stuff of dreams. Getting to make a game for your favorite console or publisher, working on your favorite character or creating one you have been imagining since childhood, we are getting jitters just talking about it.
The video game industry is running at light's speed with it exceeding $300 billion in 2021 which is worth more than the film and music industry combined. With the advent of mobile gaming, the industry is booming even more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But did you know the games that melt away your exhaustion are built on the back of unfair labor laws, sexual harassment, and rampant gender discrimination? Hmm, we thought so.
One of the major issues swimming around the gaming industry is that of 'crunch’ which is basically working overtime with no severance pay or breaks. Not-so-fun fact: The critically acclaimed Red Dead Redemption 2 was worked on by employees who had 100 hour weeks ahead of its release.
"Oh boo hoo, we all work overtime!"
Yes, we are all part of the hustle culture, and working overtime sure might seem like a rite of passage in the capitalist world we reside in but hear this out. A 2019 survey from the International Game Developers Association report that 40% of game developers said they worked crunch time at least once in the previous year. And by crunch time they meant at least 20 hours extra that came over and above the already congested workweek of 40 hours.
Now, do you want to guess how many workers were paid for putting in overtime? 8%. That’s it. The only reason this is still going on is that surprise surprise, technically it’s not illegal. If a person working as a computer professional earns above the annual salary then they are exempt from overtime laws.
It is not exactly breaking news that a lot of companies expect their employees to crunch and then when the game releases, they just get fired. After drowning in a tsunami of work, they suddenly have none, steering us into the direction of another problematic issue within the industry.
The average years developers work within the industry is usually five years because of the burnout they experience alongside the adverse working conditions. These conditions obviously lead to multiple health problems with some developers getting PTSD while others report of getting ulcers that cause them to cough blood. So, this is not just deteriorating their physical health but affecting them on a mental level as well.
Frat boys culture represent
Remember when we said the average working years is 5 for game developers? This number is specifically lower for women and persons of color.
Blizzard is a company, famous for making games like World of Warcraft, that recently got slapped with a lawsuit. It questioned the company for having a “pervasive ‘frat boy’ culture" where female employees are not only conveniently overlooked when it comes to promotions but they are also underpaid and sexually harassed.
The lawsuit goes into the details of how the entitled male employees drink and go through the cubicles, catcalling and harassing the female employees. Post the lawsuit, present and former employees of Blizzard flooded social media with their own experiences. A female employee taking on a management role was told she won’t be fairly paid “as she might get pregnant and like being a mom too much”. Another case cited in the lawsuit talked about the suicide of a co-worker on a company trip who not only faced constant harassment but had her intimate pictures circulated by her male co-workers. So, rightly and pathetically, frat boy culture for sure.
Talking about immature frat boys who cannot bear the weight of accountability and consequences, laughably false statements like these were released.
A spokesperson of Activision Blizzard via Bloomberg Law
Is misconduct a social more in major game developer companies?
A major game developer and publisher being accused of sexual harassment with employees staging a walkout, doesn't this sound awfully familiar? Have we never seen that before…oh wait, Riot games and Ubisoft.
Riot games, creators of the beloved League of Legends was one of the biggest cases of 2019 as it was the first time there was a walkout in the gaming industry. It came after two women sued them over the California equal pay act, also alleging that they were routinely subjected to sexual harassment. Riot games had agreed to pay $10 million to settle the suit but in February 2021 the CEO was accused of gender discrimination and sexual harassment for which obviously no evidence was found.
Even Ubisoft, the creators of some of the most popular series like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry hopped on the bandwagon. They had over a dozen public claims of sexual harassment and abuse with a lot of employees taking part in the #MeToo movement. A survey conducted showed 25% of employees faced workplace misconduct.
If we tried to look at the sunnier side, there are many enormous companies who care about employee welfare like Nintendo Japan who delayed the release of their hit game Animal Crossing so that employees don’t have to work overtime.
Things seem to be looking up with the rise of labor rights group like the Game Workers Unite looking to fight for the employees in the video game industry. Amongst all this progress, the least we all could do to break the stereotype of the uninformed gamers playing in their mom's basement is to educate ourselves before indulging and investing in gaming experiences.