Tag Archives: labor

The Video Game Industry Can’t Go On Like This

At about this time next year, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the next generation of video games will look like. New consoles will likely be shown off, bold new streaming initiatives will begin to launch, and we’ll see all the wonderful kinds of games they will bring us. All these new things will come, and we’ll close the book on a generation that saw the industry that makes games come under greater scrutiny than ever before, as studios shuttered, developers burned out, and toxic work culture fostered environments hostile to marginalized people.

These are not problems that have been resolved, but the wheels of the games industry keep turning, in spite of the strain. So how much bigger can video games get? Video games are only getting more costly, in more ways than one. And it doesn’t seem like they’re sustainable.

There’s the human cost, which Kotaku has chronicled extensively. Contract workers are continually undervalued and taken advantage of, as Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch is reported to do. Artists who work on gory cinematics integral to games like Mortal Kombat suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unrealistic demands and lofty investor expectations lead to disastrous development cycles for video games like Anthem, which in turn leads to developer crunch. Every week, news breaks about the toll video game development takes on the people who make them, and we carry on as if it’s all going to be fine.

Mortal Kombat 11
Image: NetherRealm Studios (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)

That’s only the start of it. When you adjust for inflation, the retail cost of video games has never been cheaper, and it’s been this way for some time. The $60 price point for a standard big-budget release has held steady for nearly 15 years, unadjusted for inflation even as the cost to make big-budget video games has risen astronomically with player expectations. (Here’s some math that gives you an idea of just how absurdly expensive games are to make.)

Since changing the price point seems to be anathema, we’ve seen the industry attempt to compensate with all manner of alternatives: higher-priced collector’s editions, live service games that offer annual passes or regular expansions a la Destiny, microtransactions, and free-to-play games. Then you have loot boxes, which in many cases boil down to slot machine-style gambling inserted into retail and free-to-play games alike—something that is coming under increased legal scrutiny that might potentially cut off what has quickly become a major source of revenue in the industry.

These aren’t all necessarily responses to thinning profit margins in the face of rising inflation. Game publishers are often publicly-held companies, with investors that need to be shown endlessly increasing profits that are then used to justify ridiculously large executive paychecks. Perhaps that’s a problem that needs solving, too.

Because of all this, $60 is often just the minimum buy-in, the ante in the pot, for some of the biggest releases. If you want every character in a game’s roster, or every map in its playlists, you’ll have to pay more, and increasingly, you have to. Big-budget single-player games that deliver a single-serving experience with minimal strings attached have largely disappeared from the lineups of major third-party publishers.

Sea of Solitude.
Image: Jo-Mei Games (Electronic Arts)

Let’s run down the Big Three. We’re more than halfway through 2019, and Electronic Arts has only published one single-player game, the indie Sea of Solitude. Last year was much the same, with two indies as its only single-player releases: Fe and Unraveled 2. Activision’s portfolio of single-player games looks even thinner: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the only exclusively single-player, non-remake game that the publisher has released since 2015’s Transformers: Devastation—which itself is no longer available, thanks to an expired licensing agreement.

Ubisoft is an exception, regularly releasing entries in single-player game franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. But it buttresses them aggressive microtransactions and extensive season pass plans. (And the occasional diversion like Trials Rising and South Park: The Fractured But Whole.) The big-budget single-player experience is now almost entirely the domain of first-party studios making marquee games for console manufacturers, which bankroll games like Spider-Man and God of War. The economics of first-party exclusives are totally different—they’re less about making money by themselves and more about drawing players into the console’s ecosystem.

This is worth considering, because as big publishers prioritize live, service-oriented games, the number of games on their schedules has dropped. If you look at the Wikipedia listings for EA, Ubisoft, and Activision games released by year, you’ll get a stark—if unscientific—picture of how each big publisher’s release slate has thinned out in the last five years, relying on recurring cash cows like sports games and annualized franchises and little else. In 2008, those three publishers released 98 games; in 2018 they released just 28, not including expansions.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Image: FromSoftware (Activision)

In short, the single-player game was not sustainable. So why should we think the current model is?

The smaller release slates make for a precipitous state of affairs where too much is riding on too little, a shaky foundation for big-budget game development to rest on. Granted, there are other publishers, like those in Japan, that are still very interested in single-player games. Independent games have also filled the single-player void and achieved greater visibility than ever before. But each of these alternatives face their own challenges in a volatile market, one where just five years ago conventional wisdom held the Japanese games industry was dead. Independent developers, meanwhile, continue to fight for the smallest slice of an impossibly crowded market. No matter where you sit on the games industry ladder, stability remains elusive.

That’s the present of video games. Let’s talk about the future. The intersecting trends of games-as-a-service and the increased emphasis on streaming mean an increased reliance on off-site computing with data centers and server farms distributed across the globe.

Microsoft’s Project xCloud wants to use the company’s data centers to provide high-end console and PC gaming to anyone with a good enough internet connection. Google Stadia is a service that pitches something similar if not even more wide-reaching, angling for the big-budget video game experience in a web browser. And Sony already offers a streaming service, PlayStation Now, which is likely to expand in the next generation.

A 2016 study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory gives us an idea of the sort of things to consider in this arena. The outlook gives reasons to both be alarmed and also be hopeful.

The foremost takeaway is that while data centers are growing in number, their energy consumption is starting to plateau out of necessity, as the dramatic increase in cloud computing has actually forced tech companies to become more efficient. The biggest companies, according to the Berkeley Lab report, are actually remarkably efficient.

Data center efficiency is measured by power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating. PUE is found by measuring a facility’s total power delivered divided by the power used by its IT equipment. Under this rating, the platonic ideal is a PUE of 1.0: power input and output perfectly balanced. Google, then, is in pretty good shape as far as this standard goes, with the average PUE of all its data centers currently at 1.11.

Efficiency, however, can remain good as power consumption increases, and consumption is going to remain a problem.

Data center energy consumption has been a concern for some time now, particularly in the United States, where data center energy consumption dwarfs that of the rest of the world at 1.8 percent of all energy used in the countrySmaller data centers, which estimates say make up 60 percent of data center energy-use, are inefficient compared to the biggest players, and with no legal standard or universal benchmark, there’s no way to ensure that efficiency gap is closed.

A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Photo: Google

Making this problem even more dire is our current political climate, where developing sources of clean, renewable energy is an idea met with hostility by countries like the United States throwing their weight behind fossil fuels, even outside of its own borders. That doesn’t even account for the ways games contribute to the world’s electronic waste problem. E-waste is toxic, and only 40 percent of it is properly recycled.

And all that is before you even start to think about climate change, and the urgent action needed to avert a major crisis in our lifetime.

Video games cannot do this forever. If any of these things were to collapse—the people who make them, the economy they’re sold in, the ecosystem we’re all a part of—it would be catastrophic. All of them at once? That’s a disaster we need to talk about, openly. Because there are solutions to these problems.

Some of them are small, like making sure you know how to properly dispose of e-waste, should you need to throw out a busted console or peripheral, and doing what you can to live sustainably, even though climate change certainly requires the sort of large-scale action that only governments can enact To that end, you can take more involved action, like calling your local congressperson or government representative and asking if climate change and environmental concerns are on their agenda, and keeping apprised of any legislation up for voting in local elections.

Other solutions are harder to parse. How do we account for the data center sprawl of tech companies and their energy consumption? Is it ethically sound to use a service like Project xCloud or Google Stadia or Playstation Now, knowing all this? Should we push for a global green tech agreement of some kind, so companies that contribute to server sprawl and energy consumption do so in a sustainable way? A carbon tax seems like a good start, but this is a problem in need of many answers, not one.

Some solutions are thankfully, underway. Labor practices have come under scrutiny and developers are beginning to discuss organizing in earnest. Unionization is not going to solve every problem, but it can lead to meaningful progress in a lot of ways that trickle outward into other arenas. More equitable practices can mean the relentless pace of development is slowed down, which could make for fewer, better games and a course correction in supply and demand. Or it might only make things marginally better.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all have stated sustainability initiatives and reports, but these programs are all buried in corporate sites and paperwork—a better approach would be to make sustainability as big a talking point as load times or ray-tracing. Something we could look at and compare to the previous year, and make note of how better off we are.

These are big, insurmountable seeming problems, but like all incredibly big projects—like, say, game development—they’re things that can be done, slowly, a little bit at a time. We just have to start.

It’s unlikely that video games will ever truly go extinct. We’ll probably always have something called “video games,” but what those games will look like is still very much in flux. There’s no guarantee that the way games are currently made will remain viable for another 10 years—games aren’t even made today the same way they were 10 years ago. They will look different. They will change because they can, and because they must. Hopefully, all the ways games change will be on our terms—otherwise disaster will change them for us.

Source: Kotaku.com

Report: Amazon Uses Games To Keep Warehouse Workers Engaged

Photo: Jordan Stead (Amazon)

While Amazon’s efforts to get into video games haven’t panned out, there’s one arena where the company has managed to release multiple titles: its own warehouses.

According to a report from The Washington Post, Amazon has a number of its warehouses outfitted with optional games playable from screens at workers’ desks. The games, which come with colorful names like Dragon Duel and CastleCrafter, are played by completing the tasks warehouse employees spend most of their time doing: Pulling packages from shelves and sorting them into outgoing bins. As more tasks are completed, workers progress towards set goals that reward them with badges, points, or “Swag Bucks” that can be redeemed for company merch.

The ultimate goal seems to be gamifying the drudgery of working in an Amazon warehouse—where conditions have reportedly been abysmal for some time. As anyone familiar with video games knows, grinding for points, progress and rewards can go a long way towards making menial tasks more bearable—fun, even—but it’s only fun if it’s fair, and it’s only fair if players know how the system works. Which, the Post notes, isn’t necessarily the case, since there’s nothing stopping an employer from bumping up quotas without telling anyone in an attempt to up worker productivity.

Amazon has a well-documented history of treating laborers poorly, and Amazon leadership has an equally well-documented disinterest in using the company’s vast resources to significantly improve their circumstances. Games may be useful in improving worker happiness, but it’s only sustainable if their needs elsewhere are being met. Otherwise, they’re as predatory as any loot box scam.

Source: Kotaku.com

‘I’d Have These Extremely Graphic Dreams’: What It’s Like To Work On Ultra-Violent Games Like Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 is a brutal game. That’s what you come for—sensational, over-the-top violence that’s inventive and gratuitous on a level that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It can be shocking in its detail and funny in its execution, but it’s always arresting. It’s also short. Fatalities, gory, physically improbable finishers that usually involve cartoonish dismemberment, only comprise a few moments in matches that only last a few minutes.

The people who make Mortal Kombat live with the series’ over-the-top violence for much longer than players do. Game development is slow and tedious, and a few frames depicting a man’s face being removed in photorealistic detail can be the result of days and weeks of careful work and research. That work might take a toll, one that’s worth examining as the stories of what it’s like to make the biggest, most popular games continue to come to light.

Here’s one such story, about a developer who worked with the cinematics team for Mortal Kombat 11 and requested anonymity in order to protect their employment prospects. They told Kotaku that they had worked on the game throughout 2018, and spent their days reviewing violent animation work, discussing it with leads, sharing feedback with animators, and generally being surrounded by the kind of bloody real-life research material that creators reference in order to animate video game gore. Within a month, they started feeling the effects.

“I’d have these extremely graphic dreams, very violent,” they told Kotaku in a call. “I kind of just stopped wanting to go to sleep, so I’d just keep myself awake for days at a time, to avoid sleeping.”

Eventually, the developer says they saw a therapist, who diagnosed them with PTSD. They attribute this to their work on MK11—not just the content of the game and having to process and discuss its violent cinematics frame by frame, but also being surrounded by the reference materials artists used for research.

“You’d walk around the office and one guy would be watching hangings on YouTube, another guy would be looking at pictures of murder victims, someone else would be watching a video of a cow being slaughtered,” they said. “The scary part was always the point at which new people on the project got used to it. And I definitely hit that point.”

While Mortal Kombat 11 publisher Warner Bros. Games and developer NetherRealm declined to respond to a request for comment for this story, back in January, art director Steve Beran spoke to Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson about the work that goes into crafting the game’s fatalities, and the effect it might have on developers. On the one hand, it’s disconcertingly nonchalant. “We do a lot of testing of, like, how liquid will land on carpet, how it’ll react on dirt,” he said. “And we do tests and talk about them like ‘Does that look how you’d think it would look?’… If I get blood on my shirt, it’s gonna get dark, so it needs to react appropriately. Our tech artists dig into that and make it look very real.”

On the other, there’s a level of remove: “I hate to keep saying this, but I think it’s more just the beats to me,” he said. “It’s not so much what’s happening. It’s more just the animations.”

That dissociation is the tradeoff when it comes to violence in the age of photorealistic games and unparalleled processing power, causing onlookers to wring their hands about video game content as developers now find themselves with the tools to craft anatomically correct dismemberments.

“As a mechanic, it’s basically perfect,” said Alex Hutchinson when asked about violence in video games. Hutchinson is a game director whose work spans the entire spectrum of video game violence, from the potentially pacifistic Spore to the far bloodier Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 4. “You have a clear goal. It’s exciting because there’s a risk/reward—you win, they die. You lose, you die. So you’re afraid, and you can lose things. It’s usually spectacular because you’re shooting a gun or swinging swords, you get great feedback. You can even see this in pseudo-gun combat mechanics, like camera mechanics. Because that has everything that guns have—that’s why Pokémon Snap is so satisfying.”

Hutchinson said he spends a lot of time thinking about how those who don’t game might perceive violence, arguing that the sensory feedback you get from interacting with the game—the thrill of winning, and fear of losing—does a lot of work to make graphic violence abstract in nature. Observers can’t quite understand that in the same way, and might therefore be more repelled by the bloody images they’re seeing on screen, Hutchinson said. But he’s not insensitive to the occupational hazards of having to depict violence.

“I think as realism improves, it’s more of a danger,” Hutchinson said. “The fidelity of the assets you deal with, and the world you’re building—it’s more likely. We had some friends out here working on Outlast. I don’t think he was upset, but the character artist was joking that he’d spent a lot of time modeling dead babies, and it wasn’t his favorite moment, you know?”

Mortal Kombat is….it’s Mortal Kombat,” the anonymous cinematics developer who had graphic dreams told me. “You start to feel like an idiot for thinking about what the impact of working on that game has been on yourself. Other people I’ve talked to have been like, ‘I know what I’m working on, I know what I’ve gotten myself into here.’ And you start to blame yourself for being shitty or weak or spineless.”

The developer felt that management’s top-level perspective made it seem like they were less immersed in the details of the violent content than the animators that reported to them. Bosses would joke about and compliment well-done scenes of violence, the developer said—a desirable outcome in most environments, but when working on violence is starting to affect you, the dynamic gets complicated. Meetings with this developer’s boss involved discussing “how this spine extraction scene is going, and making sure you can feel the pop when the spine is ripped out from the rest of the body,” they said.

There was also no formal process, standard procedure, or guidance available from the start for anyone who might need to step back from the violent content, or felt that their work was starting to negatively affect them, according to this developer. All the developer remembers getting was a verbal heads-up during the hiring process, when the interviewer noted that since they were working on a Mortal Kombat game, the work could be “a little violent.”

Eventually, the developer found out about coworkers who had similar problems with the content as they did who also left. One coworker, for example, told them that the toll of working on Mortal Kombat 11 was eliciting horrible images in real life. “When he looks at his dog, he just sees the guts inside of it, and he couldn’t look at his dog without imagining all of the viscera.”

“We’ve talked a lot about how the end product isn’t so damaging as people make it out to be, and I tend to agree with that,” they said, referring to the industry’s acceptance of violent video games. “But I think the process of making these things can be harmful for people. It can cause them to burn out, or lose a sense of self, sometimes. I would hope that something, at least, that developers can do with their coworkers is just start talking to each other about these things. If we’re not solving things, at least having supportive people around, I think, is really crucial.“

Source: Kotaku.com

On the heels of yesterday’s Riot Games walkout at the League of Legends publisher’s Los Angeles head

A Riot Dublin employee at today’s walkout
Photo: Courtesy of EmeraldSaytr

On the heels of yesterday’s Riot Games walkout at the League of Legends publisher’s Los Angeles headquarters, Riot employees in Dublin are staging their own walkout today. Around 18 of the office’s employees stood by the street with several holding signs calling for the company to end forced arbitration.

Source: Kotaku.com

Riot Employees Prepare For Walkout Today

League of Legends cinematic “Awaken”
Image: Riot Games

Los Angeles-based Riot Games employees are preparing for a walkout this afternoon in protest of the company’s stance on forced arbitration in what appears to be the first walkout at a major gaming studio. Kotaku will be reporting live from the protest as it develops.

“I’m walking out as a symbolic action to signal to leadership that I care about this issue,” said one current employee. “I hope leadership takes the time to seriously listen to the issues.”

Since late last year, five current and former Riot Games employees have filed lawsuits against the League of Legends publisher alleging, among other things, that Riot violated the California Equal Pay Act. The lawsuits referenced an eight-month Kotaku investigation in which dozens of current and former employees reported a culture of widespread and endemic sexism at the company, manifesting in Riot’s hiring practices, promotion strategies, and wider culture.

In late April, Riot filed a motion to block two of those lawsuits, filed by current employees, from being brought in front of a jury. Riot’s lawyer contends that these employees signed arbitration agreements, which waived their rights to a jury trial against the company.

After news of the motion broke, some Riot employees channeled their anger into organizing a walkout. Riot attempted to address that anger in a companywide meeting late last week. One day later, Riot announced it would give incoming employees the ability to opt out of forced arbitration for harassment suits and consider extending that option to current employees “as soon as current litigation is resolved.” For many employees, that wasn’t enough.

“I think having executives get up for two hours and do the classic, roundabout series of denials helped other Rioters wake up to the fact that this is actually happening here,” one employee said of the meeting. “The impression most Rioters got is that [the executives] do care about it, a bit. They care about being publicly humiliated.”

Not all Riot workers agreed with the sentiments behind the walkout. According to two current employees, one person was allowed to pose a rare anonymous question to executives at last week’s company meeting. (Traditionally at these meetings, employees must ask questions by name.) The sources said that the anonymous question regarded employees who felt like they could not express opinions that dissented from those of frustrated employees walking out. “Maybe ten percent of us will walk out,” one source said while discussing a group of dissenting co-workers. “Normally the burden of defense is on scabs.”

League of Legends cinematic “Awaken”
Image: Riot Games

One organizer estimates that 100 employees will be participating in today’s walkout, which appears to be the first in game dev history. In interviews with Kotaku, current employees’ reasoning varied. Several pointed specifically to Riot’s stance on forced arbitration. Others pointed at even bigger sources of discontentment. Said one, “It’s been eight months since the original [Kotaku] article was released and so far I haven’t seen a single outcome of our diversity and inclusion efforts at Riot. I haven’t seen a single metric or number to indicate things have improved and I haven’t seen a single project get finished.”

One other current employee, who previously told Kotaku that she would not be walking out, changed her mind because Riot has not yet fired the manager whom the two plaintiffs are accusing of sexist behavior. She said she’s actually satisfied with her bosses’ new stance on forced arbitration, as are two others who spoke with Kotaku, but adds, “That being said, I know the two women who are involved in this litigation, I work with them regularly, and I want to stand in solidarity with them.” (In a previous Kotaku story, four women accused that manager of verbally harassing them or thwarting their career progression.)

In an email, a Riot representative told Kotaku that the company is supporting employees walking out today. He continued, “We have asked all managers to make every accommodation to allow Rioters to participate during the 2-4pm window, including freeing up meeting times. We respect Rioters who choose to walkout today and will not tolerate retaliation of any kind as a result of participating (or not).”

When asked whether Riot will adjust their forced arbitration policy should a critical number of employees show up, the representative responded:

“While we will not make a change to our policies while in active litigation, last Thursday we announced that we’ve made the call to pivot our approach. As soon as active litigation is resolved, we will give all new Rioters the choice to opt-out of mandatory arbitration for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. At that time, we will also commit to have a firm answer on potentially expanding the scope and extending this opt-out to all Rioters. We are working diligently to resolve all active litigation so that we can quickly take steps toward a solution. As we have been for the past week, we will continue to listen to Rioters regarding their thoughts on arbitration and we’re thankful for everyone that has taken the time to meet with leadership about this issue.”

Riot’s blog post last week explaining their new stance on arbitration included 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans to update their code of conduct, launch new training programs, offer anti-harassment training for new employees, analyze pay equity, and update the company’s recruitment practices.

A small contingent of volunteers from Game Workers Unite, a group trying to organize unions in the games industry, will be in attendance to hand out water and offer medical aid should it be necessary. A representative told Kotaku, “Our industry has seen strikes, work slowdowns, and other forms of direct action over the years, and we encourage workers in the industry to learn that history of folks standing up for themselves and their coworkers. The workers participating in the walkout at Riot today are evoking and building on a deep legacy of worker democracy and power in the tech industries.” Riot employees in Dublin will be hosting their own walkout on Tuesday in solidarity.

According to four Riot employees, the worst-case scenario for today’s walking isn’t getting fired, a common fear for protesting workers. That’s because Riot has said it will not retaliate against employees who participate. Their least-desired outcome is not feeling heard. “The worst-case scenario is that leadership does not budge from their current position and continues to maintain that there will be a ‘future commitment’ about current Rioters,” said one walkout organizer.

Kotaku will be reporting from the ground at today’s walkout. Check in later for updates.

Source: Kotaku.com

Riot Employees Plan Walkout To Protest Company Blocking Lawsuits From Going To Trial

League of Legends champion Yuumi the magical cat
Image: Riot Games

In the wake of news that Riot Games is attempting to block two current employees from taking the company to court for alleged gender discrimination, some employees are threatening a walkout.

Over the last couple of months, five current and former Riot employees filed lawsuits against the League of Legends publisher alleging that it fosters a sexist workplace culture, originally reported and detailed in a 2018 Kotaku investigation. Last Thursday, Riot filed a motion to force two of those women, whose suits revolved around the California Equal Pay Act, into private arbitration. It’s a controversial practice that pushes complaints into an extra-legal system with no jury or judge. That makes it much less likely that employees can hold employers accountable for alleged wrongdoing. In their motions, Riot’s lawyer argues that these employees waived their rights to a jury trial when they signed arbitration agreements upon their hiring.

The walkout, planned for Monday, May 6, was sparked by some employees’ disappointment in what they consider to be conflicting messages from Riot’s leadership. According to one current employee, who asked to remain anonymous, some Riot workers have been considering a walkout for months, but the forced arbitration motions pushed them over the edge. Although Riot did issue a public apology several weeks after Kotaku’s initial report, bring on a new diversity lead and promise to rethink its hiring and promotion practices, the company kept several of the men accused of sexist or inappropriate behavior employed for months, including the company’s COO.

Additionally, the current employee said, “leadership consistently promised transparency/actions to be taken and then did not deliver on that promise. . . [Kotaku’s] most recent article about forced arbitration finally lit the spark and some folks decided to take action.”

Walkouts are nonviolent protests by a group of organized workers who stop working or leave the office as part of a statement expressing discontent with employers. It’s a risky move that can result in getting fired. An internal document from Riot employees describing the planned walkout explains that it will only occur if Riot leadership upholds their motion to force arbitration against the two current employees. Organizers are asking Riot to “express 1.) a clear intention to end forced arbitration, 2.) a precise deadline (within 6 months) by which to end it, and 3.) a commitment to not force arbitration on the women involved in the ongoing litigation against Riot,” the document reads. Earlier this year, Google’s employees planned a walkout to end forced arbitration for its employees, and months later, Google announced it would abide.

The walkout plan has circulated widely throughout Riot’s Los Angeles and international offices. In an e-mail, Riot told Kotaku, “We’re proud of our colleagues for standing up for what they believe in. We always want Rioters to have the opportunity to be heard, so we’re sitting down today to listen to their opinions and learn more about their perspectives on arbitration. We will also be discussing this topic during our biweekly all-company town hall on Thursday. Both are important forums for us to discuss our current policy and listen to feedback, which are important parts of evaluating all of our procedures and policies, including those related to arbitration.”

Four current Riot employees were unable to confirm how many of their colleagues will be participating in the walkout. Two expressed reticence about participating. According to one, who says she does not plan to join, “I don’t know the scale of the walkout, nor does anyone else I’ve spoken with, which is the primary reason I am not participating.” The employee notes that she also received a document designating the walkout’s terms, time and meeting place before continuing, “I think any worker organization is a good and healthy thing, so I support it whether or not I’m participating in.”

[Clarification—5:30 pm:] We’ve updated this article and its headline to clarify that Riot’s position would force employees to go into an arbitration process rather than to a jury trial, though that does not outright block employees from filing a suit against the company.

Source: Kotaku.com

Survey Of 4,000 Game Developers Says Half Of Them Want To Unionize

Image: Red Dead Redemption 2

In a survey of nearly 4,000 game developers published today by the Game Developers Conference, half of developers surveyed said they thought game industry workers should unionize.

Unionization has been a hot topic among game developers over the last few years, as anecdotes of 100-hour work weeks and $28 million CEO salaries circulate among game workers. The idea that unions could insulate game developers from stunning, no-warning layoffs—sometimes without severance—or nine-month-long crunch sprints continues to be popular, although this is the first time the GDC has asked about it in a survey. Advocacy group Game Workers Unite was active at last year’s GDC and, in the intervening months, has been working to spread information about unionization and dispel misconceptions, which perhaps helped inform the GDC’s polling question.

The numbers are similar to a 2014 Independent Game Developers Association survey in which half of 2,200 polled respondents were in favor of an industry-wide union—up from 35 percent in 2009. Although the GDC’s survey, first reported by GamesIndustry.biz, reflected significant enthusiasm for unionization, the reality of forming a union appears intimidating to the game developers surveyed. Only 21 percent of developers said they think games workers will, in fact, unionize, while 24 percent said that it likely would not happen.

Some of the game developers who are pessimistic about the industry’s ability to organize feel that they are too replaceable. “There is too much supply: too many people want into the industry,” wrote one anonymous game developer in their response to the survey. “Those who unionize will be shoved out of the way as companies hire those with fewer demands.”

Image: Game Workers Unite

“Over the decades I’ve seen crunch turn from a ‘worst case’ part of innovating into an expected part of game development,” wrote another. “As a manager and owner, I see no pressure from studio heads or publishers in AAA to change this. When one executive can get a $20 million bonus in exchange for crunching hundreds of people, shipping before the game is ready, then laying off those people, the industry is ripe for self-correction. I would welcome our employees unionizing in the current environment.”

The idea that unionizing could mitigate games employees’ concerns about poor labor conditions is not without its detractors. At GDC’s 2018 unionization roundtable titled “Union Now? Pros, Cons, and Consequences of Unionization,” the International Game Developer Association’s Executive Director Jen MacLean, who led and moderated the discussion, said that unions can’t fix all the issues game developers face. “To assume that suddenly if you unionize, everything will be great, I don’t think that is a reasonable assumption,” she said in an interview with Kotaku at the conference. When Kotaku’s reporter pressed her on what could help games employees muster any leverage at all, MacLean said “I don’t know if there is an answer to that.”

One thing is for sure: Refusing to talk about unionization at all is the surest way to maintain the status quo, or allow the few existing labor protections that games workers do have to atrophy. 

Source: Kotaku.com