Written by Melissa May
Edited by Isabella Harford
While playing games is an enjoyable activity, the working conditions for employees in the gaming industry are notoriously strenuous. These jobs are in high demand, but professionals in game development are often met with grueling conditions that have many calling for reform within the industry. Though many gaming professionals find the work extremely rewarding, there are several sobering challenges which confront them in their business.
“Crunch culture” frequently prevails at game companies, meaning that employees are under a “crunch” to develop and release games on schedule; therefore personnel are overworked and overstressed to their breaking point. 100-hour workweeks, failure of studios to pay adequate overtime, and disorganization are commonly cited complaints from game developers and their family members about the conditions in studios which are trying to make blockbuster games.
Rolling layoffs have unfortunately been a common reality in the gaming world for decades, though they frequently take employees completely by surprise. The website Video Game Layoffs reported that 158 non-COVID-19 employees have been affected by mass layoffs so far in 2020, with companies closing or restructuring as the most frequent reasons cited. According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 2,000 people were laid off from gaming in 2019.
A more deplorable condition in the games industry is the sexism and sexual harassment to which too many employees are subjected. In late June 2020, more than 200 allegations were made concerning gender-based discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault in the games industry (accusing both streamers and industry professionals). Sadly, this is neither a new reality nor is it only recently coming to light. In 2014, the controversy known as #Gamergate rocked the gaming world, with developers Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn and feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian decrying sexism and harassment in the industry, as well as the lack of representation of women in gaming companies; numerous anonymous critics responded by berating and villifying these women for their messages. 2018 saw another major disruption of the status quo with Kotaku reporting on the culture of sexism at Riot Games, which resulted in the company apologizing, reforming its management practices and making staffing changes, and announcing a new set of company values. The #MeToo movement came to gaming in 2019, a few more cases of women accusing men of sexual harassment came forward, and once again anonymous trolls plagued the accusers with online abuse.
It is clear that gaming professionals need more support; they need their grievances heard and need discussion and action to take place in reforming the practices of the industry. One of the tools that has ushered the industry along in this effort is the ability of creators to have a voice through social media platforms in calling out the wrongs they have faced in the industry. Another agent of change is companies’ willingness to listen and to make changes when employees call them to task, as was the case with Riot Games in 2018. There is also growing support for game industry workers to unionize, with 54% of game industry professionals surveyed saying that unionization should happen; pro-union professionals want more protection from harmful working conditions and a safety net in case of unemployment.
You may be asking yourself, what can I do to help the gaming industry to improve? While there is no definitive answer, a few measures appear to be effective in strengthening healthier practices.
Encourage diversity among gaming professionals.
The more women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ employees that take part in the gaming industry, the more that unheard voices will be a part of the larger conversation and ultimately the creation of game characters that represent people at the margins of society.
Participate in a culture of healthy dialogue.
Some of the biggest issues recently in the gaming industry have stemmed from an unwillingness to listen to the voiceless, a refusal to believe them when they are able to speak about difficult truths such as abuse, and an explosion of toxic abuse unleashed at victims when they do speak out. Truly listening to vulnerable voices is needed, and engagement in honest and compassionate dialogue is crucial.
Support organizations that protect game creators from the bottom up.
Whether or not you like the idea of unionization, you can find organizations that protect and nurture game developers during their high school and college years and continue throughout their careers. At the EGD Collective, we offer over 100 free workshops each year, help students win scholarship money; 17 students were saved from academic dismissal or dropping out, and 7 students recently credited EGD as the reason they received a job offer or internship. College campus clubs and organizations such as Tespa network students, competitors, and club leaders together, and nonprofit organizations such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) serve game creators to help them network and improve their craft. Finally, don’t miss organizations like--among others-- GaymerX, which celebrates and supports LGBTQ+ people in the world of gaming, and I Need Diverse Games, which seeks to bring projects, works, and research by marginalized people to light.
Working in the gaming industry is challenging and positions are in high demand, but that doesn’t mean that working conditions have to be demeaning or damaging. Together, industry executives and employees, gamers, researchers, critics, and their loved ones can work for more positive and sustainable environments in which workers create the games we love.
If you would like to help the EGD Collective continue their programs and help them cover the costs in seeking 501(c)3 status, please donate to our GoFundMe.