On Ambition and Labour in Games

7 thoughts on “On Ambition and Labour in Games”

  1. Wow! This is a well-written, well-researched article! I’ve thought about worker conditions for gamers before, but rarely in context of the scope of a game. I think I’m a little sheltered, being a mainly Nintendo fan, where their massive games take years with major delays in order to a) get things perfect but b) make sure employees are happy. Not that they’re perfect, Nintendo’s mindset just seems different. I think the discussion of developer labor and working conditions need to be addressed.

    It’s like film. My husband is in film and no lay person could possibly understand what goes into making a movie, or even a tv show. There’s a real reason people in Hollywood have a difficult time with relationships. If we were worked as hard as a AAA movie crew, we wouldn’t know what hit us. How much of our entertainment rests on the back of underpaid (not necessarily actors, but the rest of the crew), exhausted staff who are pushed harder and harder because of our own appetites? Games and film alike.

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    1. Thank you! Nintendo is a specific thing for sure, also because Japanese working culture is different (although there is still different approaches there too). It’s really these big AAA open world games that require so much labour right now because of the amount of detail they have, non-reusable art assets, specific animations that one might only see once or twice, etc.

      That would generally be fine, but the culture in the industry is not in a good place, and routinely abuses workers’ youth and passion, underpaying or not even paying for their overtime. Even if it’s paid, maintaining 20 hour work days is not healthy and should not happen.

      The latest waypoint radio goes into this very well: https://forum.waypoint.vice.com/t/its-time-to-radically-remake-the-games-industry/17803

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      1. I completely agree. Something needs to change in the industry to make it better for the employees. I have a brother-in-law who got a masters in Game Design but refuses to work for a developer for these reasons.

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  2. Fantastic piece! I haven’t touched Odyssey yet and I’m reluctant to as I’ve only just 100% Origins after close to 100 hours but after jumping into Forza I had similar feelings of just how many labour hours paid or unpaid went into getting the sun to bounce off my brake signals just right, and it’s a tough one to wrestle with. On the one hand I want to buy good games to support the devs, but I’d much rather they had good quality working conditions, and would support any strike action necessary to ensure they get what they deserve.

    There’s a weird fine line, for example if I wanted to play any Telltale game now I wouldn’t hesitate in pirating it as they have already screwed over their employees so fuck Telltale. But if it came out that the AC: Odyssey devs were abused through crunch would I be wrong in boycotting it because of bad labour practice, or is that directly harming the devs? Or do I buy it and thus endorse the labour practice? Do you find yourself wrestling with this and if so how do you reconcile that with yourself?

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    1. Thanks mate! Yes, my personal responsibility as a buyer of games certainly crosses my mind often. I try to stick to principles as much as I can but of course we are all hypocritical to different extents, otherwise human beings would not be able to operate. I never use Amazon anymore for example, but I had to a few weeks ago because of very specific circumstances and I felt terrible but I had other personal priorities at the time. As long as we are aware of our decisions and how they affect others, we will get better in the long run, IMO.

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