Game Developers Give Advice On How To Make Their Industry a Better Place


#1

One of the most common questions I’ve heard since Telltale Games imploded without paying severance to hundreds of employees and a combination of perplexing admissions and in-depth reporting unearthed a culture of crunch within Rockstar Games is understandable: Is it possible to buy and enjoy games by these companies, given everything we now know?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/kzjvm9/game-developers-give-advice-on-how-to-make-their-industry-a-better-place

#2

My reply was

Additional, every single review, interview, etc… on a game should ask about work conditions whenever possible.


#3

I can tell you that it really bums me out that RDR2 developers had to endure the last 2 years of life-ruining (in some cases) crunch to get it out the door. It’s irresponsible management, and if I were to buy the game and play it now, that thought in the back of my mind will taint the potential enjoyment I will get out of the game right now. Thus, I have decided to not participate in a purchase this time until I see some in-depth reporting in the future that Rockstar has corrected the problem.

I mean seriously, there are so many other good games to play this year, RDR2 is not really going to be missed by me. Shit, to be honest I’m still trying to finish the great games from 2016 as well!

Also, as a comparison from my own experience, I work in the space operations industry where we launch and operate satellites in orbit. While it has its stressful weeks and maybe a “crunch” during the launch and initial commissioning phases, we get to take extra days off when things settle down after a week or two. I’ve had a couple of 100+ hour weeks in my 15 year career, but I was always owed a couple weeks off afterward in those cases. There is never a crunch that lasts for months or years.

Without getting into it too much, the satellites we operate have daily indispensable value to most of the world, really, and we have a good work/life balance in general developing and operating them. When I see people working 70-80 hour weeks routinely, it makes me mad, especially when the corporate culture expects it. It’s greedy at the high level, and it’s unhealthy for the workers. At the end of the day RDR2 is really just an entertainment product that took longer to make and negatively impacted more employee’s lives than most spacecraft programs do (most medium-to-large-sized vehicles take about 3-5 years to produce and launch into space).


#4

I like the point about supporting positively with your wallet rather than attempting a boycott. No one will care if I don’t buy RDR2, but someone sure will appreciate me picking up an indie like Celeste or CrossCode. I’ve admittedly been playing way too many “big studio” games this year, so I’m taking all this as a wake-up call to actively seek out games made by smaller teams that aren’t pressured by stockholders and execs to work ungodly hours.


#5

I think it’s a little counter-productive to talk about collective action in individualistic terms. If you score the effectiveness of something like a boycott in terms of individual purchases, then it will always be found wanting. The impact of collective action is more than just counting the amount of dollars being taken away from the profit (it’s also an obviously self-defeating calculation). There are irreducible aspects like movement building, community empowerment, raising awareness, etc… , which are obfuscated by speaking of “personal lines” and focusing on the individual. That’s why I appreciate Austin’s bit of push-back that there needs be some form (at whatever level) of community engagement at the end of day.

That being said, from my understanding, boycotts need to be strategic with clear list of demands, and in the absence of a call like that, I don’t think anyone should really be judged for choosing to purchase the game. But, if there was, it would be bad politics to go against the boycott, imo. While I appreciate the utility of emphasizing “personal lines”, I mostly see it being used in a disempowering way and reinforcing the alienation fetish rather than transgressing it. Same for the “no ethical consumption…” bit that always gets trotted out.


#6

The common refrain of “individual consumer action is a waste of time” is very frustrating. If you buy the Nestle cookies instead of the local bakery’s cookies, you are not meaningfully contributing to Nestle’s dominance, but buying the local bakery’s cookies would absoLUTELY meaningfully contribute to their growth. Suggesting that an individual only has so much energy to contribute to making informed purchasing decisions is weak. The information required to make informed purchasing decisions already exists in the heads of those who care to do so, it’s just sometimes not wielded because it’s seen as exhausting in the wake of ‘larger’ ethical decisions that individual has already made.

Sometimes you just want a burger in spite of what you know about factory farming. My pushback is: so what? Not good enough. That’s the same rationale used by gamers who decide not to care about game development practices: ‘please, just let me enjoy my games.’ If you can square the fact that you are making a decision to consume in a way that you personally find unethical (as Austin readily admits), that’s totally fine, but I believe that any attempt to rationalize it as the right thing to do is basically selfish, and in the end, doesn’t hold water.


#7

Much like voting, my personal choice to buy or not buy a video game is probably not going to make a big difference to any particular thing of substantial size, but it damn sure matters to my conscience.


#8

My view on this is still pretty murky. I do find the argument Klepek makes to be something that makes a degree of sense, but also speaks to the extent to which few of us do have influence as a consequence of how society is structured. Elected officials rarely cater to narrow interests beyond those they personally hold or are compelled to by their constituency.

I do think there’s some merit to this, though:

I do think that this is what it comes down to. We can talk circles around “oh, do we boycott this? Is boycotting good or bad?” until the cows come home. Overcoming the bystander effect and being able to do real organisation will go a long way further than trying to identify the silver bullet that will end labour abuse in games – because I don’t think there is one.


#9

These are uniformly people in positions who feel comfortable being public about their opinion related to crunch culture. I personally wonder what the people who felt the crunch time was negatively impacting their lives think. Do they want help from us in consumer base in the form of boycott? What other forms of support do they feel would help?

From my perspective, I do think that being open and hopefully active with regards to supporting unionization efforts, workers’ rights candidates for political offices, and even boycotts will be helpful.

I do think even personal choices to boycott a particular product will have some effect. It is better than nothing. It is less effective than organized boycotts and collective actions, of course. But it is a start. Being vocal about why you’re doing it is better. Maybe some fraction of people who choose to personally boycott and are vocal about it will also choose to start organizing. This is how such movements begin.

That said, I still remain skeptical about whether enough people in general care deeply enough about this issue for a movement to start from outside of the industry. I think there has been a movement towards unionization within the industry and that it will continue to gain steam as these types of stories come out–those of us in the public who are personally boycotting should do our part to support those movements and that should guide eventual organized boycotts in the future.

That said, my personal choice to not purchase RDR2 is meaningful because it moves me toward being more engaged on this issue (which is a significant issue where I live in Silicon Valley generally, even external to the games industry).


#11

There is no ideal, utopian world—only a less flawed one.

It seems like a couple years ago, if someone, oh, like a matronly woman, had uttered such platitudes, they would be pilloried as an establishment shill. But now, I’m seeing all sorts of incrementalist bromides coming from the very people who were Performatively Not Centrist not that long ago, like muh man Glenn Greenwald:

Wha happen?


#12

This response basically summed up my feeling from reading Patrick’s article.

I know it doesn’t feel like an individual boycott makes a difference. I know that my minor quibbles with Chick Fil-A and the Salvation Army don’t directly affect those companies. But they have caused a few people in my circle to listen to how I feel and helped form their opinions. Then those people get some in their inner circle to listen, and it moves.

As people reading Waypoint and writing on a video game forum, I feel like most of us here are considered experts in video games by some of our friends, family, social media followers. So if we mention that we aren’t buying RDR2 and explain why, that won’t change everyone’s mind (obviously). But it will get a few people to pay attention, like cousin Shirley. And then when Shirley’s spouse talks about RDR2, Shirley will be like “Is that the game where the employees were treated terribly?” And it might not change that purchase, but it will be noted and remembered.

Like @Bachaconne said, “There are irreducible aspects like movement building, community empowerment, raising awareness, etc… , which are obfuscated by speaking of “personal lines” and focusing on the individual.” As someone who interacts with a majority of people who don’t follow gaming press, I personally think I can make some modicum of a difference.

Also, the games industry and field of games journalism are surprisingly small. Our voices here matter more than we’ve probably convinced ourselves. After following games journalism for 20+ years, it’s amazing to see where people have moved and how things have changed (and how some sides have unfortunately led to the rise of things like the Alt-Right). So I may be a little overly optimistic, but I don’t think any of us are as invisible as we probably think or that our words and actions don’t matter, because they definitely cause ripples. Hopefully, we can make those waves productive instead of destructive.


#13

Wha happen?

Hillary Clinton is no longer running for President, allowing Glenn to take a different contrarian stance this week as he goes on Tucker Carlson’s show.


#14

Just a nudge for folks that if you want to discuss someone’s work, you’ll likely have better luck having a good discussion by making a specific thread for it rather than backdooring it into another one. Not saying you have to make one, but just being mindful about the potential for this to derail.


#15

Quoting from the article linked at the top of this thread?