Why Are So Many People Leaving Video Games?


#1

Danielle, Austin, Rob, and Patrick tackle the heavily fraught issue of the game industry's talent exodus, where terrible labor practices have frustrated many talented developers and caused them to look elsewhere for their careers. They talk contract vs. full-time positions, pay, harassment issues, and the myths that keep young workers coming to the industry, despite a lack of protections.

Discussed: Simon Parkin's piece The Great Video Game Exodus, the resources page at Game Workers Unite.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/ywenb5/video-game-union-labor-waypoint-radio

#2

I was super thankful to have this episode hot on the heels of reading the Parkin piece. The absence of any mention of people fighting for labor rights was pretty disappointing.

It was particularly disappointing given how Parkin ends J Allard’s contribution on a quote that’s only superficially different from the groaner reader comment read by Rob:
“…improving working conditions and salary structure to be more predictable may benefit in terms of seeing less staff turnover, Allard says, but there are costs too. ‘You also will tend to see less innovation, risk taking and cutting-edge work from those types of teams, which is a real point-of-tension for highly creative people,’ he says.”

What a load of a statement to go unchallenged.


#3

A properly setup union for game development would be a major improvement to both the lives of the employees and the quality of the products.


#4

Great pod, folks. As someone that was pushed from a staff position in prose publishing to permanent freelancer doing the same role and then fired with no severance two years later (aka two months ago) because the company wanted to save $$ despite my giving way more value than I needed to for my ever-less-proportionate compensation because of my passion for the work, this all rings incredibly true.

And thanks for giving the calls to action to Games Workers Unite as well as the Williams piece and the one from Gillen.


#5

This is my first post in the forums, so hopefully this isn’t getting off on the wrong foot, but I just wanted to say that the idea that Keiron Gillen moving away from games to comics was anything but a lateral move workers rights wise seems kind of funny to me. I’m someone that has only kind of dipped my toes into the comic book industry, so I’m no expert about it. If there is some kind of comics guild or artists union, or protections for the people in the industry that do exist, please do correct me. Austin mentioned this a little bit, bringing up that freelancers still have problems, and it’s obviously not perfect. But it seems a little off to me to bring up comics as a move away from something that is a passion project.

As far as industries that people go into because of passion, I feel like comics are right up there with games. As a writer, if you’re able to get an exclusive contract with Marvel or DC, you might be able to find some stability. But unless you’re a big name in comics, it seems pretty rough out there.

And that isn’t even getting into the problems that occur for artists. Recently, a pretty big comic artist Stuart Immonen decided to retire, which was met with this huge outpouring of surprise from the comics community, because that’s not really something that happens. Artist usually either work themselves so hard that they permanently injure themselves, or the well of work for them just dries up and they have to turn to something else to make money, because there isn’t much in the way of pensions. Even more closely related to the ideas here about crunch in game development are the way in which being on a monthly comic just chews up artists and spits them out. Similar to what people were talking about on the pod with moving toward other careers, so many new comic artists quit to go into into something like story boarding or illustration, because the schedule of comic book creation is just so much.

Anyway, it’s obviously a bit silly to expect everyone at Waypoint to have an in depth knowledge about labor issues in every single industry. But, I just feel like putting up comics as a good industry that takes care of its workers is a bit off the mark.


#6

While talking about having mentors, even they are, to a certain extent, expendable. Bobby Kotick don’t give a fuck if you set the standard for a whole genre of games for an entire generation.

Oh and just thought while listening to this, Patrick talks a bit fast.


#7

nah, I believe you’re right on the money. i follow a lot of writers/artists on twitter and the unpredictability of the work, the fact that it widely does not pay well, and the indifference (or outright hostility) towards the creatives by the executives are all universal truths. it sounds nearly indistinguishable from the games industry in many ways, honestly.


#8

The key difference I would imagine between games criticism and comics writing would be owning your IP for non-work-for hire stuff (Phonogram, The Wicked + The Divine), including sub-rights (media, translation, etc.)


#9

Oh yeah, there are definitely differences between games criticism and comic writing. I just think that there are so many similarities between comics and games industries that it’s strange to say that a move to comics would be better than working in the games industry. Like, you could say the same thing about owning your own IP if you’re an indie game developer.


#10

As the Hollywood model came up in the discussion, it feels appropriate to link to the recent Lindsay Ellis video essay (documentary?) which really touches on the limitations of unionisation (specifically the Hollywood globalised model of labour specialisation and standardised job roles) under our current dystopian corporate-owned democracy.

Without labour rights as human rights, guaranteed absolutely by our representative democracies, then everything else is built on sand. When democracies are pawns to corporate interests, when the electorate are primarily informed by corporate voices, everything is at risk.

As the discussion of the general move to contracts over permanent positions and career progression pointed to, we are living through the end of where it is even arguable that work is working. Where we locate those final goalposts, our ambition for the future, can be shaped by the knowledge that we can’t keep going like this; capitalism plans to destroy the planet (and, before that, any concept of a stable economy) long before we are dead and buried.


#11

The comparison to the guild system in film really caught my attention because I worked in film for a short while, and only on non-union projects, yet I still know the bulk of the union rules. Why? Because just the simple fact that they exist and establish those rules across the industry has a knock-on effect where they set the expectations for other projects. So I never got paid union rates, never had benefits or any of that. Yet there were many jobs where I got paid overtime because lunch was late or I got stuck waiting for a truck – just because that’s the expectation established by union rules. I can’t believe I hadn’t connected those dots before, but it was really an ah-ha moment specifically in light of the never-ending crunch issue.


#12

This is all 100% true and if I was working at a company right now, listening to this podcast would make me strike tomorrow.

Screw contracts, screw “passion projects”, screw the pay, screw the lack of remote jobs and screw the gaming public’s perception of our jobs. This industry destroys beautifully talented people, even if you do manage to become employed or put something out yourself.

And it just figures that a question like that would come from the Kinda Funny audience.


#13

As someone who in his early 30’s and is actively looking to exit from the British film industry after 10+ years in the field, this was a deeply satisfying and interesting listen. The extremely unpredictable volume of work makes for a rather hostile business environment for those who are unfortunate enough to be “below the line”.

A key investor just backed out of funding the final third of principal photography during production? Guess who loses out? Not the ones at the top of the ladder, that’s for sure. Low/mid tier staff carry an awful lot of financial risk on their shoulders with little to no reward for it, and they’re the ones who can afford it least.


#14

This is such a good series of videos.

The Hobbit was underwhelming as a franchise but I never realised the extent of the film on New Zealand itself. Which is just sad, especially when you compare it to the success of the previous trilogy.


#15

What Austin and Patrick said about fighting for the system to be constantly improving struck hard with me. We can’t just accept that a system is good enough for some when something better must be possible


#16

(Particularly when the system clearly isn’t good enough.)


#17

Gooooood point. Hollywood is one set of goalposts—certainly better than the current situation in video games and still worth working towards—but it’s not ideal itself. And by “Hollywood”, I actually mean Vancouver, New Zealand, Atlanta, and all the other cities that stand in for whatever Everytown Hollywood needs today. And as labor protections evolve and improve in each of these film-making boomtowns, Hollywood will inevitably move to another location that’s cheaper.


#18

A lot of this conversation centers around the more skilled professions within game dev, but the entry level jobs like QA have some of the absolute worst of it. I’ve seen multiple instances of project managers and team leads saying, outright, “there are a hundred other people in this town that could replace you in an instant”. This is on top of bad pay (dedicated QA farms pay minimum wage), no stability, and downright lies about contract extensions.

It sucks whenever there’s a conversation about game industry unionization, there’s often a tacit implication of “well, probably not QA since they’re not needed for 75% of dev time”.


#19

The foundational defense for poor working conditions - that there must always be bad jobs - is so weak. Austin said in a previous episode that an individual’s inability to envision a better world is representative of how uncreative that person is. I suppose it’s no surprise that those who most closely adhere to the status quo at whatever cost are also lacking in creativity. I’d ask why the creatively challenged overwhelm the creatives themselves, but no need to. I went to school. I saw the process first-hand!


#20

There’s also the dark “empowerment under capitalism” side of that too (when not just ignoring QA entirely).

How about working QA for under minimum wage? Because if unionisation added dues without immediately getting universal pay increases for all QA workers, then it’d effectively be working for under minimum wage, below a living wage. That’s why I’d demand that when relatively senior devs spending (even if that’s mainly “got my employer to spend because they value me”) $1000-2000 a ticket to visit GDC talk about unions, it should start with how that union works - the nuts and bolts of how you offer zero dues membership for all entry tier/poor workers (and don’t restrict membership to certain disciplines or excluding contract/independent workers).

We all know how the less scrupulous side of the “feeder” industry advertises itself.

The worst future is this talk of unionisation taking hold in the mid-tier devs (Gama salary survey says: $80k/year employees earning far more than the typical person who consumes games) but actually being moved on by the worst of the feeder and outsourcing industries to generate what could turn into debt bondage. Lots of VC money and SV “disruption” around game development.