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[Special] E3 and how employees are overworked for demos

Games, Politics & Labor
While The Big Game Conference of the year looks fun, shows flashy games and encourages us to desire them, the backs of the workers are crumbling. Once in a while, we hear someone complaining about the pain of being overworked, but most voices remain silent.
Is the video games industry as fun as it claims itself to be?

Every year various industries hold conferences where they showcase the latest innovations in the field. There is the Geneva International Motor Show where they show those flashy cars, CES where they present the latest consumer technology (and not only), but also E3 where various companies come together to present their games, their technologies and to promise us amazing games.
E3 attracts a lot of attention, representing the place where games are announced, where demos are presented and where, if you are a developer, you can popularise your game. Prior to the pandemic, journalists would be allowed to try the demos at the place of the conference, interview the developers, and find out more about the projects. With the pandemic still being in full-swing (maybe not in the US and Europe, but in the rest of the world which didn’t have as high of an access to vaccines), the conference was held remote this year.
If you want to hear more about what games were announced, you can visit their homepage. I am not the person to look at a demo presentation and claim that the game looks fun and that I must try it immediately.On the contrary, whenever I see a game with military elements in it, I get bored and tell myself: Just another shooter. Let me guess: a typical Hollywood-like scenario, some story they claim not to be political while it is, and some “fun weapons”).
Whether or not a game is fun represents just a small part of the entire product. When thinking about video games, we often interact with the finalised product (maybe it requires some patching here and there) and stop thinking about the way it was produced or even about the way we came to regard it as fun. Whenever I look at the games presented at E3, I tend to ask myself the question: How much did those developers work to develop the demos?
The conditions under which video games are developed are foreign to many of us. If I were to tell you that there are people who develop PTSD, depression, high-level of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, you might think I am exaggerating. There is often this belief that because it is a video game, working on it must be fun. Just think at the number of people who claimed in their youth years that they want to develop video games, because that is the best job since you have to deal with games all day.
Given the fact that E3 represents such a major point for the game development companies, they are all trying to impress and to attract as many potential gamers as possible. Having the shiniest, flashiest, and most provoking demo can represent a guarantee that players will be at least interested, and hopefully purchase the product. The twist is that the demo doesn’t always end up in the game or it is simply made up.
The demo of Cyberpunk 2077 (the most awaited game of 2020 which flopped) presented at E3 2018 left us all mesmerised. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the game and to finally discover this dystopian world where everything worked seamlessly and where possibilities were endless. Turns out that the demo was hurried and there are rumours that it was actually fake.
Faking demos is only one of the darker sides of E3. The other has to deal with labor and the work that employees prior to this event. In the book, Blood, Sweat and Pixels, Jason Schreier subtly introduces us into the world of game developers hanging out at a bar during a game conference. Over drinks the developers present stories of working endless hours, sleeping at the office or not taking days off.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been reported as a game which relied on overtime work in order to finish some its components. The same was true for the demo presented at E3 2018, prior to which the co-founder of CD Projekt (the company behind the game) said:
We’ve been working toward it for some time already,” Iwiński said. “We’ve been communicating clearly to people that of course there are certain moments where we need to work harder—like I think the [2018] E3 demo is a pretty good example—but we want to be more humane and treat people with respect. If they need to take time off, they can take time off. Nobody will be frowned upon if this will be requested.”
The expectation of working hard prior to a big event or to a big launch is a typical scenario inside the industry. We refer to this phenomenon as crunch - but more about it will be uncovered in the following issues. For now, we have established the ground that overtime and hard work goes into making those demos that we see and that get our attention.
Quite often, those games are built on the back of the workers who spend endless hours in the office. You know overtime work is a structural issue when in the press you get people congratulating themselves for not having worked over 40 hours/week.
Maybe it is time to ask more questions about the conditions in which the games we enjoy are created?
Another recommendation from E3 - Violence podcast - Highly recommend the discussion on the overrepresentation of violence in video games. Violence seems to be a “safe path” on which developers can walk when being a bit more afraid of reinventing or trying something new. The formula for mainstream success for some violent games seems to be centred around shooting, killing, massacring - you shoot things, it is fun, that means it will sell. Trying to become more adventurous can sometimes bring success, but it restricts the game to a certain niche. We all know those boys who only like shooting games because of the killing and completely ignore the story. And my tendency is to believe that those are more often the case than the exception.
🥺 A special?
Once in a while, I find a topic of interest and decide to research it outside of the weekly newsletter. It has to do with either something happening around that time - E3, in this case - a personal story about video games, or just maybe a longer review of a game (I am still trying to get myself to write a piece to convince all of you to play Cyberpunk 2077. I called it a flop in this piece, but the story will leave you petrified.)
🦭 Not gaming related (or maybe?) during a press conference during the EURO 2020 football cup, Cristiano Ronaldo offered a very direct critique to one of the big sponsors of football - Coca Cola. Watch the video here
'Drink water': Ronaldo removes Coca-Cola bottles in press conference
'Drink water': Ronaldo removes Coca-Cola bottles in press conference
I am waiting for the esports superstars and game streamers to get rid of the energy drinks they put in their background, and promote drinking water. Maybe we will get to see that one day.
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Radu Stochita
Radu Stochita

Newsletter following the research process for my Honors Thesis which aims to understand the labor relations inside the video games industry.
Writing once a week (at least) about working inside the video game industry, the politics of games and their relationship to society.

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