Tolerable crunch, and working conditions - Issue #3

Games, Politics & Labor




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Games, Politics & Labor
The outside world doesn’t know what goes into making a game. Developers are tired, overworked, yet claim to be doing what they love.

😍 How is the research going?
I have started this newsletter with the idea of using it as a place of reflection for my research that I conduct for the Honors Thesis. In the past 10 days, I have been interviewing roughly around 10 people - both aspiring and current game developers.
While each person’s experience is different, I have often heard that people are concerned about others not knowing how the video games industry function. Some developers complained about the players being toxic, verbally harassing developers when a certain aspect doesn’t function as desired. Some aspiring developers explained how there isn’t yet enough education about the work relations inside the industry.
Quite often, the general public is not aware about what is going on inside the video games industry. Since video games are portrayed as something fun, an environment in which we can escape and enjoy ourselves for some time, the dominant idea is that creating video games must be fun as well.
The same is valid for bread - if you fall in love with it, you might think that baking it is enjoyable. Indeed, if you work in a good workplace, then fun can also be part of the process. If you work on minimum wage, in a place resembling 1880s London, then fun is far away from being present at the workplace.
Since producing video games is not itself fun, and depends on the work policy of the company itself, there are certain phenomenas at play which influence the developers relationship to the working conditions. From my research, I understand that all of them would like the conditions to improve overall, but they don’t complain too much because they love the work that they are doing. Some didn’t really know what is possible to do in order to make the conditions better, while others were more pessimistic saying: it is impossible to do that for such a creative industry.
Yet, there have been numerous examples of games being produced with no crunch (working long-hours, close to the launch of the game), such as the most recent PS5 exclusive - Ratchet and Clank. The developers took to Twitter describing their situation, showing that a different way of working is possible. You do not have to overwork the employees to create an amazing game, such as The Last of Us.
Lindsay Thompson
I didn't crunch once, entire production. A couple late nights here and there finishing something up, but COMPLETELY CRUNCH FREE. It is possible. Team wellness lets the creativity flow free.
✊ Looking at crunch
Having established that a different way of producing games is possible, I want to turn to a couple of academic articles discussing the phenomenon of crunch. In doing this, I want to show that video games are taken more seriously at the academic level and that people spend time researching time. Not only journalists work on understanding or covering crunch, but people inside the academia as well.
Dyer-Witheford N and De Peuter GS (2006) “EA Spouse” and the crisis of video game labour: enjoyment, exclusion, exploitation, and exodus. *Canadian Journal of Communication* 31(3): 1893.
This article looks at the video games industry from the perspective of enjoyment, exclusion, exploitation and exodus. Enjoyment refers to the pre-corporatization phase of the video games industry, when it was considered (maybe it still is to a certain extent) counter-cultural to work on making games. Working in the industry is highly exclusionary, limiting women’s access, and definitely having a problem with the representation of minority groups. But the representation is far from being the only issue.
Since the video games industry attracts a large number of young people, they are often encouraged to spend as much time as possible int he company. “Hey, you’re nineteen, we have a couch here, you can sleep here..”. The stamina of youthful game workers helps set a studio norm of overwork.. Some developers are lured with the idea of having stock options, but afterwards they realise they want to have time to themselves.. Also, there is this cool corporate culture, which makes the culture of extreme work possible. People believe it is cool to work hard, to put 12 hours in making this game.
The culture is not the only thing affecting the working conditions. Additionally, some developers might need a certain aspect on which you are working be finished so they can do their job. In this case, you might be forced to stay longer in the office, sometimes for days and days on end.
What else...........
I haven’t been to the Romanian seaside in over 5 years. On Tuesday, just moments after I sat down to work on this newsletter, my union colleague texted me saying I should go with the trade union to the yearly Council which takes place by the seaside. I didn’t ponder too much, and immediately rushed to pack a couple of floral shirts, some slippers, sun cream and lotion, and in just over 30 minutes I was already waiting for the bus.
While the sea was calling all of us for a swim, inviting each of the unionists to take some moments off our schedules and spend them on the sand, we were at work. Discussions flowed endlessly, moving quickly through the formal format, to reach the more friendly, over a glass of water or a cup of coffee type of conversations.
If there is one thing I witnessed amongst every participant is that the current Romanian government must collapse, since they have been ignoring us for too long. This is the first government that not only ignored us, the trade unions, but also the business groups. Their public campaign about being open to dialogue, listening to the demands of the people is completely false. If we, a representative body, representing hundreds of thousands of people, are not even invited to dialogue with, how can you claim to listen to the people?
and also, those people who are much older than I am, really know how to have fun.
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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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