Gaming Working Conditions: How much is too much?

06Nov11

An apology in advance: I know absolutely nothing about games; the culture, the industry, the different manufactures, or the process of how they are created.  If you read anything in this entry that is sounds completely ignorant, that’s simply because I am.  The readings this week were very interesting and lots of points stuck out, particularly those about the working conditions and crediting.  I suppose I always assumed that game production was similar to film production, so when I read, “only well-known developers with a strong reputation, pedigree, and history of success retain high negotiating power and are able to secure high levels of artistic and editorial freedom when designing” I was surprised (Deuze, 212.)  The idea of “six- to seven-day workweeks and ten to sixteen-hour workdays” during “crunchtime” is also mind-blowing!  (Deuze, 222).  A work schedule like that (even if it was only for a few weeks at a time, spread out) would be awful; yet- the industry does not lack people.  “When employees are dissatisfied with their jobs… it is assumed that there is always someone out there who is willing to do the same job – and probably for less pay” (Deuze, 229).

M. Deuze, MediaWork, (Polity Press, Malden, MA, 2007)

Last June, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) started an investigation of Team Bondi, an Australia-based company working on the game “L.A. Noire” after multiple employees claimed there were “abusive conditions” (In Game Article).  “”L.A. Noire” took seven years to make and those who worked on the game told game site IGDA of enormously high employee turnover rates, misleading contracts, and working sometimes 110 hours in a week with no overtime compensation” (In Game Article).  Other complaints about the verbally abusive boss and being omitted from the game’s credits were the main grievances.

“L.A. Noire” (from what I read) sounds like one of the evolved games with amazing “graphics, elaborate soundtracks”, and “game-worlds, where players could roam around for days instead of being restricted to simply getting from point A to B” (Deuze, 214).  One reviewer wrote, ““I spent half an hour poking around a superlatively realized Los Angeles Art Museum. The billboards in this game, advertising products such as Cola King, EV-R-Mint Gum, Alaco Gas, and Valor Cigarettes, deserve their own making-of documentary. The civic research alone that backstops L.A. Noire is frightful to contemplate” (Top Tier Tactics Article).  The game has received a lot of credit, for example, it is the first game to ever be featured at Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Film Festival (Techland Article).

See a trailer for the game HERE: http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

“We’re thrilled that L.A. Noire is being recognized by the Tribeca Film Festival in this way,” said Sam Houser, Founder of Rockstar Games. “It’s a real honor, and another step forward for interactive entertainment.”  “What Rockstar and Team Bondi have accomplished with L.A. Noire is nothing less than groundbreaking,” added Gilmore. “It’s an invention of a new realm of storytelling that is part cinema, part gaming, and a whole new realm of narrative expression, interactivity, and immersion. We are poised on the edge of a new frontier” (from the Tribeca press release).

So, does an amazing game with a successful release justify the bad working conditions?

Kellee Santiago (co-founder of Thatgamecompany and responsible for the 2006 hit Flow and 2009 hit Flower) noted:

“I think gamers should care [about this issue] as much as anyone who supports the arts and/or entertainment should care,” she says. “The act of creating anything is, in and of itself, a strenuous process. The better the quality of life developers can have during that process, the better the games are that come out from that process. I see the sacrifices in video game experiences that are made because the development team simply couldn’t support through their crunching-six-days-a-week-12-hours-a-day-for-9-months-straight development schedule. I see extremely talented game developers who have to quit game development because of burnout. If we, as gamers, support games with more sustainable development processes, we ensure better video games in the years to come.” (Top Tier Tactics Article).

I tend to agree with Santiago.  AND Team Bondi will actually be closing soon “due to unpaid wages and other debts totaling in excess of 1.4 million Australian dollars” (Top Tier Tactics Article).

Emmalyn Helge

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