Overtime is Free-time in the Video Game Industry
While reading Alper and Wassall’s chapter in the Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture, one topic that came up several times was the amount of work (hours per week, weeks per year) in the artistic community. It seemed to me that there were some creative industries that should have been addressed for their own work issues, but were not discussed by the authors–specifically, the video game industry (like, the workers in this industry were not considered artists/fit into a different “professional” model). I’m fairly certain I’ve made it clear in this class that I absolutely consider video games to be art, and so I feel it is appropriate to address here.
I could certainly spend a great deal of time discussing how difficult it is to even break into the video game industry, but I’d actually like to discuss the situation for those who do have jobs. For developers and their employees, it is exceedingly common to go through consecutive, absurdly long work weeks:
Horror stories are constantly surfacing about the lengths game developers sometimes have to go in order to ship a game on time. The worst involve up to 85-hour work weeks—12 hours a day, seven days a week—which is more than double the century-old 40 hour per week standard. Extended periods of crunch can last up to a year, with sustained 60-hour weeks. This practice has earned a markedly less innocuous name than “crunch time.” It’s called “the death march.” (Ars Technica).
This is the case with both AAA companies and indie developers. Certainly, there is something to be said for the love of the craft trumping the difficult hours, but it becomes an issue in that “the vast majority of employees working in the development of video games are salaried employees and do not receive overtime for additional hours at the office” (Ars Technica). If it’s the case that the company employing you is working you to the bone without extra benefits, why not demand a bonus or reduction in hours? Simple: it would be supremely simple for your position to be filled in such a high demand market.
As Bruce Straley, the lead designer of Uncharted 2 stated, it’s not always a deadline that pushes employees to stay late but a peer pressure:
“To me, sometimes it’s not even a deadline that propels someone to stay late or come in on the weekends,” said Bruce Straley, lead designer on Uncharted 2. “Is it the company’s management, or is it the individual? How much is it a ‘cultural peer pressure’—the unspoken peer pressure that propels someone to stay longer just to hang out with their friends, or to avoid the feeling of guilt they place on themselves for leaving early?” (Ars Technica).
Ultimately, with such work hours (regardless of benefits), not only does the quality of products suffer, but the quality of life for employees significantly decreases–which can lead to short careers.
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