Rockstar, Riot, NetherRealm, Bioware, Gearbox. What in the world is going on in video games right now?!?

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#1 Posted by pappafost (230 posts) -

My perception of video game development has been somewhat tarnished the last few months. You're either looking busy for the boss on Sunday (Rockstar), getting sexually harassed as a woman or ball tapped as a man (Riot), on call at your friend's wedding after a full shift (NetherRealm), spinning your wheels because no one can make a decision (Bioware), or allegedly physically assaulted by your boss (Gearbox).

Did I forget any? It's a miracle that games ever make it to release.

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#2 Posted by someoneproud (604 posts) -

I think they all stem from long standing cultural problems in the industry, nowadays (thankfully) there seems to be more push-back against & awareness of these shitty practices. I'm hopeful we aren't far from a future where devs get organised/unionised to stand a fighting chance of putting an end to them for good.

Unionisation certainly seems to be building momentum atm but the devs really have to do it for themselves and stop putting up with shitty practices. I know it's easier said than done and no doubt a scary prospect but they're the only ones that can/will in the end.

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#3 Edited by Casepb (725 posts) -

I think it's always been like this, well for the past decade at least. People now just coming forward informing the masses of just how bad it really is. When I was going to college in 2005 for video game design and we had guest speakers they would always say how awful it could be with crunches. It acutally made me go towards a much slower paced job thankfully. I'm the type of person that does horrible under pressure. And also more people than ever are in game design and of course among so many there are bound to be bad ones.

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#4 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1370 posts) -

These problems have existed for decades, we just hear about it more. Social media enables people to get their stories out there in ways they couldn't before. I don't think it's that this happens more often than it used to, it's just that we're now more aware of it. It's a perception thing, like how lots of people think children get abducted more frequently than in years past, but that's just because people have access to 24/7 news reporting now.

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#5 Edited by Humanity (18850 posts) -

It is mostly corporate greed. While I'm certain it has been this bad for a while, it certainly wasn't always like this. Back when games were being made by 10 guys in a basement it was a lot more passion than crunch. Granted that was a long time ago, but throughout the years as games started gaining financial momentum the need to outdo the last financial quarter have definitely started pushing boundaries. This is how Tomb Raider selling over 3 million copies in 4 weeks no longer "meets expectations" for Square Enix, especially when you have games like GTA V selling nearly 12 million copies in the first 24 hours and earning over a billion dollars in just three days. Expectations are absurdly high these days, some would rightly say unrealistically high, and the workforce suffers as a result. It is insane to think every game will be the next GTA but it seems like publishers seem to think just that. As a result you have more upper management getting involved in the development of games. Businessmen that have no clue about the creative side of things setting goal posts and mismanaging products.

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#6 Posted by reap3r160 (265 posts) -

The fact that you threw in an "alleged" case, says a lot about why we are hearing more about this stuff. Whether it's true or not, a handful of people saying something bad is true is enough to warrant coverage because it drives traffic.

This stuff has been going on for YEARS in EVERY industry in the world. But it's not until the past couple years that it's become popularized.

I can't speak to much of the other stuff, but the "crunch" and pay issues and such, are just par for the course. Is it right, not necessarily, but that's what comes with being a contractor. It sucks, sure, but you shouldn't be expected to be treated like a full time employee. I've been a contractor for a large tech company for a few years now and I recognize I am not treated the same way. That said, I am not content to stay here and and am in the process of either converting or looking to an employee position.

And if a lot of these complaints about work load ARE coming from employees, I'd be interested to see the demographics/years worked. If they are newer to the industry I would assume they didn't have a good idea of what they were actually getting into, game development IS a 60+ hour a week job. These are big projects that need to be delivered in a relatively short amount of time, which is in part caused by consumers. How many times have you seen a game get delayed, or bugs crop up, or server issues and the entire community is up in arms at the devs? That's bad publicity and scares share holders, so that means games need to be polished as much as possible, but still maintain their deadlines which, again, sometimes requires 60+ hour weeks.

So in short, I don't see this changing, because society as a whole is incredibly self entitled with little regard for who/what is at the other end. That said, I hope something can be done to make things at least a little bit better.

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#7 Posted by shivermetimbers (1718 posts) -

Capitalism, misogyny, society that loves egomanicial people...I mean, take your pick...These things are problems in every industry and go beyond video games.

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#8 Posted by DasaKamov (1142 posts) -

@humanity: Actually, I'm pretty sure the games industry has, in fact always been that way. Keep in mind that Actvision and Accolade formed in the mid 1980s because David Crane and co. felt they were mistreated by Atari, and Acclaim formed from disgruntled Activision programmers in turn. (And as further evidence that this behavior had been going on for forever, Acclaim crashed and burned after numerous lawsuits alleging non-payment of royalties, misrepresentation of licensees and general mis-management of the company as a whole).

The idea of self-made creative geniuses working in their garages is an appealing one - andfor sure, an immense amount of credit is due to the hard-working guys and gals who made the industry the powerhouse it is today - but I wonder if that early wild-west, cutthroat environment tainted the original founders into thinking that their horrible conditions were not only normal, but necessary - a case of "I had the whip cracked over my back for so many years, but now I'M the one holding the whip, and I'm going to make everyone fear me the way I feared my 'superiors'!"

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#9 Posted by FacelessVixen (2636 posts) -

All the more reason why I'm glad that I decided against working in the gaming industry.

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#10 Posted by notnert427 (2268 posts) -

This stuff isn't okay, but it unfortunately isn't that shocking (nor is it limited to the video game industry). Companies that have employees begging to work for them will often take advantage of that. Working in gaming sounds like a fun job to a lot of young people right now, so you've got a bunch of people fighting over not that many open positions. So some of the companies abuse that, knowing that even if they push one employee past the brink, there's another person right behind them who's happy to take their place. It's shitty, but that's kind of the industry as it stands right now. Should it change? Yeah, but it won't until there aren't people willing to do the "crunch". Hopefully all the coverage of late dissuades some people from the industry and makes those currently within it less willing to put up with exploitation so things get better.

That said, we have a fairly one-sided narrative here that several outlets are bandwagoning on because it's en vogue to do so. These pieces aren't even really trying to hide broadly anti-corporate sentiments. It's fine to feel that way, but much of the coverage on this issue appears to be starting from there looking for things that fit this in ways that are more aimed at being influential than informative. It's why this stuff is generally delivered via anecdotal sob stories from a few disgruntled employees. The NetherRealms piece in particular had contractors complaining that full-time employees weren't leaving their jobs to create openings for them, so ostensibly some employees in the industry are content in their careers. Except you don't hear those stories because "employee feels valued and is happy" doesn't make for a juicy headline.

I'm not claiming bad things aren't happening in the industry, because they clearly are and that needs to improve. However, the narrative is being skewed a bit. Frankly, the lower-level employees need to take some ownership of their role in this as well. Address issues up the chain of command when they occur. Unionize. Strike. Right now it seems like there are people who are willing to work in often less-than-ideal conditions and don't seem interested in standing up for anything out of fear of losing their job, which contributes to the problem. Except once they no longer work there, it seems like things they accepted while there suddenly become unacceptable. That rings a bit hollow to me.

I do feel for these folks, as the industry does not sound enjoyable to try to break into right now. Honestly, I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here in an effort to keep things in perspective. And while I'm taking it with a grain of salt, I do hope the coverage on this inspires people to speak up, tolerate less abuse, and effect positive change.

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#11 Posted by nutter (2193 posts) -

Sexual harassment and assault are never okay in the workplace. There are laws and ethics rules in place to protect folks from that sort of thing. Ignoring it could get a company in serious hot water.

Extra hours and on-call work is more just demand and the connected workforce. Not all jobs have these...cultures, processes, problems, whatever you want to call them. Some do. I let people know that that’s our reality when I interview them.

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#12 Posted by mellotronrules (2615 posts) -

it's almost as if corporate culture is suddenly being asked to account for behavior that has been quietly tolerated and embedded for decades.

same shit happens in my workplace (american healthcare)- the only difference is our workforce isn't "online" (people don't reach for twitter when there's a problem- they do the sensible thing and cultivate a drinking habit).

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#13 Edited by soulcake (2811 posts) -

A lot off folks probably seen EU labor laws and compared them to US ones the rest is history. As all the company's you mentioned are US based (not) sure about Riot)). And yeah Rockstar is UKi'sh.

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#14 Posted by chaser324 (8672 posts) -

None of these problems are new, nor are they constrained just to the games industry. The only thing that's changed is that people are very slowly starting to feel more empowered to speak out about these issues and avenues like social media now exist to allow them to share their stories with more people.

Moderator
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#15 Edited by Rahf (513 posts) -

They're living the American Dream, baby! I'm waiting for the day where the snake completely devours itself.

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#16 Edited by wardcleaver (317 posts) -

@humanity said:

It is mostly corporate greed. While I'm certain it has been this bad for a while, it certainly wasn't always like this. Back when games were being made by 10 guys in a basement it was a lot more passion than crunch. Granted that was a long time ago, but throughout the years as games started gaining financial momentum the need to outdo the last financial quarter have definitely started pushing boundaries. This is how Tomb Raider selling over 3 million copies in 4 weeks no longer "meets expectations" for Square Enix, especially when you have games like GTA V selling nearly 12 million copies in the first 24 hours and earning over a billion dollars in just three days. Expectations are absurdly high these days, some would rightly say unrealistically high, and the workforce suffers as a result. It is insane to think every game will be the next GTA but it seems like publishers seem to think just that. As a result you have more upper management getting involved in the development of games. Businessmen that have no clue about the creative side of things setting goal posts and mismanaging products.

I do not know that I would agree with the corporate greed thing. In fact, I saw an interview with Randy Pitchford a few years ago where he talked about being set financially. He said he didn't need to make games to survive . After that, we get Duke Nukem, Alien and Battleborn. I would argue that his lack of incentive to make money led to the train wrecks that those games turned out to be.

I would also argue that the problem with crunch comes from a lack of "businesspeople" at the developers. If you look most developers (not publishers), they are run by people that came from the creative or technical side of the industry. As someone who has done project management, the first thing that sticks out to me about crunch is that you paying people more to get less productivity. Also, business people can work with the creative side just fine. It takes the right type of person with the right type of experience, but it can be done.

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#17 Edited by reap3r160 (265 posts) -

Another, unfortunate, point I wanted to bring up in wake of listening to the Bombcast and the Randy Pitchford stuff. These companies(gaming or otherwise) know they can get away with it.

It ultimately comes down to consumers, people rant and rave in the heat of the moment but VERY few speak with their money. That said, even IF people spoke with their money I would almost encourage them not to. In almost zero cases are the people who have been working meticulously on these projects the source of controversy, so in the end not buying a product they worked on and poured 60+ hours weeks into only hurts them more. It's a feedback loop that needs to be cut off somewhere but I don't think anyone has a good answer for it, beyond society as a whole just needs to stop being shitty which imo(again, hate to be a downer) isn't going to happen any time soon.

So I guess the take away I wanted to leave, for everyone in this thread and in general is: Either don't buy these products, and stick to your values, or ignore the media looking for traffic and support the people working on these projects.

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#18 Posted by notnert427 (2268 posts) -

I reject the not-so-subtle anti-US/capitalism stuff that's often tacked onto these discussions. I'm not here to claim that everything in the US is amazing or capitalism is perfect (especially under this current regime), but let's acknowledge for a second that in the US, employment is generally available and people have the ability and the right to openly criticize their employers. This is not at all the case in much of the world (and some of the socialist ideals being tacitly espoused here come with their own failings), so piling on America because we're discussing this to try and make it better is crap.

In the grand scheme of things, "they want me to work more than 40 hours", "I have to compete with coworkers for promotions", et al. are first-world problems. There are people who would kill for the kind of opportunities these people have. This by no means excuses the exploitation that goes on in the worst parts of American industries, but it bears mentioning that maybe some of these tales of plight aren't quite as horrific as they're made out to be. I feel pretty fortunate to live in a place where opportunity abounds, and I try to appreciate that.

Also of note, the US has plenty of labor laws that exist specifically to help protect workers. However, the workers have to speak up. Throwing shade on social media at former employers is not the best way to address these issues. Objections should be raised first with their superiors, and if the superiors don't respond as they should, then official complaints should be filed to the Department of Labor. I don't care who it is, every company (even those with the cushiest, most detached upper management) is terrified of answering to a federal inquiry. It's a huge deal.

Again, though, people have to use the tools of recourse available to them rather than remaining silent in their workplace. Unionization is another option, and one that should arguably be explored here, given that some issues seem to be pretty widespread across the industry. I suppose there's a concern of people being willing to cross the picket line, but if there are that many folks willing to do so, doesn't that inherently bring into question how awful things actually are? From the outside looking in, it seems like there are just a bunch of people wanting few jobs, and I can't help but wonder how much of these complaints simply stem from the realities of that.

Much of this just reads like typical "naive young person surprised by real world" stuff. Coding is a widely applicable skill, so it's not like these people are constrained to remaining in the video game industry being forever tortured in some hellscape. Honestly, some of the expectations here seem wildly unrealistic. I'm sorry, but you are not just entitled to 9-to-5 40-hour weeks with significant job security. There are industries where that's common. The video game industry is presently not one of them, and the vast majority of the people raising a fuss about that aren't going through the proper channels to potentially fix it.

There is a huge goddamn difference between taking a stand directly at the problem and complaining anonymously after the fact. One raises immediate concerns to those capable of fixing it, and the other at best has an indirect, trickle-up effect to management via what's basically media slander (who may or may not even be the same people as those responsible for things that occurred in the past) which then trickles back down via positive policy/culture changes to current employees. Which sounds more effective?

For the record, I'm glad there's some more awareness of these issues now, but let's tap the brakes on just eviscerating any and every company that a handful of former employees complain about. We're getting half of the story, the media is eagerly parroting whatever aspersions they can find that fall in line with the fashionable narrative, and sniping over supposed past transgressions via social media or as an anonymous source for some lightly-researched defamatory "expose" is absolutely not how these issues are best addressed.

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#19 Posted by Fezrock (732 posts) -

It does seem like if you want to get into video game development, it's better to go to the small indie studios where, maybe there's still some crunch, but it seems like the work is more satisfying and you like the people you work with. At least, that's the impression I've gotten from the various devs that Giant Bomb interacts with. Dave Lang, in his more serious mode, has said talked about this too, and that he specifically created Iron Galaxy to be able to work on his terms.

And even the big downside of indie studios, the potential that the studio goes under financially, doesn't really seem that bad when you look at how often big studios let people go after major releases (or, in some recent cases, had major layoffs due to "restructuring").

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#20 Posted by notnert427 (2268 posts) -

Another, unfortunate, point I wanted to bring up in wake of listening to the Bombcast and the Randy Pitchford stuff. These companies(gaming or otherwise) know they can get away with it.

It ultimately comes down to consumers, people rant and rave in the heat of the moment but VERY few speak with their money. That said, even IF people spoke with their money I would almost encourage them not to. In almost zero cases are the people who have been working meticulously on these projects the source of controversy, so in the end not buying a product they worked on and poured 60+ hours weeks into only hurts them more. It's a feedback loop that needs to be cut off somewhere but I don't think anyone has a good answer for it, beyond society as a whole just needs to stop being shitty which imo(again, hate to be a downer) isn't going to happen any time soon.

So I guess the take away I wanted to leave, for everyone in this thread and in general is: Either don't buy these products, and stick to your values, or ignore the media looking for traffic and support the people working on these projects.

It's the RDR 2 debate. It's a widely beloved game, but it sounds like everything that went into making it so great was a nightmare. It's interesting that there are people who act all affronted at exploitative business practices, but then line up to reap the benefits of said exploitation. As you mentioned, I'm not sure it's better to boycott it and have those efforts go to waste, but it is notable that the ends apparently somewhat justify the means even to the most vociferous about these issues.

It's always been this way, though. People love to shit on capitalism, yet happily enjoy the fruits of it. Most of the people presently fancying themselves as champions of the working class probably have a fucking iPhone in their pocket made by workers so broken at Foxconn plants that there became a need for suicide nets. So, yeah. I'm not really impressed by the outrage people claim to have for this stuff while they're ultimately supporting it.

Are people actually willing to forgo better products if it means better treatment of workers? It would seem not. So....how is that different than what these evil corporations are doing?

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#22 Posted by Humanity (18850 posts) -

@wardcleaver: I don't think Battleborne did poorly because they weren't motivated enough to make money, I think it did poorly because it wasn't an especially good game - that just happens. Also don't be mistaken, Battleborne was 100% a result of Gearbox chasing a specific gaming craze in order to cash in. If they were simply motivated by Pitchfords altruistic passion for gaming then they would have probably put out another single player, story driven game instead of this hero based loot grind thing.

As for business folk working with creatives I'm sure it can be done but as someone that has worked in advertising for many years on the artistic side.. I'd say more often than not it's not a great relationship. In the world of gaming we have heard plenty of times how developers wanted to do one thing but the publisher was literally strongarming them into steering the game in a completely different direction simply because it's what would enable them to monetize the game better.

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#23 Edited by shivermetimbers (1718 posts) -

@notnert427: Y'know, I'd prefer not to argue about socio-economics here. I mention Capitalism because it's designed /not/ to give workers power. It's designed to please those at the top. It's hard for me not to mention that when something like this comes up. Is it the only problem effecting the work environment? Hell no, but it is a problem and I don't feel like proving how I got to that conclusion because there are many ways to find that out. I didn't mention a solution to said problem, I'll even admit that I'm not that well educated to give one, socialism or no. I'm not mad at you, but let's not point fingers at each other here if we can help it. I think everyone here can agree that this is a bad situation no matter what. I kinda want to end it there.

Peace.

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#24 Posted by notnert427 (2268 posts) -

@notnert427: Y'know, I'd prefer not to argue about socio-economics here. I mention Capitalism because it's designed /not/ to give workers power. It's designed to please those at the top. It's hard for me not to mention that when something like this comes up. Is it the only problem effecting the work environment? Hell no, but it is a problem and I don't feel like proving how I got to that conclusion because there are many ways to find that out. I didn't mention a solution to said problem, I'll even admit that I'm not that well educated to give one, socialism or no. I'm not mad at you, but let's not point fingers at each other here if we can help it. I think everyone here can agree that this is a bad situation no matter what. I kinda want to end it there.

Peace.

Apologies if any of that came off personal; it wasn't intended to be. I just got increasingly frustrated at seeing some similar sentiments from various duders across multiple threads on the mistreated workers stories of late and kinda went off on it here. FWIW, I consider capitalism and socialism to both be rather imperfect, with simply differing strengths/flaws. Business Management was my field of study, so I find these discussions interesting. Still, I'm cool with dropping the argument there before it gets heated. There are certainly some things in the video game industry that need to change, from both the management and employee side. I just didn't hear many people talking about the latter and took issue with what to me is becoming an increasingly insular narrative, so I felt compelled to say my piece and have. Cheers and no hard feelings.