Should games reviews acknowledge poor studio conditions?

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Sweep

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Edited By Sweep  Moderator

As I'm sure many of you are aware Kotaku/Jason Schreier ran a pretty revealing and insightful piece into the shitty studio conditions over at Naughty Dog. For those of you that aren't up to speed, here's the highlights;

- Naughty Dog encouraged rolling crunch for months at a time causing widespread burnout and depression among their developers

“It’s an amazing creative environment,” said one developer on The Last of Us II. “But you can’t go home.”

- Senior management seemed uninterested in addressing the concerns of their staff and actively pushed them to keep working. This led to long-standing employees leaving, with management assuming they were all replaceable, and this further exacerbated production deadlines.

Every newcomer means weeks’ or months’ worth of training and hard lessons about how the rest of the team works. A task that might take a veteran designer two hours could take twice or three times as long for a newer employee, and it can be hard to know what the directors want until you’ve been working there long enough.

- Senior management also seem to think that crunch is performed as a completely voluntary artist-driven sacrifice without acknowledging the overwhelming pressure and fear of job security, and no acknowledgment of the detriment to mental and physical health:

“People just naturally do it,” [president, Evan] Wells said. “Because we hire a particular type of person who’s motivated and passionate and wants to leave their mark on the industry. That’s why they come to Naughty Dog.”

Naughty Dog’s managers would never tell people to work overtime—it was always an implication, understood and accepted by everyone.

None of this is new

Rockstar North went through the same revealing reporting around both GTA4, and then again years later with GTA5. Everyone knows that videogame studios treat their artists like garbage, to the extent that it's more surprising when we hear about positive studio conditions than negative ones. I work in VFX and we have exactly the same problems - when production falls behind it's the people at the bottom of the ladder picking up the slack. The shitty economy means people will overwork out of fear of losing their jobs, and management either encourages it or simply turns a blind eye as the team works themselves to death. Overtime will usually be unpaid, and weekend work is expected as a default rather than a last resort. It sucks, and we've been desensitized to it.

So, what are the responsibilities of journalists, and game reviewers, and us as consumers?

Should studio conditions be taken into account when reviewing games? Do we have an ethical responsibility as consumers to hold these devs to account?

I mention this as a result of a tense exchange between Schreier and a couple of prolific writers, Neil Druckman (Naughty Dog, The Last Of Us) and Cory Barlog (Santa Monica Studio, God Of War) after another writer compared the Last Of Us 2 to Schindlers List, and Druckman expressed his frustration at the consequential (and very deserved) sarcastic internet reaction:

No Caption Provided

Petty squabbling aside, the implication here is that Schreier is being vindictive in his reactions to The Last Of Us 2 as a result of his expose on their work conditions. Is that justified? Is that something you'd like to know about when reading the review of a game, or is it something that you think should impact the score of a game?

Also, as an aside, the way those devs reacted here is bullshit and they should both be extremely embarrassed. Mean? Get the fuck out.

Personally I feel mistreatment of staff should be acknowledged in a review, as that's the only way to enforce meaningful change short of not buying the game. I'd go as far as to say that it's the ethical responsibility of journalists and reviewers to call out developers on their shitty work-culture, even while acknowledging the quality of a videogame.

I expect the answer will be for a lot of people that if a game is objectively good then the ends justify the means. Increasingly, I'm less and less happy with that mentality, and it's going to be hard to shift the bitter taste that comes from knowing the cost of The Last Of Us 2, regardless of how great that game may be.

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csl316

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#1  Edited By csl316

Reviews? No, I read reviews to see if the game is good and if I should buy it. Personally, those are the types of reviews I seek out.

But if the outlet has social commentary as part of their style (Waypoint, maybe Polygon, etc.) then there's really nothing stopping them. And surely some people incorporate external factors into their decisions to buy or support a game.

So should they? I don't need them to, but they could if they want. There's clear value in discussing the issue. Where it's discussed probably just depends on the outlet's preference.

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Efesell

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It should be addressed somewhere, and why not in the review? It stands to have the most impact there and reviews are not a sacred ground or anything like that. It is possible to give a fair account on the merits of a game and also the grim reality that may exist behind how that came to be.

Also Cory Balrog can go jump in a lake.

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DrBroel

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an artist at naughty tweeted this to some of the backlash already brewing over this

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Efesell

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That some people have accepted the conditions as they are and still have pride in the work is not a sufficient reason to stop addressing the matter.

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mikachops

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#5  Edited By mikachops

“Because we hire a particular type of person who’s motivated and passionate and wants to leave their mark on the industry. That’s why they come to Naughty Dog.”

From experience, this is code for:

"We hire people who don’t question or are fine not being paid for their overtime".

And also, developers are not the people who, at the end of the day, get lauded for "making a mark on the industry", so thats also a load of shit. It’s the project managers and upper management who get those accolades (and the increased pay that comes with it). As a developer you’re working to their scenarios and timelines, you’re just a tool to reach their goals. Developers by and large work to impress their peers, not the Neil Druckmans or Cory Balrogs and the people who inflate their egos through reviews and think pieces.

I think you can review a thing however you want and by whatever metrics. In this case though, I trust Jason to judge things on their own merits while also fairly calling out the shitty practices that brought this piece of entertainment into existence, because it’s Jason and he’s shown himself to be a balanced reviewer.

Also, a reminder. A culture of crunch is an easy way for businesses to squeeze out extra work from their employees instead of extending timelines (and thus extending pay cycles), or compromising the projects scope. That’s it. And unless you’re self employed or working in a startup (and even then) you shouldn’t put up with it.

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Justin258

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In the review? No, not really.

When I look at a review, I'm trying to get a sense of what the end product is like. If I go buy this game off the shelf, what am I getting? What can I expect out of it? Does it have performance problems? Is it well-paced? Does it control well? Is its story any good? Stuff like that. I don't need a social justice article masquerading as a review, I need a review. Mention it if you must, but a review isn't the place to write about people working hundred hour weeks to get out a product. It's a place to tell your readers if an end product is worth your time and money.

But I'm not saying that we shouldn't write about it. That's crazy. We should write about it, a lot, and constantly. Ideally, every time a big AAA game comes out we'd have a few journalists on a few prominent sites gathering some information about its creation, reporting on how the artists and programmers and designers and so on were treated and how troubled its development might have been. And put those articles on your front page for people to actually see them. If you put it in the middle of your review, I'm honestly likely to skim it and not think about it too much, but if there's a focused article about the issue, I'll probably read the whole thing.

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Sweep

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#7 Sweep  Moderator

@drbroel said:

an artist at naughty tweeted this to some of the backlash already brewing over this

No Caption Provided

shrug

There's always going to be people who benefit from the system as it currently stands, and the article itself acknowledges that plenty of people at Naughty Dog are happy with the status quo and don't mind working crunch either. And I think what Beavs is talking about here are the people who are questioning the creative and artistic merits of the game as a result of the expose - which I agree is dumb. Just because a masterpiece was made under harsh conditions doesn't make it any less of a masterpiece.

There's a difference between "dunking" on a game and acknowledging those conditions exist though, and I think the "don't mention the shitty conditions and just talk about the game" mentality is pretty irresponsible when you're propagating an industry standard that sacrifices the mental and physical health of employees to get there in the first place.

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mellotronrules

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#8  Edited By mellotronrules

i mean- i don't think this is an issue that can be addressed with a simple yes or no.

isolating the exchange between schreier and balrog/druckmann- i think that thread is embarrassing for everyone involved. schreier comes off as petulant and vindictive, while druckmann and balrog are mischaracterizing and hand-wavey to legitimate and serious concerns. i like jason a lot, but this feels more like him trying to score twitter points than his usual strength which is painstaking-reporting. and the devs should address the concerns, full stop...none of this victimized artist nonsense.

but at the end of the day- is there an ethical imperative for authors to consider work conditions when evaluating a work? i think that falls on the personal moral compass of the author putting the criticism out there. it's far too complex an issue to set a standard- there are so many things to consider (how much and of what quality is the reporting that details work conditions, how universal was the experience of the aggrieved, how has management responded since initial reporting, etc).

same goes for a consumer making purchasing decisions. those $10 shirts at [fill in whatever fast-fashion brand you like] aren't cheap because employers offer fantastic working conditions and health benefits. speaking personally- i've stopped listening to work by maynard james keenan and the band crystal castles because there are stories of real abuse i can't separate from the music anymore. but i'm certain i have willing or unwilling blindspots that aren't held to the same standard. (edit: just thought of one- david bowie is held to a different standard for me, and i wrestle with that internally all the time).

i think the uncomfortable truth is large-scale games development- like a lot of industries at scale- is supported by disproportionate power structures and abuse. but ALSO a great deal of passion by people who are putting their souls into the work. where you come out in that mix kinda depends on the individual.

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Onemanarmyy

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#9  Edited By Onemanarmyy

I'm with CSL here. Reviewers should mainly think about their own community (and not the metacritic hunters) when they write a review. Outlets like Waypoint should definitely address the troublesome production period of the game in depth. If you're deep into Waypoint's community, reports of unhealthy work conditions are naturally a subject you want to hear your fav reviewers talk about when yet another AAA game gets released that has that stain on it. And i think you already see a lot more mainstream outlets nowadays mentioning it in passing too. Where the focus of the review is still mostly on the game and not the entire production process, yet they still want to give the readership that information so they can take it in account at least. It's a good thing that different reviews can take different approaches on a game. In the 90's and early 2000's that stuff was hardly ever touched on at all, or presented as a goofy thing. Hah, these japanese car guys are so in love with the game they make that they practically live together in the office and sleep there as well. Such passion!

I do think it's a hell of a task to report on entire production processes of games though. As far as i know, it always originates from employees leaking these conditions to the press, or ex-employees recalling back to how it was when they were there. Hopefully at this point enough of a hub-bub is created that management of these studios need to address these concerns publically and change the way they do things. But there's no investigative body or union that keeps providing information about whether these things have truly changed for the better. And is the absence of news regarding to this issue a good thing or an indication that these studio's have a tighter grip on their employees to not mention these issues? Or is the real suffering mostly shifted towards studio's in Ukraine and Romania where the devs are less likely to come in contact with Jason Schreier?

There's just so much noise regarding this issue that i often wonder which AAA titles have been made in a decent fashion so far. Honestly, if an AAA-studio has managed to do so, you'd think they had proudly made a documentary of how they'd achieve this, as it would be an excellent avenue to recruit new developers and inspire others to change their work-flows accordingly. Perhaps the sports games are able to realize that , given that they have an entire year to mostly make iterative changes to the same structure year in, year out. But at the same time, when you hear longtime players talk about those games they despise how little of it changes and don't think highly of the dev at all.

So what's the solution here? Personally i think it is to have a healthy review-scene where there's place for both reviews on the endproduct as reviews that entails the production process as well.

I will say though that i'm not a fan of Austin Walker calling out a reviewer in the 'product review' category that does spend a decent chunk of time in the review on the worker's conditions, yet don't make it weigh heavily in their overall appraisal of the game. Sure, when a game gets lauded as 'one of the best videogames ever made', the shitty work conditions are being validated by that, no matter how much time you spend decrying the awful work conditions it was made under. At the same time, the endproduct of all that can be amazing and truly stick with you as an amazing experience, even if the process of making it contained suffering on behalf of the devs. And at the end of the day, i imagine that most WaPo gaming readers want to know 'is this game any good?' and that's the answer that the reviewer figures suits the readership the best.

Calling out product-style reviewers for doing a quick mention and then moving away from the production aspect seems counterproductive. It will only make that information more niche, as the reviewers see that that kind of talk doesn't get appreciated if it's not fleshed out well enough and decide to stay in their lane and make it a pure product review instead. Which means that less and less gamers are even being made aware of the hardships behind their favorite games. Personally, I think it's valid to make customers aware of the pain & suffering behind a production, yet try to serve that audience with the main information that they're there for in the first place. Not every outlet should have a similar voice on these things.

I do think that there is room for more reporting on social issues around games though. It often feels like there are maybe 3 or 4 people in the entire industry that can be reached by employees and start bringing these issues to light. That's not enough at all. And there should be more forces in the industry itself that can keep these issues in the spotlight. Too much information right now is restricted to someone reaching out on twitter ,email or the phone. Not enough recurring reports on employee satisfaction and what kind of changes these studio's are implementing to make a positive impact on that front. Maybe it's me, but i don't have any stories in mind of 'oh we used to do it in this awful way, but then we re-designed our workflow to make it like this instead and that has made the production process far less heinous for everyone involved and i implore other studio's to give it a chance too'.

This is Austin's tweet i brought up btw.

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krelmoon

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Sure let me know however you feel like in a review or anywhere else it’s been like this a long time and will continue until someone gives them a reason not to. Letting people know is the least you can do. If you’re still doing scores it wouldn’t probably be fair to let that effect that and all of this will not magically make ever game player care but, yeah let me know.

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sparky_buzzsaw

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Raise hell. That's what a journalist's job is. And if your review isn't journalism, it's an opinion piece. Going further down that rabbit hole, if it's an opinion piece and your opinion isn't or doesn't include "bad labor conditions are bad," then... what's the point? What are you doing?

We've seen the lines blurred between games journalists and friends in the industry. That's always been the case no matter what the beat is, right? But a journalist isn't beholden to the games industry. They're there for the readership (or viewership, I guess). And it is always in the readership's best interest to know about the shitty conditions the makers of their favored products go through. It is, and should always be, up to the consumer to then make that choice whether or not to continue supporting the business of money and entertainment over fair labor practices.

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BladeOfCreation

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Art is not created in a vacuum. The process is a valid thing to mention in a review.

I disagree that calling these things out in reviews will actually increase accountability. The real way to do that would for consumers and review sites to publicly--and in large numbers--refuse to buy or give coverage to the game.

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CabooseMSG

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Its absolutely necessary. Especially when the company heads refuse to address it in any way other than bitching and moaning about it. Look at the reform that took place at Rockstar, im sure it isnt perfect yet, but they didnt whine on twitter about how their 10/10 game received some (well deserved and needed) criticism. Cory just strikes me as a giant man baby, he's made jokes on labor conditions at their studios in the past on Twitter, yet cant fess up or address criticism regarding the well documented instances of it. I honestly find him quite unlikable.

This also is completely disregarding the sexual harassment allegations leveled at Naughty Dog, which also have been swept under the rug apparently. I dont understand why the Beastcast didnt touch on these issues. Tons of deserved discussion took place about Rockstar, and Gearbox in the past, but not one mention of the sexual harassment allegations and working conditions at Naughty Dog took place.

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#14  Edited By NoelVeiga

So... the answer is for workers at the studio to organize and for management to sort out the working conditions.

I know the games press and audiences tend to have a bit of a messiah complex about these things, but... yeah, you're not saving Naughty Dog by making reviews about the working conditions instead of about the game. It's a labor concern.

And hey, the ND guys are wrong, their games aren't good because their work conditions are bad. Those things are unrelated. If anything, tired people tend to do worse stuff. Fixing that problem is in their own best interest for reasons unrelated to reviews acting on reports of how the games were put together.

That doesn't mean people shouldn't report on how the games are put together. That's all fine. It's just not noticeable in the game itself and it's disingenuous to say it is. Also, yeah, getting the game you made trashed for things that aren't the game is not fun or particularly helpful. The press tends to have an "outsider looking in" perspective into some of these things that can be hit and miss about fixing workplace issues. Transparency is great, overzealous self-appointed policing of how people are working in what is supposed to be art criticism... that's pretty iffy.

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north6

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As far as the actual game review, absolutely not. I am old enough to remember dozens of times the crew talking about "how hard a dev worked" having nothing to do with a finished product of the game that a regular consumer would play, and it definitely has no impact on a review. This is same argument. If a game review isn't going to laud a small team for working dozens of hours OT, why would they bash a large studio for the same thing?

If you're writing a story specifically about working conditions Patrick style, sure, why not. That is important work.

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Sweep

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#16 Sweep  Moderator

I know the games press and audiences tend to have a bit of a messiah complex about these things, but... yeah, you're not saving Naughty Dog by making reviews about the working conditions instead of about the game. It's a labor concern.

Is it though? Because without external pressure nothing is likely to change.

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CabooseMSG

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#17  Edited By CabooseMSG

Absolutely agree with Sweep, these issues need to be surfaced by critics in whatever way possible. Game Devs, unpropmted, are sure to rarely address and fix these issues. If critics stay silent then the obligation falls to the consumer, and frankly the average consumer is not going to engage with games journalism outside of a review capacity.

Like others have said too, art isnt made in a vacuum. Sure, some workers will conflate criticism of the company as an attack on themselves, that's not the reviewers fault though. That's corporate brainwashing, I see it happen in Fin Tech all of the time. You are not your job, you were taught that your value is intrinsically tied to what you produce, but thay is not the case. If the company you work at has issues, especially if you lead it, you need to be able to at the BARE MINIMUM discuss these issues.

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spacedarwin

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I think there is no reason why the inclusion or allusion to the conditions that game a is made it shouldn't be in the review, that in of itself is worth mentioning in a product review especially if a consumer may find supporting a game made in such conditions immoral.

The greater question to me is how much of the focus of the review should be decicated to the discussion of the labor that built the product. Which largely will depend on who the reviewer is/the voice within the review, and the quality of the product itself, (not to imply a 'better' game should get a pass or vice versa).

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Jonathan-Ore

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#19  Edited By Jonathan-Ore

It's a sin of omission, if you ask me.

Not exactly the same and further along the spectrum, but if anyone in 2020 gives a perfect score or unblemished review of a John Landis movie or Chris Benoit match, I'm not gonna be interested in reading any more criticism from said critic or outlet.

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NoelVeiga

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@caboosemsg: @sweep: Art isn't made in a vacuum but art is also not made when artists are on strike.

The whole messiah complex I was talking about is assuming that the conversation being had is between reviewers and Sony. It is not. There are multiple relationships at play here. Between Sony and ND, between ND management and staff, between players and the game and yes, between critics and all of the above. The notion that nothing will change unless critics make it change is extremely arrogant.

Hey, if knowing how ND work puts you off from buying the game, absolutely don't buy the game. That does send a message. And that means that transparent coverage of working conditions around the industry is important. But ultimately if your review of the game is a review of what you read about the working conditions in the studio in a different piece of reporting you're not reviewing the game at all.

I know the feel-good thing to say here is that absolutely any piece of journalistic work around the game is important in saving ND staff from themselves, or at least empowering them to complain. But it's all a bit more nuanced than that, and not all pieces of coverage are coverage about this issue. Mostly because then you create an environment in which you don't encourage good working conditions, you encourage secrecy.

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finaldasa

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#21 finaldasa  Moderator

Only one thing can force these companies to change their ways: a threat to their bottom line.

Despite seemingly consistent stories that working conditions at nearly all of these major developers and publishers are poor, consumers are still ready to line up and put their money down. If an editorial and a reviewer deem it a big enough issue that it affects the game's enjoyment or how they themself view the game then it's highly appropriate to mention it.

Without external pressure, these companies will never change.

Games don't need to be 60+ hours long or have dozens of side missions, they have these things often because of market studies rather than some artistic intent (I don't know, maybe the GTA team really enjoys street racing and is attempting to share that particular love to me through a bad series of side missions).

I don't think there's anyone simple solution, complex problems rarely have easy answers. But nothing will change by staying silent.

Naughty Dog has around 450 employees and simply saying those people and their struggles should be ignored because the game they made is good seems immoral to me.

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mikachops

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#22  Edited By mikachops

@noelveiga: "their games aren't good because their work conditions are bad. Those things are unrelated"

In practice, crunch absolutely does produce "good" work. In this industries case (and in a lot of tech) more work === more features (more code, bigger worlds, more art, better assets etc).

The only major side effect usually (outside of negative press when they get caught, which is part of the reason Druckman and Barlog have a thing against Jason) is burnout causing quitting. But the issue with the video game industry is that roles are hard to come by, so in practice these bigger businesses mostly get away with it. Without the burnout side effect, businesses like Bethesda, ND and Rockstar are mostly left with the pros - shorter dev times equating to less out of pocket costs for running the project and business, shorter product - market timelines and bigger and "better" games.

It stinks.

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OurSin_360

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#23  Edited By OurSin_360

Honestly, it's still kinda hard for me to empathize as someone who worked in the oil field for a couple of years where you literally worked about 24 hours a day, getting an hour nap here and there and only getting paid for 19 hours. And this was pretty hard manual labor in 90+ degree weather. But I signed the contract and nobody put a gun to my head, everyone I worked with was super grateful to get those hours too(for the OT or bonuses).

But I try to see from the employees perspective if they have the mindset that this is all they can get and/or are just working for the paycheck. The only solution I see is for them to collectively refuse to do it, ban together and unionize. Nobody is a slave, it's a job you chose to do or not do. Employees need to realize their power in the situation, programers/artists/designers cannot be replaced with A.I yet so you have plenty of leverage if you move collectively.

As far as reviews, people still put the work in to make the product so marking it down is kind of a kick in the face to the people who work on it IMO.

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Onemanarmyy

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#24  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@finaldasa Only one thing can force these companies to change their ways: a threat to their bottom line.

This made me think about how the outlets that are the most likely to focus heavily on the production aspect of games are also the outlets that don't provide a review score at the end. Their words contain greater nuance than 1 score could ever do, so why give people an easy shortcut when that will only make it less likely that the contents of the review get absorbed & discussed?

At the same time, we're in a very performance-based world. Right now The Last Of Us 2 is sitting at a 96 metacritic rating. ND & Sony must be thrilled. Yes, there's some dissent among the more progressive outfits, but luckily enough they don't provide a rating and therefore don't hurt the numbers. The audience at large doesn't immediately see that there might be a negative aspect to this game at all and pre-order the game. Are these outlets providing enough of a threat to the bottom line if their impact doesn't carry further than their immediate readership when they don't want to be part of the traditional numbers-game? Shouldn't they want to be as much of a thorn in the side of studio's that don't treat their employees right to make sure that these studio's see an actual impact on the numbers if they don't?

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GrayFox666

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I have no problem with it being mentioned, but game reviewers should take on the view of the consumer. A game should not be reviewed based on the conditions it was made because frankly the vast majority of consumers are not invested in the industry and simply put down their money in hopes of being sufficiently satisfied. it is of huge importance that bad working conditions are pointed out, but a consumer who throws down their own money on a product should not be lectured to. It’s a very difficult situation because of the times we live in, but frankly I do not believe Call of Duty (COD) players should be required to view a Black Lives Matter (BLM) screen before a game. Infinity Ward (IW) should be taking down ALL of the racist usernames, but again a consumer should not be told how to feel about products they spend their money on.

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finaldasa

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#26 finaldasa  Moderator

@onemanarmyy: Good point. The problem is I don't think one review score, or even a handful, would sink a game. And if you're giving a game a lower score in part because of working conditions then what point does your review serve? Is it about the game or is it about the studio?

And bonuses for some are based on those metacritic scores and not sales. So scores become personally affecting to the common worker whereas sales don't.

And I don't believe the media should be aiming to hurt company revenues.

In other words, it's all kind of fucked up.

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I think getting solid information on conditions inside a studio from sources willing to speak on the record could be an issue.

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cooljammer00

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Imagine making a game that is gonna sell a bajillion copies, and then complaining that people were mean to you and will harm your career.

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Onemanarmyy

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#29  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@finaldasa And bonuses for some are based on those metacritic scores and not sales.

I keep seeing people mention this throughout the years, often referring to the 2012 articles about how Obsidian missed out on their bonuses for Fallout NV because of a 84% score instead of a 85% score on metacritic. That was kind of an eye-opener for many and made them realize that metacritic is actually of importance to developers, despite it being such an obviously clumsy way of evaluating how good a game has turned out to be.

But no one is able to tell me whether this is still the way things work 8 years later or whether studio's have found better KPI's to judge themselves by. Surely there are better ways to evaluate how well your game did than having to bite on your nails in the hope that outlets as GAMINGbible, Stevivor,New Game Network,Video Chums and Merlin'in Kazanı all liked your game enough and employ people that hold themselves to a certain standard?

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finaldasa

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#30 finaldasa  Moderator

@onemanarmyy: I don't think it's quite as widespread as it once was but I do believe it's still tied to certain aspects of development/production. For instance, if a PR team will be kept on for the next release, if the studio should shift directors of department heads around, promotions/raises, etc.

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Onemanarmyy

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Gee_rad

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As someone who's worked in game dev, I'm all for an outlet discussing the working conditions as part of the review. The only problem is that, outside of some indie games, you'll end up with a similar note in pretty much every review, blunting what effect it would have. (And I suspect the main effect it would have would be for studios to crack down on leakers rather than change their labor practices.)

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GrayFox666

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@finaldasa: if Metacritic is still something that plays a primary role in how pay/bonuses is determined, do you think that should factor into reviews?

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NoelVeiga

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#34  Edited By NoelVeiga

@mikachops said:

@noelveiga: "their games aren't good because their work conditions are bad. Those things are unrelated"

In practice, crunch absolutely does produce "good" work. In this industries case (and in a lot of tech) more work === more features (more code, bigger worlds, more art, better assets etc).

The only major side effect usually (outside of negative press when they get caught, which is part of the reason Druckman and Barlog have a thing against Jason) is burnout causing quitting. But the issue with the video game industry is that roles are hard to come by, so in practice these bigger businesses mostly get away with it. Without the burnout side effect, businesses like Bethesda, ND and Rockstar are mostly left with the pros - shorter dev times equating to less out of pocket costs for running the project and business, shorter product - market timelines and bigger and "better" games.

You are 100% wrong in that. Every organized, objective look at crunch shows it producing less, worse and more expensive output. This matches my own experience. Crunch moves a percentage of your future output to the present, but it's not 100% of your future output. It works to squeeze out a milestone or meet an urgent demand, but it is a terrible way to sustain your day to day. Also, if you work in a place where overtime is handled the right way and compensated at a fair rate, turns out an hour of crunch is also more expensive than a scheduled hour.

And that's even before factoring in all the things you admit are issues.

The reasons crunch is so pervasive is it's an easy way to make it seem like you've added time to your schedule. You haven't, but between North America having a very warped view on working ethics and the notion of "stopping working = more output" being counterintuitive it's hard for managers, even if they know this, to get it right.

That said, no, I don't think it should be factored in reviews, for the reasons I stated above.

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NoelVeiga

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@onemanarmyy:Thing is, nobody's gonna be able to tell you that. Each one of these deals is gonna be its own thing, particularly now with a lot more small publishers and devs going around.

You can assume nobody likes to get bad reviews or think they're good for their career, though, crunch or no crunch.

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finaldasa

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#36 finaldasa  Moderator

@grayfox666: Naw. That's Metacritic's and the developer/publisher who uses it problem. If Metacritic went away companies could still aggregate and determine scores on their own.

But this is also partially why so many publications moved away from scores. It's the push and pull between how you wish your scores to be perceived and interpreted versus how they're actually used and seen.

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TitanMinimalist

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In a review? No. There’s almost no way to do it fairly. The only games that would be penalized would be from studios that we know have poor working conditions. The issue is, do we know all the studios that have poor working conditions?

I support industry change and open dialogue about the issue. But out of my own ignorance on the topic, I honestly don’t know if the conditions at Naughty Dog are remarkably different or worse than another other studio. At this point, I just assume that most video game studios are horrendous to work at everywhere.

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Onemanarmyy

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#39  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@finaldasa And I don't believe the media should be aiming to hurt company revenues.

I'm sorry for all the replying, but i just don't understand how to read this with your post #21 in mind.

Without external pressure, these companies will never change, you say. Not until it impacts their bottom line. So naturally you want reviewers to shed light on the production process in their reviews. As a reviewer that does this, you hope reviews like yours impact the company's revenue so they have to improve the worker conditions. You might even go on twitter to tell other reviewers that if they truly care about the labor situation, they should probably not end up with a headline that keeps the harmful status-quo intact. If you write or heavily support that kind of media, are you not hoping that these company revenues are taking a hit that forces them to change the harmful labor practices?

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finaldasa

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#40 finaldasa  Moderator

@onemanarmyy: Reviewers can't, by themselves, just change a company's direction. Consumers have to consider it when they buy the game and that's why I deem it okay to add in a company's work conditions. A reviewer shouldn't add a company's working conditions into a review unless they deem is apart of their consideration in the review itself.

But honestly, there is no one answer. Each editorial or review team will have to navigate these waters on their own and sometimes that changes as the conditions in the market/industry change.

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JasonR86

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I think the terminology needs to be cleared up. A review of a product with the intent to inform a consumer about the product should focus on the product. A critical review of the product likely could include outside variables within the review, but I would hope most critical reviews would focus more on the work and less on the artist(s).

But a critical piece can be about anything. If a person wants to write a critical article that looks at how working conditions at naughty dog influenced the work, or how positive reviews of games that are developed under unhealthy working conditions can reinforce those conditions, or anything else is totally permissible to me, personally. I think the real catch is that your reader needs to know what the intent of the article is before reading the article.

Looking at something outside of games, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist won and was nominated for multiple academy awards, including a win for best picture, despite his legal and social problems. The Academy, and most reviewers, didn’t seem to care about the sexual abuse case or fleeing prosecution. And, honestly, though I’ll never see a film the man makes because of those issues I personally wouldn’t want to read a review of the Pianist that focused on Polanski and rated it one way or another as a result. But I am all in favor of articles written that would, say, take the Academy to task for awarding him and his work. I think that same standard should be held for games.

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JasonR86

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@jasonr86: not best picture. Best director. Oops.

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#43  Edited By mikachops

@noelveiga: If the goal is to produce more game in a shorter time frame, thus getting a product out to market quicker than crunch absolutely is a positive thing for the producers of these games and they 100% see it as "good work". Theres a reason these guys continue to work their devs into the ground and ignore former employees who've complained about this practice.

This is speaking from experience as well. I’ve worked on projects with immovable time frames for no reason but because someone wants to get something out to market quicker (to line up with spent marketing budgets or to get ahead of competition, line up with EOFY balance sheets etc). Crunch was 100% seen as justifiable and a productive use of time and budget as the client did not want to buy another sprint of work, or move their marketing obligations.

Obviously crunch can go bad (introducing bugs, rushed art or whatever), but these guys are pros and the've found ways to work around that to squeeze as much extra productivity as they can get away with. This is another reason day 1 patches are such a norm now, too.

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#44  Edited By ThePanzini

The market has chosen shorter AAA don't sell.

When Sony is talking up pre-order numbers for Last of Us 2 being higher than Spiderman & GoW having reviews release a week early is part of the PR cycle, however if they did start criticizing crunch certain outlets and reviews just wouldn't get copies even then for many franchises reviews have zero impact like COD.

Crunch is synonymous in the industry how many developers working at Naughty Dog were unaware going in, not saying its right but were all to blame here.

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Humanity

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People should absolutely report on these matters with detailed and exhaustive dives into the inner workings of a company. Whether this is around a release date, or much later doesn't really matter all that much. Reviews and critical company breakdowns are two very different entities though.

Reviewers are not journalists and this is because a review doesn't serve the same purpose as an investigative report that cites anonymous sources and concrete facts. Reviews are very much opinion pieces, or if you want to be generous critiques, for the consumer of the end product. One is obviously linked to the other but there is little room or reason in a game review for discussion about working conditions. You can make room if you want to but it's a difficult pivot from praising a game for it's outstanding achievements in graphics and narrative to devoting the final several paragraphs breaking down the human cost of how this was achieved. A review should at best celebrate the achievement or at worst steer people away from a botched job. Literally no other industry includes both. You don't read a review about the latest Air Jordans or iPhone and then get a hard edged expose on the working conditions for underpaid factory workers that made those products possible.

This is mainly because in order to do that you need to actually be an investigative journalist and you need to devote the time and energy to build connections and tap sources for your article. How many game critics today are capable of doing this and have the time to do it? Maybe a few when you combine all the popular review centric outlets out there? And if you're not putting in the work then it just becomes superfluous and disingenuous to tack on a "oh yeah Naughty Dog still does crunch" at the end of a review without citing any actual data to back this up or going in-depth of how this is happening, what do the workers think about it and what steps management have taken to course correct or not.

What Jason is doing right now does come off like he is trying a little too hard to enforce change rather than report on it. I'm glad he's writing about it because very few people in the big mainstream games media are, but as someone mentioned above, some of this feels like "self appointed policing" of the industry. At the end of the day it really is on the workers of these companies to force change themselves. As a consumer I can either buy the game and support bad working conditions or not buy the game and contribute to mass layoffs for not reaching sale targets.

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Pezen

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@humanity: ” As a consumer I can either buy the game and support bad working conditions or not buy the game and contribute to mass layoffs for not reaching sale targets.” — This is my general take on the issue as well, me not buying a game I might enjoy to make a point to developers regarding their work practices is such a blunt tactic that isn’t sending any specific message other than ”don’t want this game”, so it’s really not helping anyone in practice. Me not buying a game made with bad crunch also just means those people went through that crunch for no reason at all just so I can pat myself on the back for being a good guy.

And if I am reading a review, I want to know about the game’s qualities. And unless those qualities suffered as a result of bad practices at the studio, it makes no sense to talk about it. It’s even worse to talk about it if the game ends up being amazing. Because at that point you’re just lining up evidence how ’working yourself to a breaking point’ produce amazing products. Which is the point of view of the studio heads anyway, a take that will just be reinforced. I just don’t see a winning angle on mentioning it in a review specifically.

But certainly write articles on the subject. Deep diving, investigating journalism. And something else; maybe also write articles praising/highlighting studios that produce great things that has unions, that has great working conditions. Because that helps show the overall industry that a certain way of doing things doesn’t have to be the best way to do things.

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DarthOrange

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In a review? No. There’s almost no way to do it fairly. The only games that would be penalized would be from studios that we know have poor working conditions. The issue is, do we know all the studios that have poor working conditions?

I support industry change and open dialogue about the issue. But out of my own ignorance on the topic, I honestly don’t know if the conditions at Naughty Dog are remarkably different or worse than another other studio. At this point, I just assume that most video game studios are horrendous to work at everywhere.

Honestly, fuck any studio exploiting their workers, and if something comes out add them to the list until you are able to confirm that things have actually changed for the better. One would hope more sites taking the issue of working conditions seriously would encourage more people at other studios to speak out. That said, Naughty Dog and Rockstar are special in that they are vocally proud of their shitty working conditions. They brag about the abuse they put their workers through, and make it sound like that is the norm. Trying to normalize such toxic conditions is incredibly fucking harmful to society. Like big picture bad for humanity, not just for people in the video game industry.

The most ethical thing video game coverage sites could do is just not review these games. Focus any coverage on these shitty conditions and challenge the complacency of consumers. Otherwise, covering the game without adequately talking about the working conditions perpetuates the notion that this is "not a big deal" which again, is harmful for more than just the video game industry.

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NathHaw

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Sometimes I wonder how much of this is a case of "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Some devs probably are being exploited and overworked, but I imagine in some cases developers understand the working conditions they will have to endure and readily agreed to it in order to work for whatever company hired them.

It makes me also think about how change in this area could lead to smaller increases in wages overtime from companies in order to compensate for the projection of potential crunch and the prediction of public relations that might arise, i.e., the company knows it will have to give more money or time off for the crunch, so they just will pay less to begin with.

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Nodima

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If they want to, sure, why not? Sometimes a review of an album boils down to a paragraph describing that time you sat with your first love interest on a plastic slide wondering why clouds have to block out the moon sometimes.

I've never agreed with the idea that a video game review is somehow different from anything else, that it has to treat its component scores as gospel or the work as separate from its creation. The reviewer should be passionate about what they're passionate about, and allow themselves the honesty to present that information.

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#50  Edited By ToughShed

I don't even care about review text much anymore.

What we really should be doing is covering labor issues and bad practices more as they happen. That's the important thing. The game should stand on its own. If you want to mention and link to reporting that's more than fair.

I think the issue needs that kind of focus and pressure with a focus to have things change. Trying to leave it up to people's buying decisions is an indirect way to change things when some of the best games in recent times have been very rough to make (Rockstar's output to Witcher 3 for example).

Its not as if Reviews are some huge attention grab anymore anyways. Give labor issues the proper coverage and not just years after the games come out.