Should games reviews acknowledge poor studio conditions?

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Shaanyboi

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#101  Edited By Shaanyboi

If that's in the back of your mind as you review the game, then sure. You may not be "reviewing" studio conditions, but knowing the conditions and treatment of its workers warrants atleast a mention when looking at the result of their work.

Games criticism is so fucking far behind on average from other media criticism. The mainstream audience has been so heavily conditioned that games should be reviewed like products, as if a reviewer is determining the worth of a toaster. "Does the spring loader work? How many toast settings? How does it look on the kitchen counter?" But then these same gamers cry "GAMES ARE AN ART" the second some degree of scrutiny comes towards their playthings.

The world informs our experience of playing the game, as it informs its creation.

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Humanity

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@shaanyboi: But games are products and there are plenty of technical elements to that product which can be measured very similarly to a typical product review. How are the graphics? What is the performance? What is the average length of play? What are additional modes that could prolong the games lifespan? How is the overall price to value proposition?

Those are all very real metrics by which a lot of people would make a purchasing decision outside of the more complex and highly subjective evaluation of gamefeel and narrative quality.

I don't think reviews for games are behind the curve at all - if anything they are ahead of it because no other product out there mixes the technical with the personal nearly as much. But at the end of the day it's still a product.

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Shaanyboi

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#103  Edited By Shaanyboi

@humanity: All media meant for distribition under capitalism are products and can be viewed under that scrutiny. "How many pages is this book? Is the paper a decent grade? How long is this movie? Are you getting your money's worth with these visual effects?"

That does not mean games media doesn't disproportionately lean into that form of conversation. Jeff and the older crew have repeatedly talked about how this industry largley detached personal experience in their critical voice for decades. Austin and Patrick did their best to raise individual critique during their time here before leaving. There are tons of writers in this field (here and elsewhere) who have expressed wanting to engage in textual critique beyond just "are the graphics good?" And so many of them repeatedly tell how much pushback they received against doing so - either from editors, or harassment from the audience over mentioning "this game treats women badly."

All critique is 'subjective evaluation.'

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lobster_johnson

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#104  Edited By lobster_johnson

I'm glad these issues are being talked about but it's not what I'm looking for when I'm reading a review.

Should the Xbox version of a game get a lower review score if the conditions in the factory making the Xbox One is even shittier than in the factory making the Playstation 4? Or maybe the PS4 version gets a mark or two knocked off because it's less energy efficient than the Xbox - Tuvalu is sinking, you know! I don't know if either of those facts are true, but you get my point. Where do you draw the line with this stuff?

Also, if you were writing a review of the working conditions at Naughty Dog, should you give them a better review if they make good games? Seems irrelevant to me.

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navster15

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@lobster_johnson: The obsession with review scores is beside the point IMO. Giant Bomb was in part founded on the notion that it really doesn’t matter if a game is an 8.8 or an 8.9.

But as a buyer’s guide, a review should include notes about the ethics of purchasing a product. I do it all the time with other products. I try to buy sweatshop free clothing, fair trade coffee, and locally grown produce. Why shouldn’t the conditions of a game’s development factor into my purchasing decision.

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lobster_johnson

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@navster15: I don't care for review scores either TBH.

I guess my point is, when I'm reading a review, I'm looking for a critique of the art, not the artist. Whether I want to support the artist based on other criteria just seems like a separate issue to me - and one the quality, or lack thereof, of the game in question would have no bearing on.

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navster15

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@lobster_johnson: Either way I don’t see how you don’t comment on ethics. As a buyers guide, a review should offer something to conscientious buyers. As a piece of critique, the reviewer is free to take any angle they deem relevant. And anyone plugged into gaming news knows about the horrendous conditions at Naughty Dog. So how can you ask a reviewer to not consider something that will be on their mind when they play the game? It seems like you want critique, but also don’t want reviewers to truly critique.

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lobster_johnson

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@navster15: Exactly; I already know about conditions at Naughty Dog. The quality of the game is irrelevant. If someone is reviewing a hamburger, the ethics of killing animals is irrelevant to the taste of the hamburger. If I'm a vegetarian, I'm not going to eat it.

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navster15

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#109  Edited By navster15

@lobster_johnson: That analogy doesn’t really apply here. AAA development is not always exploitative to the level of Naughty Dog or Rockstar. I can point to Ubisoft as a company that receives awards consistently (in Canada at least) as a top employer for quality of life. So it’s not like there’s an inherent ethical conundrum in AAA that would be on par with the ethics of meat eating.

And you knowing something does not mean everyone does, nor does it preclude the critic from letting it color their experience with the game. The level of detail and fiddly mechanics in Red Dead actively made the game worse for me because it was a constant reminder of the constant overtime used by Rockstar to create these details. Should I simply ignore that when a friend asks how I feel about the game?

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Nick

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#110  Edited By Nick

unions are a terrible idea for many creative processes, most creative people need motivation to push themselves, it's human nature. i'm a developer, i've been in a union in the past (for over 6 years), i can say unions make it very easy to be a lazy employee. if my employer ever unionized i would quit. i don't care if i have to move out of my apartment because i live paycheck to paycheck.

this is just my personal preference, i think if people want to be part of a union that's great and would never want to stop them.

i would prefer a solution to bad work/life balance to come as part of a flexible company policy (because everyone's definition of work/life balance can be different).

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AdamALC

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#111  Edited By AdamALC

If they want to really comment on bad working conditions outlets should have one line "reviews" stating we are not going to cover this game because the developer doesn't treat its employees right. Of course they won't do that, especially when review sites are running ads for the products. Everyone wants to change the world until it inconveniences them.

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JBird

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I'm probably running against the grain here but in my opinion, I find Jason Schreier's reporting to have a sanctimonious tone to it.

"A critical flop might help show Naughty Dog that this isn’t the best way to make games, that this level of sacrifice isn’t necessary, that maybe the project isn’t worth losing all of these people. That perhaps, no matter how many Game of the Year nominations they win or how high their Metacritic scores climb, all the individual hairs on Joel’s eyebrows or the grains of sand in a burlap sack just aren’t worth the cost."

Ok thanks Jason! You go and project manage a world renowned video game and tell the world how its done 'properly'.

That being said, the bulk of his reporting on the Last of us 2 appears to me to be balanced and he does a good job of explaining the competing aspects of crunch about the joy of a project, the creative freedom for those developers, the team mentally of pushing through on such a highly crafted project like the last of us 2 against the obvious downside of persistent hard work over a period of time.

I can understand the frustration of game developers who have worked really hard to create something so awesome only to end up in a conversation about how exploited they are. Crunch isn't good, but its not solely bad either and my criticism of Jason is that his reporting begins to identify the complexities of the issue but just reduces it to 'I hope they have a critical flop so they learn their lesson'. - then suddenly the studio is getting hammered on twitter.

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Bizarrohash

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I get the value of a pure review, and by that I mean evaluating the product and the product only... but some people do want to know more about where these products come from. It’s the whole farm-to-table mentality where people want to know the story behind what they consume.

Similarly, should movie reviews mention what’s up with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski? I think some people would want to know that going in, and then they could make their choices accordingly.

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mellotronrules

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#116  Edited By mellotronrules

@jbird said:

I'm probably running against the grain here but in my opinion, I find Jason Schreier's reporting to have a sanctimonious tone to it.

i think that's exactly right. jason is in a league of his own in terms of reporting- he's very, very good at what he does and his work is both important and of high quality.

buuut he also comes off as a total prick on twitter. he's MUCH more toned-down on his podcast with kirk and maddy- such that his twitter presence feels overly performative.

the good news is- you can be both; you can be right and utterly ill-tempered.

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Shindig

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#117  Edited By Shindig

He gives me the impression he has the suspicious monopoly on 'scoops'. Not that I'm sure what that means when it comes to this industry.

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Slag

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#118  Edited By Slag

@shindig said:

He gives me the impression he has the suspicious monopoly on 'scoops'. Not that I'm sure what that means when it comes to this industry.

Schreier?

I think it's mainly because he's the first one who really tried. He's got an actual background in traditional journalism, 99% of Video game reporters don't have any.

I don't think he's perfect, I've disagreed his hot takes on many occasions. But many investigative journalists are kinda jerks. You pretty much gotta be if you are gonna dig up unpleasant truths

I also think if he wasn't doing this, it's quite possible nobody would. Even our ole' boy Scoops doesn't do nearly as much investigative reporting as Jason does.

I personally think Cecilia D'Anastasio's is putting out the best stuff atm, but I think Jason paved the way for her. He's shown that this kind of work is economically viable for game journalism outlets

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Shindig

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#119  Edited By Shindig

Yeah, it's not really an industry for it unless you really want to dig. Most of gaming news is regurgitating PR. Schreier seems more proactive than most which might be why he sticks out to me.

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mellotronrules

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@slag said:

I personally think Cecilia D'Anastasio's is putting out the best stuff atm, but I think Jason paved the way for her.

that's a huge oversight of mine. she's consistently done some amazing reporting and her work re: Riot honestly is some of the most important gaming reporting of the last decade.

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north6

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#121  Edited By north6

@jbird said:

I'm probably running against the grain here but in my opinion, I find Jason Schreier's reporting to have a sanctimonious tone to it.

"A critical flop might help show Naughty Dog that this isn’t the best way to make games, that this level of sacrifice isn’t necessary, that maybe the project isn’t worth losing all of these people. That perhaps, no matter how many Game of the Year nominations they win or how high their Metacritic scores climb, all the individual hairs on Joel’s eyebrows or the grains of sand in a burlap sack just aren’t worth the cost."

So, I had a big long angry post I had written up around Jason's take here, which on it's surface seems like pure activism, hoping other journalists would take up his clarion call to write poor critical reviews because of working conditions. When I read the article there's a sentence before this that makes it clear that this is a hedged wish for a sales miss from some devs on the team, not from Jason himself.

Note that I actually agree with your sentiment, but these types of out of context quotes are needlessly inflammatory. No need to manufacture this stuff.

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depecheload

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It really depends on the review and the reviewer's intended audience, does it not?

I would imagine a Gamespot or Cnet review would only give such issues a passing mention at most. At a site like Kotaku or Vice, where their audiences are more invested in such topics, it might get more mention.

Both are 100% valid ways to review a game. As a consumer you choose which best suits what you look for in a review.

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Icemael

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#123  Edited By Icemael

@shaanyboi said:

@humanity: That does not mean games media doesn't disproportionately lean into that form of conversation.

It should be remembered that games, compared to other art forms, are disproportionately affected by technical factors, which is unsurprising when you consider the highly technical way games are made. Generally, even bad films, music albums etc. are competently put together from a technological standpoint, whereas games, from the cheapest "indie" titles to the biggest blockbuster stuff, frequently have a variety of technological problems: bugs and glitches, framerate hitches etc. etc. Spending time on these factors in a review is not only reasonable but necessary, just as it would be necessary in a film review if the movie in question was being screened with stuttering audio and inconsistent framerate, or in a music review if the songs suffered from poor audio quality, bad mixing etc. Further relevant comparisons can be made: graphical quality in a game corresponds to animation quality in an animated film (which is obviously a very important contributing factor to the quality of the movie as a whole), etc. etc.

It also has to be considered that even if you ignore the technological aspects, games are highly technical by their very nature since what separates them from other forms of art is precisely the systems and mechanics that allow for interactivity. These are as central to games as language is to novels, and the fact that they need to be discussed in terms that are largely technical (and they do need to be, since systems and mechanics, as the words indicate, are highly technical things) should not prevent us from recognizing that they are nevertheless aesthetic elements -- they are, in fact, the central aesthetic elements in games as a medium. Consequently the way e.g. control schemes, combat systems, inventory systems etc. are put together, which "features" they have and how they are implemented, is artistically relevant in the highest degree and must be a central topic in any game review (with the possible exception of games that have extremely "light" forms of interactivity in favor of a very strong focus on other factors, e.g. visual novels).

"Textual critique", as you call it, can have its place, but if you write a game review that attempts to ape literature and film criticism while eschewing appropriate discussion of the medium's central aesthetic element (i.e. systems and mechanics that need to be understood in technical-aesthetic terms), that review will be woefully inadequate and betray a fundamental lack of understanding of games as an art form. It would be like reviewing a piece of choral music and focusing almost entirely on literary analysis of the lyrics because you want to be a "serious art critic" and your idea of what "serious art critics" do is based on literary criticism, while failing to understand that music is something else and needs to be assessed in a very different way.

I will agree that most game reviews are shit, but it's not because they are too technical and they certainly should not be written like reviews in other fields (and they most definitely do not need more moralistic tripe, regardless of whether it concerns work conditions at the studio or perceived injustice in the content of the game itself). A much bigger problem is that most game reviewers are incapable of understanding the nuances of the systems and mechanics they engage with, and lack the expertise to make any but the most shallow analyses and comparisons when trying to assess those systems and mechanics in relation to the medium/genre/subgenre as a whole.

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Berserk007

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#124  Edited By Berserk007

I wish the same passion you all seem to have translated to a waitress or construction crews, but its probably not as provocative. Guess what... life's hard, work is hard, not many of us have as much control over our lives as we like to think we have and fair is subjective. You do not have to like it, but it is the truth.

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Humanity

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@shaanyboi: I think there is a difference between a traditional review and what you would call a textual critique. Plenty of writers do those textual critiques, and they are very long form and discuss a lot of aspects of the game in contrast to social topics and representation. The harsh truth is that writing reviews itself is a business itself. I agree with you that it sucks when you have outlets spewing out gleeful 10/10's in an almost fanboy-like manner without a lot of critical thinking - whether this be from fear of angering the developer or community blowback. But there is also room for a quick and dirty classical product review. There are times when I want to go in-depth and will seek out a Rob Zacny or a number of other high-brow, long-format reviewers, and there are times when I want to turn on a 5 minute rundown of the technicals with a bit of flavor on the side.

Bottomline is I agree that things could definitely be better and a higher separation of church and state would be better for the integrity of the writing, but I also don't think the medium is any more behind than any other.

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Big_Denim

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#126  Edited By Big_Denim

I like how beer advocate offers both a brewery rating and then individualized scores for each of their beers.

I wish we had something like that for the video game industry :(

Edit: And yes, I realize breweries are different in that it's a physical location you can visit.

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Sweep

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#127 Sweep  Moderator

I like how beer advocate offers both a brewery rating and then individualized scores for each of their beers.

I wish we had something like that for the video game industry :(

Edit: And yes, I realize breweries are different in that it's a physical location you can visit.

This is actually a really cool idea.

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Sweep

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#128 Sweep  Moderator

There was a (somewhat refreshingly) uplifting and positive review about The Last Of Us 2 by Samantha Greer where she writes a short introduction to the piece by acknowledging the aforementioned studio conditions at Naughty Dog. I think it's a pretty great example of how this sort of thing should be handled. The full review is here (It's excellent and you should read it) but the relevant excerpt is as follows:

(Before the review itself, I'd like to talk about controversies that surround the game and its developer Naughty Dog. Earlier this year ex-employees were outspoken about tremendous crunch during an apparently tumultuous development cycle as reported by Kotaku. There is also the still, as of publication, unresolved accusation of sexual harassment against Uncharted 4's Lead MP Designer Robert Cogburn (who left Naughty Dog in 2018) by Former Naughty Dog Environmental Artist David Ballard, as reported at Wccf Tech. You can decide how these stories effect your engagement with the game but they're worth being aware of regardless)

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mattimus_prime

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Here is the thing that gets on my nerves whenever these labor conditions talks come up. In the United States, (and I know not everyone is in the United states but a lot of the companies I hear about are) all employees have the right to unionize, and it is illegal to fire people for organizing or starting a union. So if game developers want to unionize, they can. People complain about company culture and the powerful elites at the top taking advantage of the people at the bottom. But they can’t force you to work. If they have an issue with crunch it is an issue with the types of people they hire. Game development is hard and it attracts a certain type of person that gives everything to it. If people don’t want to work those types of hours, they shouldn’t. And they don’t have too.

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Sweep

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#130 Sweep  Moderator

Here is the thing that gets on my nerves whenever these labor conditions talks come up. In the United States, (and I know not everyone is in the United states but a lot of the companies I hear about are) all employees have the right to unionize, and it is illegal to fire people for organizing or starting a union. So if game developers want to unionize, they can. People complain about company culture and the powerful elites at the top taking advantage of the people at the bottom. But they can’t force you to work. If they have an issue with crunch it is an issue with the types of people they hire. Game development is hard and it attracts a certain type of person that gives everything to it. If people don’t want to work those types of hours, they shouldn’t. And they don’t have too.

If the job "attracts a certain type of person" then why are those people being so vocal about how completely miserable the crunch is? Also "an issue with the type of people they hire" - so you think they should only hire people willing to work 80 hour weeks indefinitely? Have you ever worked 80 hour weeks? Because I have, for months at a time, and it fucking sucks. I know you probably have this glamorous image of Game Development as a "fun" job (often encouraged by the promotional "behind the scenes" material the studios release), but the reality is that game development is a boring-ass office job 90% of the time, and having to do that 80 hours a week is not the never-ending houseparty you imagine.

Regarding your second point; A large chunk of the industry do support unionization but are worried about losing their jobs if they do so. The reasoning is that because the industry, and especially the junior/mid level positions, are so saturated with applicants that anyone who refuses to work overtime will be replaced. The Kotaku article points out that Naughty Dog had absolutely no qualms with losing senior talent and replacing them with new employees (often to the detriment of the team and production).

You're right that in a lot of countries where games are made, be it the US, UK, Canada, wherever - have solid unionization laws, but a lot of their employees are foreigners on work visas. As much as 51% of the British VFX industry, which has a lot of crossover with games development, are foreign workers, often on very short (sometimes just a couple of months) contracts combined with the lingering threat that their continued employment is dependent on their willingness to work extensive crunch. Studio management are often vocal about the lack of sustainability that would come from a unionized workforce and that also discourages anyone who is looking for a promotion or job offer.

I hear what you're saying and I agree that unionization would be the obvious answer, but people are scared of losing their jobs, and so to a lot of people this consequently becomes a binary decision between "work 80 hour weeks" or "don't work at all". In this economy it's difficult finding people who are willing to take that risk.

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development

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#131  Edited By development

Well a studio being shitty will likely make me reconsider my buying of it, so, yes, they should. It's relevant to my buying decision. (That said, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, right? So, I'm not gonna fault myself too badly for giving in and buying a game I've been dying to play.)

@mattimus_prime: lol at the idea that companies are held to the same legal standard as their employees. Most every state is "at-will" employment, meaning they can literally fire you for ANY reason, or no reason if they choose. If I start talking about a union, trying to gauge support, someone might report me (trying to win themselves some brownie points) and then they'll fire me for slacking, or "not fitting the company" or some other made up shit. It's then on me to prove they fired me for trying to unionize the workforce, which is basically impossible, since companies have millions or billions of dollars to afford lawyers for as long as they need, and I have... like a couple thousand on a good week. And even if found guilty these companies stand little chance of ever getting due punishment, and I will likely never get my own due recompense. Oh, and I'm still fired.

Why do you think every workforce isn't unionized? Why is tattling on people for starting unions a thing? Because they know they're not supposed to start unions; that their bosses will freak out and threaten the workforce or threaten to fire people. It's not even an industry-specific thing; this mindset is so beaten into us that anyone, from any industry, from plumbing to film acting, knows how "bad" it is to start a union.

Oh, and the law means shit in a lot of places here unless you're rich, white upper-middle-class, or a business/landowner; then the law will help you. I literally got a job orientation video for a hospital position that propagandized us against unions. The fantasy you outlined is inaccurate, but to be fair many Americans also believe that things work like that.

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JamesBomb

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The criteria of a commercial review should expose the vital aspects of a product which remain unapparent to the consumer at the time of the products introduction to the market. Criticisms pertaining to the organized poduction of a game should absolutely be featured in its review; the consumer is supporting the company with their purchase, they ought to know how the product came to be. However, trying to integrate that into a wholistic score would only serve to confuse. There's no need to make an ethical judgment for the reader - just inform them.

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north6

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#133  Edited By north6

@sweep said:

@mattimus_prime said:

Here is the thing that gets on my nerves whenever these labor conditions talks come up. In the United States, (and I know not everyone is in the United states but a lot of the companies I hear about are) all employees have the right to unionize, and it is illegal to fire people for organizing or starting a union. So if game developers want to unionize, they can. People complain about company culture and the powerful elites at the top taking advantage of the people at the bottom. But they can’t force you to work. If they have an issue with crunch it is an issue with the types of people they hire. Game development is hard and it attracts a certain type of person that gives everything to it. If people don’t want to work those types of hours, they shouldn’t. And they don’t have too.

You're right that in a lot of countries where games are made, be it the US, UK, Canada, wherever - have solid unionization laws, but a lot of their employees are foreigners on work visas. As much as 51% of the British VFX industry, which has a lot of crossover with games development, are foreign workers, often on very short (sometimes just a couple of months) contracts combined with the lingering threat that their continued employment is dependent on their willingness to work extensive crunch. Studio management are often vocal about the lack of sustainability that would come from a unionized workforce and that also discourages anyone who is looking for a promotion or job offer.

Interesting point - What do you feel like the solution to this problem would be? In the US anyway, most H-1B visa workers are paid less in computer science industries. Is the same true in Britain for games/VFX?

Do you think there's a risk that if unions sweep (sorry) the industry, given that H-1B visas are hedging against outsourcing, that it would simply turn into more of a race to outsource?

(another source on H1-B restrictions increasing outsourcing, though I believe it sites much of the same study)

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north6

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#134  Edited By north6

@development: I hope our interests align in supporting coverage that focuses on keeping jobs from being outsourced, which is something I rarely see in articles, or even hear talked about in podcasts. If someone can convince me that unions generally stop outsourcing, I will be more amenable to supporting them. What I find concerning is broad generalizations that unionizing comes with no downsides, and unionization practices exist in a world seemingly without globalization.

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development

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@north6: totally. No one but businessmen like outsourcing.

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Deathstriker

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In the grand scheme of things, and thinking of things globally, most devs are living like kings. Should reviews for sneakers, phones, etc. say "these were made by people, many of them kids, in an awful Chinese factory getting paid $5 a week"? Things should be better for devs, my point being, why should this only apply to video games?

The weird part of video game reviews to me is them having ads on their site and interviews with the devs, among their other deals while reviewing their product. Would the director of TLAU2 be on IGN a week after the game's release if they had gave it 8.5 or even 9/10? That might've pissed him off and he could've gone to wherever else. If Gamespot gave Gears 4 a bad or average score would MS give them as much money for advertising Gears? Reviews should say what deals they have with the publisher, like NPR does when they do a story and they have ties to someone.

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hughj

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#137  Edited By hughj

A game reviewer is sharing information that comes from first-hand experience with a game. They are the arbiter of whether or not they enjoyed a game, so they can speak with absolute confidence in a very comprehensive way. A reviewer is not in a position to assert the existence of "poor studio conditions" in a similar fashion. At most they could say something like, "Another news outlet is reporting that several employees have had XYZ experiences and they consider the conditions to be poor" and link to their article.

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Rahf

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In the grand scheme of things, and thinking of things globally, most devs are living like kings. Should reviews for sneakers, phones, etc. say "these were made by people, many of them kids, in an awful Chinese factory getting paid $5 a week"? Things should be better for devs, my point being, why should this only apply to video games?

The weird part of video game reviews to me is them having ads on their site and interviews with the devs, among their other deals while reviewing their product. Would the director of TLAU2 be on IGN a week after the game's release if they had gave it 8.5 or even 9/10? That might've pissed him off and he could've gone to wherever else. If Gamespot gave Gears 4 a bad or average score would MS give them as much money for advertising Gears? Reviews should say what deals they have with the publisher, like NPR does when they do a story and they have ties to someone.

This is where you have to trust that the reviewer has a firm ethical stance on reviews regarding their work. If there's one thing I can say about Jeff Gerstmann, it's that his review ethics are rock solid. Hell, the reason Giant Bomb exists is because of this.

It is a commonly occurring phenomenon in all enthusiast press. Cars, fishing, hunting, model trains, vape smoking, you name it. The enthusiast press is a vector for new product exposure, which means the brands behind the product will be motivated to advertise coming products through that press. So my choice of segment within that sphere is the one that openly says, "I can't be bought, but I have to put food on the table. I present exhibit X, Y, and Z as proof why my opinion is not affected by advertising money."

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Deathstriker

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@rahf: Yeah, I'm not worried about this site when it comes to corruption. Last week I came across a video saying Naughty Dog reached out to some critic from Vice because he or she gave TLAU2 a not so great score, which to me seems like they're putting pressure on critics. In that same video they said Angry Joe was banned from some event or service due to his negative review.

Seems like video game sites should be able to get ad buys from TV manufacturers, Red Bull, soda companies, nerdy things in general, and endless tech stuff, rather than getting money from the publishers that they're reviewing. Plus it's boring that mainstream sites almost always agree on AAA games.

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Sweep

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#140 Sweep  Moderator

@north6 said:

@sweep said:

@mattimus_prime said:

Here is the thing that gets on my nerves whenever these labor conditions talks come up. In the United States, (and I know not everyone is in the United states but a lot of the companies I hear about are) all employees have the right to unionize, and it is illegal to fire people for organizing or starting a union. So if game developers want to unionize, they can. People complain about company culture and the powerful elites at the top taking advantage of the people at the bottom. But they can’t force you to work. If they have an issue with crunch it is an issue with the types of people they hire. Game development is hard and it attracts a certain type of person that gives everything to it. If people don’t want to work those types of hours, they shouldn’t. And they don’t have too.

You're right that in a lot of countries where games are made, be it the US, UK, Canada, wherever - have solid unionization laws, but a lot of their employees are foreigners on work visas. As much as 51% of the British VFX industry, which has a lot of crossover with games development, are foreign workers, often on very short (sometimes just a couple of months) contracts combined with the lingering threat that their continued employment is dependent on their willingness to work extensive crunch. Studio management are often vocal about the lack of sustainability that would come from a unionized workforce and that also discourages anyone who is looking for a promotion or job offer.

Interesting point - What do you feel like the solution to this problem would be? In the US anyway, most H-1B visa workers are paid less in computer science industries. Is the same true in Britain for games/VFX?

Do you think there's a risk that if unions sweep (sorry) the industry, given that H-1B visas are hedging against outsourcing, that it would simply turn into more of a race to outsource?

(another source on H1-B restrictions increasing outsourcing, though I believe it sites much of the same study)

Regarding visas it's all pretty fluid right now on account of Brexit in the UK, not to mention the fact that social distancing has required all the studios to send their artists home (many of my friends seem to have lost 20% of their salary as a result of this too) so the way I answer today might not be the same as I would have done 6 months ago, or even in 6 months time; hypothetically unions could still be the answer. Many companies move their studios to specific regions in order to take advantage of local tax subsidies that dramatically reduce production costs, sometimes by up to 40% of the cost of the entire production. That's why you tend to see a lot of game studios in places like the UK and Canada, because there are financial incentives in those locations that outweigh the alternatives. Many of those subsidies hinge on the work actually benefiting the local economy, often by placing a minimum amount of local employees that need to be employed by the company. For example when I worked in Singapore for an American studio, there was (anecdotally) a requirement that in order to receive the tax benefits the studio workforce needed to be comprised of at least 51% Singaporean citizens. In a situation like that I think Unions are still a very effective force for change, because crunch is essentially based on peer pressure and if the majority of the employees subscribe to a single way of working then the remaining minority, even without a union, are unlikely to undermine them by crunching of their own accord. I know I sure as fuck wouldn't. But that requires a huge shift in the entire local workforce; you essentially need every potential artist/developer, whether they're employed or not, to join the union and insist the employers adhere to the terms of the union. That kind of shift is a really hard sell, especially to the huge chunk of the industry which is currently out of work.

But everything is now out of whack, because everyone is working remotely (something which everyone in both videogames and VFX industries was extremely opposed to for security/NDA reasons) that opens up a whole new market for international freelance/remote work. It feels extremely precarious, because all it's going to take is one stupid security breach for the entire thing to come crashing down, but it has the potential to shake up the entire industry in a big way. What good is a union if you're working in Australia for a French studio that's got an office in Canada? That's not hypothetical, I'm legitimately asking :P

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Do movie reviews keep in mind the VFX studio’s working conditions? Do hardware reviews (phones, computers, etc)? None do.

I think it will be a good idea to have a site dedicated to review working conditions and link them to the products. Like give the new iPhone a score based on how it is produced. Maybe if that takes off and it even becomes some sort of label (a green ‘good working conditions’-sticker), the companies start to care about it and improve the labor conditions.

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#142 Sweep  Moderator

@dussck said:

Do movie reviews keep in mind the VFX studio’s working conditions? Do hardware reviews (phones, computers, etc)? None do.

They don't, but they probably should do, especially considering how many studios are shuttered even after delivering award-winning work.

The problem is the business model is fundamentally broken, as it is dependent on crunch to break even. To fix that we either need pressure from the consumers, or more proactive unionisation from developers, or ideally both.