Lots of people want to work in the games industry. But few realise how much it can grind you down.
According to a new study from the International Game Developers Association (IDGA), 38% of game developers worked unpaid overtime during the dreaded so-called “crunch” — the crazy-intense period of final deadline before a video game is released.
Given that this same survey found that 37% of developers reported the same in 2014, it’s a persistent problem. And even when overtime pay is factored in, crunching often means 70 hour weeks, the IDGA reports.
“It’s just how things are done,” IDGA Executive Director Kate Edwards told Business Insider.
The real issue, Edwards says, is that an employee’s passion for the gaming industry can actually become a hazard to their quality of life. Developers are afraid to speak up because they know there are dozens of wannabes who would be happy to take their place.
It’s seriously demoralising for a developer, Edwards says — they spend a lot of time and effort perfecting their art, then come to realise they’re just a “cog in the machine.”
“It really diminishes their role as a creative artist,” Edwards says.
She says it’s often women and people of diverse backgrounds who suffer the most here.
Women are “historically and socially” more attuned to the fact that every hour they spend in unpaid overtime is time they’re not spending with their family, Edwards says. And people from countries outside the United States have a more reluctant attitude towards working overtime than your average American workaholic, she says.
It means that people from those groups are more likely to speak up about long hours, and thus more likely to be replaced. Ultimately, it means the games industry self-selects for young, single white guys who care more about working on a big game than having a personal life, as other people leave the industry for somewhere less of a grind.
“It’s more conducive to, I don’t want to say a ‘bro culture,’ though we know it exists,” Edwards says.
Game companies are not necessarily trying to take advantage of their employees with the crunch, and it’s not always a failure of management practices, either — though it’s worth noting that the magnitude of the crunch seems to be unmatched in any other software field.
It’s just that making a video game takes a lot of creative people, all working very hard to meet a Christmas shopping season deadline that was set long ago. And companies kick the can down the road towards fixing employee burnout problems
“The only thing that guarantees any kind of completion is a deadline,” Edwards says.
Ask questions before taking the job
The IDGA is going to fight this trend by highlighting companies who have taken strong steps towards combating the problem, while providing resources to those companies who are struggling.
In the meanwhile, Edwards says that a great way to address the problem in the short term is for job candidates to ask better questions when they’re job hunting.
If you just ask during a job interview how much of your time will be spent in the loathsome crunch, and whether or not you’ll be compensated, at least you’ll be able to make an informed decision. After all, Edwards says, those companies’ HR departments have the data.
“You need to be blunt with your questions, you need to be clear with your concerns,” Edwards says.
If enough candidates ask those questions — and she says that young jobseekers are getting smarter about this — companies will have more incentive to fix their practices as they work to attract more talent.
Past that, though, Edwards says it will be a long journey towards making sure the world of game development is more welcoming and friendly to the employees who truly make it tick.
“It’s going to take years to fix,” Edwards says. “It’s going to take a cultural change.”