One of the defining characteristics of labor issues in the video game industry is that companies tend to treat workers as disposable. If you are a good artist but you don’t want to deal with the crunch, the culture, or the job insecurity, don’t worry — someone else will. And yet, people still long for these jobs. They want to make games. In a new video on YouTube, the channel People Make Games recounts the journey of one of these folks. It’s a true story, which makes its ended especially difficult.
The video is called “Getting into the games industry.” You can watch it by clicking play on the window up top. Over the course of just a handful of minutes, it tells how a creative young man from Kentucky named Derek was able to get his break. I’m avoiding specifics to maintain the video’s gut-punching climax, and you should definitely watch it for yourself.
Feeding game developers to the machine
But the point of the video is one that we are seeing play out in the industry right now. Individual developers have to build their lives around the studios they work for. They have to move to certain cities and work specific hours that often include 14-hour days, weekends, and sleeping at the office. And the companies on the other side of those bargains don’t feel the need to make any guarantees or to offer any protections.
We are seeing this with Rockstar. The Red Dead Redemption II studio has made headlines this past week because one of its founders bragged about working 100-hour weeks. Since then, reports have come out about crunch conditions for employees at various Rockstar studios. We’re preparing a story of our own about that company.
The focus on Rockstar came right on the heels of the collapse of Telltale Games, which is the studio that made first big The Walking Dead game. Based on our sources, other reports, and the statements of Telltale management, that company played chicken with the livelihoods of its employees. It kept its staff on and in the dark about its precarious financial position, and then on Friday, September 21, it laid off 250 people. The company was trying to secure a last-minute funding deal. When that fell through, it didn’t have enough money to pay out severances to its staff.