The working conditions for game developers are improving, partly because the spotlight on poor conditions is forcing some change, according to a survey by the game developer professional group, the International Game Developers Association.

That conclusion is based on responses to a developer satisfaction survey by the IGDA of more than 1,100 of its members, said Renee Gittins, executive director of the IGDA, in an interview with GamesBeat.

But it’s not all cut and dried, as game developers are still concerned about problems in the industry, and a lot of developers favor unionization of gaming, according to a different poll released last week by the group that stages the Game Developers Conference.

“Probably a large part of [the reason it is better] is the recognition of the problems that we’re having within the game industry,” Gittins said. “The numbers show that game developers are more aware of the problems and that their companies are responding to them more. And I think that that helps lead to more satisfaction and confidence within the game industry and leads to longer, healthier careers, and the chance for diversity to flourish.”

Above: Renee Gittins is executive director of the IGDA.

Image Credit: IGDA

To summarize the results, Gittins said the survey suggests that bad conditions such as crunch, or forced overtime, have declined in the past two years — perhaps because of the negative attention drawn to the problem. But developers remain concerned that crunch and other negatives have given the game industry a bad reputation. And problems such as poor enforcement of diversity safeguards also disturb developers.

“The way I like to think of it is the game industry is making forward progress. Awareness is up in terms of our issues,” she said. “We’re clearly not where we want to be, but we’re heading that direction.”

On top of the data about crunch time’s decline, Gittins said she was encouraged that data surrounding families and wages suggest game developers feel supported enough to stay in the industry for longer while providing for children. Meanwhile, more companies have instituted anti-discrimination policies.

However, other data suggests the industry still has room for further improvement, including lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination policies and many other factors that negatively affect the perception of the games industry.

Some key findings follow:

Careers and families

Above: 2/3 of game developers do not have kids.

Image Credit: IGDA
  • The number of respondents with children rose 6% in 2019 DSS (35% in total, up from 29% in 2017), and an overall increase in the age of game developers.
  • Additionally, 65% of respondents reported making over $50k per year, up 11% from 54% in 2017.

“I think a really good positive number is the number of respondents with children,” Gittins said. “We’ve seen that rise and additional 6% up to 35%.”

Previously, poor conditions in the game industry would drive people away from the industry, Gittins said, resulting in high turnover rates for mid-level professionals starting families.

“The fact that there are more people with children shows that there’s more confidence in maintaining and developing careers with having a family,” Gittins said.

Crunch reports from respondents

Above: Crunch time fell from 2017 to 2019 in gaming.

Image Credit: IGDA
  • Job involves crunch time: 41% in 2019, down 10% from 51% in 2017.
  • Works long or extended hours not classified as crunch: 35% in 2019, down 9% from 44% in 2017.
  • Crunch is expected at their workplace: 42% in 2019, down 11% from 53% in 2017.

The fact that crunch is declining means that the industry may be getting better for professionals with families, Gittins said. The definition of crunch isn’t necessarily helpful, as the GDC survey found the industry still has a lot of voluntary crunch. But it sees both overtime that is properly compensated and overtime that is forced and uncompensated.

“We see that it is still far more likely that people will be working excessive hours instead of shorter hours,” Gittins said.

Presence of anti-discrimination policies in the workplace

Above: Game companies are implementing anti-discrimination policies. But enforcement is another matter.

Image Credit: IGDA
  • General non-discrimination policy: 71% in 2019, up 14% from 57% in 2017.
  • Equal opportunity hiring policy: 61% in 2019, up 12% from 49% in 2017.
  • Sexual harassment policy: 64% in 2019, up 16% from 48% in 2017.
  • 59% of respondents felt these policies were not adequately enforced, with another 31% unsure; in the 2017 DSS, those figures were 56% and 34% respectively.
  • Over half (57%) of respondents felt the diversity of the industry had increased in the past two years, up 15% from 42% in 2017.

More anti-discrimination policies were implemented, but the enforcement of those policies was questioned, Gittins said.

“We also see that at least people are more aware that there is unequal treatment within the game industry, whether or not that unequal treatment itself has risen,” Gittins said.

Factors believed to negatively influence the perception of the game industry

  • Poor working conditions: 73% in 2019, up 19% from 54% in 2017.
  • Sexism among gamers: 72% in 2019, up 15% from 57% in 2017.
  • Racism among gamers: 55% in 2019, up 15% from 40% in 2017.
  • Sexism in the workforce: 54% in 2019, up 15% from 39% in 2017.
  • Lack of overall diversity: 49% in 2019, up 11% from 38% in 2017.
  • Racism in the workforce: 29% in 2019, up 12% from 17% in 2017.

Most desirable companies to work for

Above: Nintendo is the most desirable company to work for in gaming.

Image Credit: IGDA
  • In 2019, the top companies people want to work for are Nintendo (10%), “My Own Studio” (6%), Ubisoft (6%), Blizzard (5%), Naughty Dog (3%), and Valve (3%)
  • In 2017, the top companies were Blizzard (8%), Valve (6%), Nintendo (4%), and Bethesda (4%)

Blizzard suffered some negative press during the past couple of years, first with a round of layoffs and then with controversies around the unveiling of its Diablo Immortal game and its handling of punishment for a political statement by a pro-democracy Hong Kong esports player.

The full 2019 DSS Summary Report is available today on the IGDA DSS page, along with other recent DSS Summary Reports.

The IGDA 2019 DSS Survey was created and analyzed by Johanna Weststar, associate professor, DAN department of management and organizational studies at Western University; Eva Kwan, PhD student at Western University; and Shruti Kumar, MSc candidate at Western University; with assistance and guidance from John R. J. Thompson.

Gittins said that the IGDA will evaluate whether to ask additional questions in the future.

“This is a hopeful result, and it shows that we’re on a positive track, but there’s still clearly areas of weakness,” Gittins said. “This shows the right momentum, but certainly not the final results that we would like.”


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