No idea if unions are the solution, but this is definitely an issue specific to the game industry right now.
Also, it's easy to claim that one "wants" to unionize on a survey. But that's quite a bit different from actually doing it. So I would take this survey with a large grain of salt. It's not like most game developers couldn't get other sw dev jobs if they wanted to, after all.
If you want to know what people really value, ignore what they say and focus on what they actually do.
Disclaimer: have worked for game companies before
This is exactly the reason why I don't want to pursue a career in game development. I find games exciting but that doesn't make it feel worth to me to make compromises in pay and working conditions. Instead it can just be a hobby.
There is no one EA or Activision experience, they are very heterogeneous entities.
Games releases are seasonal so a common practice is to hire for an xmas release and gut the teams after that.
Shady bonus practices are common. You often have very little recourse into how yearly profit is calculated and paid out.
The separation of studio managing employees and publishers holding on to IP means that studios can close up shop without the rights holders being liable for any back pay or bonus.
Alternatively, if you dig in, and refuse to deal with that bullshit, quitting, or being dismissed for not being a team player, half-way through crunch on a shitty project is a great way to burn bridges in that industry.
I don't doubt it, and your comment supports my original point: that there is a surplus of devs willing to tolerate such conditions. If that were not so, quitting would not be near as much of a problem for one's future employment prospects, because employers would not have as many candidates to choose from in the first place.
The film industry figured out long ago that they need to treat their employees with respect by giving them predictable hours, fair compensation for overtime, and guarantees that they won't lose health/retirement benefits across projects and studio closures. I do believe the game industry will get there eventually, but it seems it will take a lot of kicking and screaming.
There's no slavery here. I've been there. Unlike the people making your shoes in Bangladesh, everyone making your games is there because they love it. These are talented individuals who could easily go work in other industries.
People in the industry want better conditions, and more power to them. But this is not slave labor and no one is stuck in the game industry.
What you're saying is tantamount to not buying a painter's painting because he worked too hard on it. Trust me... the people you think you care about want you to buy the games.
That's simply not true. I'm sure most of them entered the industry for the love of it, but that doesn't mean they love their current job or being expected to work long hours.
> These are talented individuals who could easily go work in other industries.
There's a lot of shovelware in the games industry and I doubt many people love working on it. Do you really think the people working at studios churning out hanah montana games love their jobs? At best their hoping to work on something better in future, at worst the probably can't move elsewhere.
It can be a lot harder to break out than you think, the type of skills a game developer would have aren't in high demand in a lot of places and they could be missing some important skills used in the the more general industry, like SQL. This is an industry that loves to type cast, even something like getting a c# job as a java developer can be tough.
And then you've got the non-developer jobs. Graphic artists, writers and music composers don't have nearly as many options available.
If anything, it's harder to get into the games industry than to get out because there is relatively more competition for gamedev jobs than for other sw dev jobs. So I would argue that if you can get in, you can get out, and when getting out you have the added advantage of being more experienced than when you got in.
The reason there is so much shovel-ware is because there are so many people interested in making games. So many individuals involved in shovel-ware are talented. Perhaps not the best artists, or game designers, but certainly have enough technical chops to do other work.
That's a capitalistic outlook though. I don't particularly subscribe to "choice" or "free will" in general though to be honest..
Maybe people are working themselves super-hard to make indie games, but it's self-directed and totally by individual choice. Tons of great indie games out there.
So are people working for regular employers making video games. There's just more people who want to make games than work on insurance calculation (etc) software. That's why wages are lower.
E.g. want to hire a union programmer for your 3-person team? Whole studio has to now follow union rules and bring all other developers into the union as well. Forever.
And it's not a case where you have the ability to strike, because if you did, someone will just come along and take your job.
The market is trying to tell you something, you just need to listen to it.
The gaming industry notoriously wildly swings from boom to bust.
I think if most of them could 'tick a box and join the union' they would - whereas actually establishing a union would be hard, yes.
There could be some terrible fallout as well - companies shutting down studios and opening up another one elsewhere etc..
It's not as clear-cut as "unions are always good for all workers."
Game devs are hardest hit by bad conditions, but every worker in every company would benefit from collective negotiation -- use your imagination, you could have a much higher salary, more flexibility in your workplace, more autonomy, you name it. That's what unions do, they let you bargain for the things you can't as an individual.
Lamentably, there's still a lot of folks in the software field who see themselves as the rock star, rather than the rank and file.
Also lamentably, there's still a lot of perception that a union means: you can't fire dead weight (you can, you just have to follow a process), pay is based on seniority (doesn't have to be, but what's wrong with that anyway? we don't have a good way to measure productivity or value, so what other metric should we use?), that they're corrupt (they're democratic institutions, so they're as corrupt as the members make them), etc.
All of it anti-union propaganda that's been working pretty well for the last 40 years.
People in most tech firms are not clamouring for a union.
When people are talking about it, it's for a reason.
If you make a movie, everyone involved is 'union'.
I don't see why gaming should be any different.
Of course unions can be corrupt, but the only thing more corrupt than a union is management.
In that case you could view union membership as insurance, in case you ever lose that great job. Keep in mind that your local pipefitters union is not the only model out there - SAG-AFTRA seems to work for actors/actresses across a broad range of income, experience, and talent levels.
Worked over a decade in indie films, never heard of any producer having a problem getting SAG to recognize paperwork.
The C++ guys working on the engine, sure. But they are a minority and the rest don’t have easily transferable skills.
While I hope that the issues you mention above plus the cycle of game launching after a massive deadline crunch leading to development teams searching for new jobs (ie less stability), I don't know that it will happen. Why? People buying games.
Personally, I tend to buy the top tier of a game if for no other reason than they typically include the game/season pass (or whatever branding they go with) so that I don't have to manage it after the fact, of the games or expansions I bought recently, they've been the highest tier available: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, State of Decay 2, World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth, Tekken 7, Destiny 2 Forsaken (which I really haven't played. Still in the Osiris area. Eh, oh well), Ghost Recon Wildlands, The Division. To me, the fidelity of the graphics and scope of the games (in that most everyone is chasing epic stories now and if it isn't 30+ hours, it is too short) means the price should bump up beyond $60 so while the tiers of games seems like a dirty move, it seems to me that it is so they can sell you $60 worth* of a $100 game instead of you looking at a $100 game and scoffing entirely.
So basically, until people purchasing games are willing to accept that a AAA game in 2019 takes more resources to create than a AAA game in 2009, I don't see this ever getting better.
* the $60 version is a full game and not 60% of one though so in reality at that price point you're getting way more value.
This has become a meme at this point , but has anyone actually studied this in any type of academic or scientific manner? There are plenty of the games that have DLC, after release support, or any number of other revenue streams that would 100% be considered "complete games" by any reasonable standard. I know it is anecdotal, but compare Zelda: Breath of the Wild to Zelda: Ocarina of Time or FIFA 19 to FIFA 08. The release versions of the two newer games were probably more complete than the older versions even though they have DLC and micro-transactions respectively while the older were "done on release". In those two cases the extra revenue streams are helping to justify and pay for the continued support of the newer games.
 - https://www.ranker.com/list/dlc-memes-gaming/robert-carneval...
But, the crunch does not happen because it would be effective. It is not effective way to create something. It happen because of mismanagement and culture that glorifies it - both among managers and workers. Crunch is more related to desorganization and lack of trust then something that would be smart to do.
Diablo 3 base game - if you beat that, have you not beat the game? The DLC adds a new act to it, but for all intents and purposes it is an add on to a game.
I've never seen content held back or cut out of a main release explicitly for the purpose of including in DLC. What sometimes happens is that features or half-finished content that the team decided to cut from the game is revisited for DLC. From my perspective as a game developer, modern games are never finished but at some point you have to start shipping things. DLC is an opportunity to explore ideas that would have otherwise been left on the cutting room floor, and provide some stability for large teams as they ramp down from full production.
Games made in 2019 have a larger audience than games made in 2009. I don't pay 600 dollars for a ticket to see a movie with a 300 million dollar budget. I pay the same as a movie with a 10 million dollar budget. Memento had a 9m dollar budget; I have not been 30x more entertained with a movie than Memento.
once we end up with an equal number of
over supplied software engineers.
As an employer I want to be able to fire toxic or under-performing employees at will without jumping through a hundred hoops to make sure I am not breaking any union rules.
As an employee, I want to be free to negotiate my own wages based on my merit.
If there is one thing I would want a union to do it would be to collectively enforce some kind of profit sharing plan. The interests of the employees and the employer align -- make a great game that sells well. Anything else, no thanks.
You're management/executive at this point. It is obviously in your interest to be anti-union.
It is also the case that unions serve the interests of those who are not "rock star developers" more than those who are.
> It is also the case that unions serve the interests of those who are not "rock star developers" more than those who are.
I'm not convinced in the current market that those interests need serving to the detriment of the better devs. Were the employers in a more favorable position I could see a different view. But right now any half-way capable dev (i.e. not "rock star") has plenty of current advantages sans union.
What else can you imagine beyond compensation or job security that could be improved in the lot of a software developer? Maybe even some things could yield productivity benefits that management would like if they could see their way through it? And if some of these things are more likely with collective bargaining, why would you rule it out as a tool?
> if some of these things are more likely with collective bargaining, why would you rule it out as a tool?
Because of all the negative externalities that happen to some employees and employers. If it was all upside there would be no reason. It's not ruled out as a tool, just its use in the current dev (general, maybe not game specific) market.
We shouldn't pretend that what a union wants is arbitrarily disjointed from the individual interests of its members, either.
Every collective has the potential to depart from individual preferences in some way. How much that happens varies in practice.
And it's pretty likely that your employment agreements are not an exception, even if you've arrived at them without any collective work on your side.
> Leaving at-will firings on the table for instance is unlikely to garner popular support.
This assumes the only incentive for joining a union is ultimate job security. That's a popular anti-union conception, but that doesn't make it correct. Any popular benefit that is not commonly conferred could provide a cohesion point for collective bargaining.
> I personally don't want specific severance requirements for those fired, otherwise you end up with defacto unfire-able situations because you've artificially increased the cost to remove a bad employee.
Increasing the cost of something is very different from making it defacto impossible. Though it is one way of providing an incentive against doing something arbitrarily. And it's not clear a negotiated price for firing would be any more "artificial" than any other negotiated price, up to and including your salary.
> I don't want to force them to run their company a certain way by rule, I'll just voice displeasure and leave if necessary.
That's pretty much how unions work. It just turns out to have more leverage if you multiply it by the size of the participating workforce.
> Due to the vast differences in employer packages and the freedom of choice given to the employee in the current demand-heavy market
Again, the freedom of individually negotiated compensation can co-exist with collective bargaining. A sibling comment even points out examples.
How great did those rockstar employees do when google and other massive companies engaged in anti-poaching agreements to drive salaries down? How good do they do when they end up divorced and miserable after putting in yet another 2 months of 100 hour work weeks?
Unionization doesn't stop illegal collusion, prosecution stops illegal collusion. What is with all the appeal to emotion with divorced, miserable, 100 hour work weeks, etc? Most employees did just fine anyways. Every single job would get value out of a union if the justification is simply saying "but tell that to the employee that was divorced, overworked, blah blah emotional language". At a macro level there are practical concerns.
The anti-union propaganda did an amazing job at making most people think that all unions were like the corrupt Teamsters unions of NYC and Chicago, when most of them are nothing at all like that.
Most employees did just fine anyways.
Categorically false. Most employees did fine because unions negotiated the labor rules that led to those "fine" working conditions. Those conditions have worsened as unions have lost their leverage.
You could make that same argument against the concept of defense lawyers. How would you feel if you had to defend yourself against criminal charges without a lawyer? Do you think justice would be served if you had to go it alone against a well-funded, experienced team of prosecutors who want to convict?
Yes, defense lawyers aren't perfect and can't stop all prosecutorial misconduct, but they still help a lot. Ditto with unions.
And unions have labor lawyers. Wouldn't it help the prosecution to add positions whose job would be to identify such issues, and which have visibility across employers?
Today, without a union, how would you as an individual ever know if companies are colluding against you and other workers? What would you do to cause this offense to be prosecuted?
> Every single job would get value out of a union if the justification is simply saying ...
I agree with this sentence, but I draw from it the opposite conclusion. I think most jobs would get value out of a union.
I don't understand your logic here. If something is desirable for everyone, then everyone should do it. We shouldn't assume it's not possible for everyone, and therefore conclude that it must not have been desirable in the first place.
If they unionize, game developers are most likely to copy the union/guild format of Hollywood unions, which provide salary and health protections but otherwise let the members determine employment terms on their own (i.e., contracts for days, weeks, full projects, long-term, or open-ended are all acceptable).
The current unionization efforts provide almost no details on their goals beyond "everything will be better for everyone". On either end of the employee/employer relationship I have a hard time seeing how anyone can support such a generic effort.
A hard stance on working conditions and compensation is a starting point for a real conversation. The majority of employees would have no problem supporting this, and since I already value work/life balance and fair compensation, my motives and interests would align.
The community theatre down the street doesn't require every performer to be an cardholding AEA member, and it wouldn't make financial sense for anyone involved (management, workers, or audiences) for that to change. The mere existence of a union doesn't necessarily change anything unless workers want it to change.
For big game dev companies that have repeatedly shown that they don't believe in treating people fairly, this would bring professional representation to the workers' side. Even if the details are light at this point, I don't see how you can be against that in principle. The employer/employee relationship is inherently asymmetric, and this attempts to correct for that.
If I were a small non-union indie shop and I was lucky enough that some highly talented AAA developer wanted to work with me, I would be unable to hire him if he's union unless I converted my entire shop over to be union. If I didn't, he would be in direct violation of his union contract and could be fined or lose his membership.
I understand that not every union functions the same, but it is not hard to imagine that wherever there is a lot of money at stake the union will do everything in it's power, to well, seize power.
Considering the movie industry is dwarfed by the video game industry from a revenue point of view, I can very easily imagine this scenario repeating itself.
I've never heard of unions working like this, this may be a US-specific thing. Unions are just workers right groups, if the company is big, the group is inside the company, if it's too small, you just apply to the local union. They help to negotiate better laws and benefits for the whole industry & also directly at a company level in big companies.
I don't work in gaming though. I would love to, but the pay for business development is frankly better with a lot less stress. I wouldn't mind seeing a push legislating that any salaried worker in a week must be granted an extra paid day off at 45 hours and each 5 hours above in a single week. That would stop, or at least compensate, the abuse.
Addressing overwork at the legislative level would get my support if there were a way to trade pain now for benefit later (e.g. your extra time off suggestion).
Maybe unions can be useful after all!
Even railroads and textile mills didn’t ask their employees to work 80 hour work weeks.
Where I've worked we valued work/life balance as much as possible. Did we have a bit of crunch close to a release? Yep, but it was short and a few weeks at max. Most of us enjoyed it due to the extra camaraderie.
If there were a unionization effort that focused on 1) a hard 40-50 hour cap on work hours (or with paid overtime) and 2) enforced profit sharing plans, I could support it.
The current main unionization effort basically says "things will be better for everyone" on their FAQ. Total bullshit.
Literally every time I had a 3-4mo 80-100hour crunch it always started out with "we're going to push for a week or two" which just transitioned into "just one more week" for the next 3 months.
Also, shame for celebrating a crunch. You may have enjoyed it but there's a high likelyhood someone else went along just to not "rock the boat". I don't care who you are putting in more hours puts stress on other parts of your life.
I just don't understand how that industry has their head up their ass from top to bottom for such a long time. There's some interesting problems in that space but after my 6 years I'd never go back.
I worked for five years at early and late stage startups before transitioning to games, and I cannot recall there ever being a time when extra work was not needed to get over the finish line.
If a union ends up being the only way chronic overwork can be addressed in the industry at large, so be it. Perhaps the real solution though is a legislative one, as suggested below.
I worked at such company too. It had zero to do with need for overtime and and a lot to do with people wanting to work this way. E.g. unwillingness to prioritize, unwillingness to negotiate, wish to be seen like the one who stays late and thus finding work to stay late when not needed. Overtime is not seen as failure of organization, so the organization does not learn how to do it. People staying late are seen as heros and people managing projects so that overtime is not needed are not rewarded, so latter leave and former create culture.
To large extend, people who stay in such companies don't believe it is possible to make deadline without overtime, so they are not even trying.
Show me any project with dynamic requirements that has some sort of deadline, be it time or money running out, and I guarantee there has been some extra work at some point.
Prioritization, negotiation and saying no. Estimates large enough that they have buffers. You don't need on hour predictability. It is precisely when you have dynamic requirements when you are supposed to use tools like that.
After crunch, there are typically many bugs and convoluted code. It just adds to overall time in long term. Pretty much all studies found crunch to not be effective. It is not about achieving more.
Fuck yeah it's "just work".
I want my employees and coworkers to be happy, healthy and well actualized so that when they're at work they're focused and giving it 100%. Plenty of hard business data there shows that when you make sure someone's time outside of work is well respected they'll perform much better on the job.
Burnout and turnover can have a brutal impact on an company/organization's ability to execute, the list goes on. You're also self-selecting for a workforce that has the flexibility, which means your viewpoint is a lot less diverse.
This is the same crunch bullshit I got fed before in that industry.
What if you were a single dad?
What if you had an elder family member to take care of?
What if you were living paycheck to paycheck and had a second job to be able to make rent?
I've found some of the best teams I was on had a diverse set of people who bring their unique perspectives into the fold. Otherwise you could end up with a racist soap dispenser.
> What if you were a single dad?
> What if you had an elder family member to take care of?
As I mentioned above, family takes priority. If your team is so immature that they feel resentful when another member can't work those two extra hours a day because their Dad is sick, you've got another set of problems.
> What if you were living paycheck to paycheck and had a second job to be able to make rent?
This is a bit of a stretch. We are limiting the scope of our discussion to workers in the game industry. If you need two jobs to make rent in this scenario, find a way to cut expenses.
I'll hazard that the answer is low, because the industry self-selects for people who are willing to take abuse for 'prestige'. They take pride in it, just the same way you did.
> This is a bit of a stretch. We are limiting the scope of our discussion to workers in the game industry.
Yes, yes we are. My first job in the industry was $35k/hr as a dev and I've seen worse salaries for design or art.
Let me pose a question to you. How would you live in Seattle, on $35k/yr in a way that one accident/major expense wouldn't put you in a situation where you're living paycheck to paycheck? Keep in mind an average 1br apartment is ~$1800/mo so you're going to be well over 50% income : housing ratio.
For that reason you have people who work second jobs or have other commitments to be able to make their rent.
And $35k for a dev job? When was this, and if it was anytime even remotely recent why on earth did you accept? A new QA hire at my last job would've made more than that.
You don't live in Seattle proper if you are making $35k. Live in a suburb on the line. Don't have a car payment if you can avoid it. And to pull that income : housing ratio down get roommates. I have done this.
And frankly this is a pretty silly argument to make in a discussion around why game developers should unionize.
But crunch is normally defined as sustained overtime - articles I seen it require it to be over 6 weeks. So it is quite a lot of time.
If I wanted a predictable job that always has upfront hours, I suppose I could go back to making hourly minimum wage with zero benefits.
>The current main unionization effort basically says "things will be better for everyone" on their FAQ. Total bullshit.
What is your familiarity with how a union works? An industry-wide unionization effort cannot effectively state what the future will hold.
When employees decide to try to organize a union within their company, they decide what the issues are. Their task is to convince their coworkers to join the union, so they will be focusing on the pain points unique to their own employment situation. Maybe in one company, it's crunch time, while in another, it's keeping a more consistent labor force despite project sizes changing wildly over time.
The new union will then negotiate a contract on behalf of its members. Each new union will be focusing on different things.
An industry-wide organizational effort that focuses on work hours and profit sharing would not catch the interest employees at a shop with good hours, good pay, but zero job protections and inadequate health coverage (for example).
What's to stop the same thing repeating itself in a game developers union?
At the same job, another employee, young apprentice, was found napping. He popped awake and was apologetic. Partied too hard the night before. The foreman sent him on a coffee run to get his head together. He wasn't fired, presumably because the foreman never reported him, and (at least for the rest of that job) it never happened again. Almost 20 years later, he still probably gets shit for it.
Bad employees can coast by in any job, especially hourly ones where the upper management is rarely onsite with the workforce. First dude got fired in short order despite the job protections. Second dude didn't, but (to my knowledge) not because of any union regs.
Anyway, I digress. There is, of course, nothing preventing some union horror story from taking place. There is also nothing preventing even worse labor exploitation from taking place (and we're already at 80+ hour weeks in some cases).
The biggest difference, though, is the labor market itself. The laborers in construction unions are temporary hires for a specific job. At the same time, most construction unions are craft unions with apprenticeships, where each new employee represents a risk/investment to training that person for many years. Nepotism abounds, because if you train a new hire for, say, two years, then they wash out of the program or leave to study engineering, they could have spent that time and energy training someone else.
By contrast, I would expect most gaming unions to look more like a public employees' union. It would represent permanent employees of a company, likely salaried. Not much would change in the hiring process outside contact negotiation. You get the job? Congrats, you can join the union.
In my ~6 years in the industry I don't know of a single coworker in the entire Seattle area who didn't run into a project that underwent serious crunch. Sample size of ~400 people or so.
I've also got longtime friends who broke in separately from me(and worked on some high profile stuff) in the SF/Bay area that say the exact same thing.
They're also free to bargain collectively. Why should 'freedom' mean capital consolidates and organizes as much as it likes, while labour is reduced to isolated workers making individual choices?
The cold business logic says to consolidate and make partnerships/business unions.
> I don't like doing this, so nobody else is allowed to do this for you either.
Unions very often prevent non-union labor and, as such, enforce their own desires on others. Don't get me wrong, sometimes that's necessary. But there are negatives involved in unions, just like there are positives.
It's also not as simple as "you're free to leave". Most people working in the games industry are young. Many of them do live paycheck to paycheck. In many cases they may have also moved across the country for the job. Quitting a job is in and of itself a substantial risk for many people.
There is a reason we have worker protection laws. That reason is that companies can and will abuse workers without them. This has been proven time and time again.
They knew this industry was like this before they accepted the job. Why do we need to protect people from their own poor decisions? These aren't people who lacked opportunity and got stuck in a bad place in life and need a helping hand, these are highly privileged people who willingly signed up for mistreatment.
Yep. And they are allowing it by not unionizing.
What is the skill gap that a software engineer working in games would have moving elsewhere? The only one I think of would be domain experience in TDD and unit testing. Neither is widely practiced in game development, but they aren't universal for software development more generally either.
Two things wrong with this.
1) Professional unions, such as Hollywood and sports unions, do not establish rigid payscales like non-professional unions. They set a salary floor and some basic guidelines for non-salary pay (e.g. residuals are typically mandated). If game developers unionize, the union will likely be a professional union.
2) Salary negotiation is intensely problematic, and many companies are doing away with it, union or no. For example, Reddit a few years ago eliminated negotiation in favor of delivering their best offer from the start. Salary negotiation has sexist biases and rewards people for skills that A) have nothing to do with the skills that are required for the job and B) not everyone qualified for the job possesses. Salary negotiation is about enabling employers to pay employees lower salaries; it benefits the employer entirely and not the employee. And that goes back to pnathan's comment: the whole point of unions is to act in the interest of the employees against the employer, so the whole "as an employer" section is ultimately irrelevant.
You mean like.... an employer?
> As an employer
> I run a very small indie game studio in Boulder, CO.
No one want's to protect under-performers for whom they'd have to pick up the slack. And no one wants their compensation set arbitrarily. Especially since in software anyone can jump ship and find performance based compensation somewhere else.
They just want to work the hours specified in the employment contract rather than being singled out in isolation from each other and required to work far beyond the amount contractually agreed on under threat of termination.
So you'd just have a group that discuses abusive uncompensated overtime and request changes in a united way. Because a single person complaining or quitting over mistreatment has zero impact.
This is a really important point as trying to represent a bunch of people’s opinion based on a single, limited survey is not productive.
I don't know enough about statistics to say how big the error bars would be here, but I'm constantly astonished by how well statistical methods can work with even seemingly small samples.
The population of gamedevs who go to a conference is probably not a random selection of gamedevs in general.
The sample is almost certainly biased, we just don't necessarily know how much and in what direction.
It seems like you'd have to know how conference attendees differ from the population of game developers you're interested in.
In 2016 the national polls were very close to the final result--within a couple points. Remember that Clinton won the popular vote.
State polls were less accurate, but the general consensus is they were wrong due to undecided voters breaking more for Trump than is normal in the final few days--after the final state polls were conducted.
That being said, your point stands. Sample method is generally more important than sample size, and 4,000 game devs who self selected to attend a conference is very unlikely to be a representative sample.
It seems to me the GP comment meant that because it was a survey among people who attended GDC it's not representative. If that is why they questioned it, I'd say it's an even more relevant survey, as those are the people who care more about the industry and have more influence. No mater how you slice it, I'd say it's an indicator not to be ignored.
You also have a whole category of "basic" games (like phone games or indy games) that are nominally (unadjusted) cheaper than a retail NES game for the full version. I'm not an expert on this category by any means but I bought a few games from the Switch store that are very comparable to an NES game for $5-20. That's only a max of $9 in 1988 dollars!!
I'd agree that "consumer [un]friendly practices" are still a problem though. (could be a case of a few "whales" making large purchases on stuff like loot boxes subsidizing everyone else)
DISCLAIMER: I only play single player console games.
But prices don't exist in a vacuum either. The gaming market has exploded and is vastly larger than it was back in 2006.
Steam found games were typically much more profitable when heavily discounted than when full price in general.
How much of content offered is sort of irrelevant. A better metric would be how many gamers buy these things. I'd guess quite a few since they keep going all in on the model (it's getting worse).
I've seen that on Reddit as well, you think companies have a year worth of content and holding onto it ... The content is just not ready / created.
Black ops 4 had one for $40. Can't seem to find historical info about civ6, but I know a "large expansion" was not included in the season pass.
Many unions and guilds have codes of professional ethics. A quick google finds this example:
Example of a modern non-American union where workers exert control to better the company over management decisions:
Both are thoughtfully argued and well worth watching.
I suspect loot boxes decrease the price of a game to the median player. I suspect that in many cases, they've reduced the modal and often even median price to $0.
The probably also increase the mean price, though.
Suppose you have 1 Billion in fixed costs and 1$ in per unit cost and are given two options. The equation is just (number sold) * (unit price - unit costs) and that 1 Billion dollar fixed cost is irrelevant when maximizing profit (or minimizing loss).
What it would do is reduce the number of games created, as the industry becomes slightly less profitable. Which would then spread consumer spending over fewer titles and thus recuperate the burden of a union.
It's not a myth. It just depends on whether the pricing is demand driven or supply driven. Commodity products absolutely have their prices set by costs (labor among them).
I see lots of AAA games loaded down with unnecessary cruft that adds little value to the overall experience and it makes me sad to think a bunch of poor devs probably had to grind through crunch to add it.
I expect it’ll be a little from both columns.
Think of a first-person shooter. You can add the ability to upgrade weapons and armor (a system) and add a fishing minigame to provide resources for upgrades (a new mode of play).
Specifically, look at Just Cause 4. Your basic systems core to the gameplay are shooting things, the grappling hook, the parachute, the wingsuit, and vehicles. The unnecessary cruft is stuff like your ability to upgrade the grappling hook, the deployment of squads to capture territory, and supply drops.
My impression is that AAA studios aren't stupid... they know that these extra systems and modes don't contribute much to the game. But they do contribute to customer's evaluation of whether the game is worth spending $60, and this contribute's to the bottom line. This is the same reason why manufacturers pack needless features into a product and skimp on core functionality. People are more likely to shop on the basis of feature lists than on the quality of core functionality.
This is why I'm skeptical... the unnecessary cruft is there because it drives purchasing decisions, so it's not going away unless you change the way people purchase games.
I think Ubisoft games are the worst at this. Tons of experimental or different game elements that don't contribute to the core game. You can play chess or other board games in the middle of Assassin's Creed III. It does nothing. They had this whole city-building subgame that added nothing. They had an inchoate pirate game in there that was actually engaging enough that they made an entire sequel centered on it, but it added nothing to the actual ACIII game itself.
I can see evidence of all sort of "wouldn't it be cool if. . ." features that really don't need to be there and I can't help but think that if PMs actually had to think through what they're trying to do with their game they wouldn't do this as much. Bioware actually admitted to this after Mass Effect 3, claiming that they had never managed with so many resources at hand before and they couldn't really resist the impulse to bite off more than they can chew. This led to them adding in a bunch of extraneous side-quests and stuff that they didn't really get a chance to put enough time in to do it justice or make it worth anyone's while.
When it comes to AAA games (which is who is really exploiting their employees rather than indies) it sounds like you're picking someone at random, (e.g. "Today's your lucky day Shading Engineer #4, please accept this venmo.")
The unfortunate side-effect is that smaller studios often charge much less for their titles than what they should in an effort to please customers who are conditioned to pay very little, and then can't make up for price in volume.
It's true. A lot of people complain about $60, but that's significantly cheaper than what NES games cost back in their heyday (adjusted for inflation).
And just look at not just team size and effort (probably 50-100x comparing modern AAA games to NES titles), but amount of content: most NES games used difficulty to pad out their length greatly; a gamer who's reasonably skilled at, say, Contra, can beat it in like 30-60 minutes. In comparison, a game these days with a 6 hour campaign is thought of as pretty short, and usually they have other content other than campaign: challenge modes, multiplayer, minigames, etc.
But if you're there to chase teenagers for their parent's money, or even just the lowest common denominator of gamer, you'll probably have a bad time. Those customers want very long campaigns, AAA graphics and as low of a price point as possible.
Last year, EA made over a billion dollars in profits. If they aren't using that money to improve the working conditions of developers, what makes you think the solution is to give them more money?
And that doesn't include any in-game transactions.
That's fairly disingenuous - the last game I bought at full price was Spiderman. A quick Google says the the average user on the default difficulty clears the story in about 20 hours.
Sper metroid came out in 1994 (25 years ago), and the same quick search says that most people will clear it in 8 hours or so.
Single player games today are also regularly putting out free balance patches (nioh), large free content updates(Gran Turismo) and smaller chunks of paid content that rival the size of other games for very reasonable amounts (Witcher 3).
Statistics show that most people never finish the games anyway (I certainly don't) so it's only fair that those people who must really play everything pay extra.
We all say we'll happily pay more for the same product. But those words often aren't backed up by actions.
Developers who actually sleep and spend weekends with their families produce a better product than those who just accept dead marches. If managers are aware that they can not get away with those shenanigans it's possible that we'll actually get better games.
The point is, though, many people are willing to put up with that "bullshit" (which, judging by what you say later, mostly revolves around working hours contrary to what you write in this first paragraph). As much as we try to convince ourselves that crunch time and long hours don't work, plenty of studios demonstrate that is does. RDR2 is probably one of the best games of 2018 and it relied on crunch time. At the end of the day, a studio that can't demand crunch time is going to be at a disadvantage compared to those that can.
In an ideal world we'd all have well paying jobs in fields we love that offer good work life balance. But we don't live in the ideal world, we live in the real one. And many game developers are willing to make the sacrifice of long working hours.
What a lot of people don't realize is that unions can also cause wage suppression when they decide that more members working is better than fewer members working at higher pay.
I expect this trend to continue along the lines sketched out by the film industry: smaller core teams with specialized support studios/groups brought onto projects as needed and heavy use of contractors to scale staffing at different points of the project. This works in Hollywood in large part due to the union protections afforded to that temporary workforce, from actors to camera operators to screen writers.
As it stands now, video game development looks a lot like the (film) VFX industry and I think both are in an untenable place for long term sustainability. Something needs to change and I think organizations like SAG are a model for that.
General software development gets moved overseas and comes back all the time.
Software development is hard. Pushing it to a cheaper third party usually increases costs a lot in the long term due to the increase is development complexity and generally a decrease in worker skill.
A strong union can also prevent companies from moving some jobs overseas.
The Witcher 3 was a pretty good game (Polish developers) - many would call that an understatement. The Uncharted series since 2 or 3 relied heavily on outsourced development (especially for art assets). Arma 3 was developed by Czech devs. These countries probably produce lower budget games on average, and don't have lots of existing infrastructure to leverage. But that makes what they have accomplished all the more impressive given what they were working with.
What makes you so confident in the class that developers in countries with lower costs of living are worse than ones in wealthy countries? Do you think that Polish or Bulgarian developers are on average worse than American ones, and it so do you have something to back up that claim?
General software development also isn't unionized. As soon is it is, moving overseas becomes vastly more attractive.
> Software development is hard. Pushing it to a cheaper third party usually increases costs a lot in the long term due to the increase is development complexity and generally a decrease in worker skill.
What's actually harder about outsourcing is management and quality control. The developers in cheaper countries aren't somehow inherently worse.
Many publishers have studios around the world, working on entire games by themselves. Why keep funding an expensive studio in the US that's getting unionized? That better be high caliber, which most studios aren't.
> A strong union can also prevent companies from moving some jobs overseas.
Maybe in a big monolithic company, but that's not how game publishers operate.