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Making Video Games Is Not a Dream Job (nytimes.com)
537 points by hourislate 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 484 comments



> For many kids who grew up with controllers in their hands, being a game developer is a dream job, so when it comes to talent, supply is higher than demand

This is basically the reason for low wages in quite a few 'passion' driven industries. If a job is something enough people want to do, then talent is cheap and plentiful and companies can provide low wages and poor conditions that for every person who quits, ten more are lining up for the 'opportunity'.

You can see this in all manner of arts or entertainment based fields, since there are far more people wanting to become artists/musicians/writers/whatever than there is demand for their services. You can see it in journalism, where in many cases organisations will try and get work done for free, and will pay so little that living off said wages is virtually impossible in a major city if you don't have a trust fund (though admittedly the huge increase in competition from the internet puts pressure there). And I even recall people saying it's one reason teaching wages aren't too high either.

Unionisation may help, but the only practical solution is for people to stop taking on terrible jobs because of some sense of 'passion', and to go where their skills are appreciated/where they're treated better/fairly compensated.


> the only practical solution is for people to stop taking on terrible jobs because of some sense of 'passion'

So the “practical” solution is to change human nature? That doesn’t sound right. It’d be like saying that the practical solution to human trafficking is for people to stop visiting prostitutes; or that the solution to gangs’ drug income is for people to stop buying drugs.

In all these cases, you can quash supply; or you can constrain and regulate the way that the supply supplies, so that it doesn’t hurt people in the process; but—even in the most totalitarian state you can imagine—you can’t quash demand. Humans gonna want what humans gonna want.

In this case, the demand is “the ability to express myself to a huge audience.” People are willing to pay to do that. Because of that, they see any job where they get to do it as a net positive, even if the job is horrible. Because, in essence, they’re taking the original trade they had in mind (paying to reach an audience) and then balancing out an increase in the troublesomeness of doing that, with a payment for dealing with that troublesomeness that moves the needle all the way from “paying for” to “being paid for.”


>In this case, the demand is “the ability to express myself to a huge audience.” People are willing to pay to do that. Because of that, they see any job where they get to do it as a net positive, even if the job is horrible.

This is true for any job that is just an extension of a hobby. People put on local community theater productions in their spare time because they find it fun and fulfilling. You don't have to pay people to do that, so the pay for people to do it professionally would naturally be low in a free market system.

Do you know another profession like that? Software development. People spend countless hours working on open source software for free just because they like it. The open source community saves businesses billions in labor costs every year. Would anyone suggest we get rid of the open source community so developers could be better compensated? We are just lucky enough that the global demand for general software development is much higher than the demand for video game development or theater/TV/movies that it can offset these other factors.


See also photography, writing, art, etc. Some professionals are in fact resentful to greater or lesser degrees of amateurs willing to work for free (either just for fun or because it's useful to them professionally for reputational or other reasons).

I asked a journalist I knew whether he minded the fact that people like myself publish articles/blogs for free in publications that also have paid staff/freelancers. His response was basically "That ship sailed long ago." But there are definitely people who feel more strongly that people having "fun" are taking food off their family's plate.


Photography has been hit hard this last decade, with IG blowing up and everybody having a half decent camera in their pockets all the time, AND knowing exactly where to go to get high quality shots. For most people it's about replicating the exact formula, vs doing something original, but that's actually pretty common for every art form. It's simply more visible in photo than in other creative endeavors: https://www.instagram.com/insta_repeat/

Seems to me that if you want to "be special/be paid/be known" in your art form, you need to pick the ones that are enjoyable to you AND have a significant moat, or barrier to entry. e.g. making complex pieces of music, assuming you're not stitching together prefabs from Splice, is actually much harder than pulling your phone out. Same thing with shooting, color grading, and cutting a great video, that's MUCH harder than shooting a frame and applying a filter. Same with doing a beautiful sketch or painting, that takes years of practice.

Photo cameras used to be moats a long time ago, when they were bulky, expensive, a novelty, and the development of film was not as straightforward. But now, it's gotten 100% democratized.


I fully agree with all that. I was photo editor of my undergrad paper back in the day and just the mechanics of shooting film, developing it, printing it required quite a bit of knowledge just to get to output that was reasonably competent technically.

Of course, go back pre-35mm and that was even more the case but--as you say--even just a phone takes precent decent pictures for at least certain types of shots if you even halfway know what you're doing. I have tons of equipment and even I just default to my iPhone a lot of the time for casual "memory" type shots.


The sheer quantity of shots changes everything. Back in the day of film, a pro could burn a roll of film for a single usable shot (maybe). An amateur had development and printing combined (expensive) and had to make every shot count, leading to most shots being of a staged and unnatural variety.


For B&W, it actually wasn't quite that bad with 35mm relative to today. For something like a football game, I might have shot 5 rolls (so 200 frames or so). Random assignments for a given day a roll or two. You made contact prints and printed up what was needed.

Definitely a bigger consideration than today but it's not all about quantity.


I’m a photographer by hobby and you very often see people wanting to hire someone good but who isn’t expecting to make a living at it with offers like “I’ll let you shoot my event to help build your portfolio, and all you have to do is give me a copy of all the photos.” Or alternatively offering something like $100 for four hours to do lifestyle street shoots.

I don’t know how often they are successful at getting photographers for these types of things but I know that if I were going to shoot for those kinds of wages I would rather donate my time to a charity that I support.


"For the exposure/to build your portfolio." Uggh.

To be clear, I sometimes shoot events for free as a favor. And I sometimes shoot concerts or sporting events just because I feel like it. And if you find my photos on Flickr I'll probably give you permission to use them for free. (Though if you want to pay me, that's fine too and I do sometimes get annoyed with the presumption that I'm not going to ask for a fee.) But I'm probably not going to take you up on a minimum wage offer unless it were something I was going to do anyway.


The general sentiment here seems (to me, anyway) to be that photography is one of those things that many people _are_ going to do anyway, which is why it's very difficult to be highly paid for it.

If so many people are willing to do something for free, is it really fair to vilify someone for inquiring as to whether you are one of those people?


For the most part, yes.

In general, my doing something that I want to do for free is different (usually) from you asking me to do a job that you want done for free.

Now, of course, there can be exchanges that don't involve money changing hands. Perhaps part of the deal is that I get into a concert (or whatever) for free and that may be perfectly reasonable. I do attend events on media passes on the (implicit) condition I'll publish a story about some aspect of the event.


"You can die from exposure, you know."


Do you _really_ think your photography job deserves the same hourly wage as an engineer or manager?


What quality freelance developer or manager in the US takes 4 hour jobs for even close to $25 per hour, in a customer choosen location?


I think his gist is that, of course a developer should expect to be paid more than that because they're special. But photographers just click pictures so they should be grateful to make anything at all.


There's a little more to being a photographer than clicking a button, but it might not look like that from the outside. It's like calling basketball "just tossing a ball around".


Programming is just glorified copy and paste, so it has more in common with photography than you think.


I'm not keen on how most professional photographers for these events don't point out they'll retain copyright on all shots. I know what that means, but they let their customers find out when they aren't allowed to get raw/negatives or prints from anyone else.

I'll take a work for hire option, thanks, without the attitude that it's an art and they're above that.


Exploitation, then.


You mean a straightforward negotiation.


25 an hour might be a good rate for someone starting out. I do programming work that takes that long and charge less than that amount.


In all fairness, when I was an undergrad long ago I earned beer money doing various photography-related jobs for the alumni association and other such groups for not a lot of money. But, today, $100 to go somewhere, spend 4 hours doing something you otherwise probably aren't interested in doing, and probably spend the rest of the day editing? $100 for basically a day really isn't great money unless there were some reason you wanted to do the job and the money was just a little something extra.


Do yourself a favor and spend a few of those hours researching how much you can reasonably charge for programming work.


> Or alternatively offering something like $100 for four hours to do lifestyle street shoots.

I personally think that's not a terrible offer. $25/hour to stand around clicking pictures? It's a lot easier than most work people do for minimum wage, first, and secondly it's not like you have massive film costs or need a ton of technical knowledge anymore. 99% of the shots people want can be accomplished with stock or relatively cheap lenses, too; you don't have to be a gear-head who spends all their profits on their kit for no appreciable difference in how much people are willing to pay.

Most of us don't have $500-1000 to pay a photographer so we simply don't bother and rely on friends and family for it. I might consider getting professional pictures of my family if it didn't cost the obscene amount that it does. There's probably a market on the volume, low-cost side that simply isn't being tapped because photographers are often such dilettantes.

For someone who wants to break into photography, finding a steady supply of low-paid jobs to build up the portfolio and their name recognition for word-of-mouth marketing is probably the best way to go. You wouldn't want to be running at these wage levels for more than a year, but to start, well, there's certainly worse paths.


>$25/hour to stand around clicking pictures?

I'm going to assume good intent but that's an incredibly condescending remark. Just so you know.

How about if I offer a trained developer $25/hour to write me some software? It's just sitting and typing.


Depends where you are. Pretty sure I've made under $25/hr most of my development career. And that was just fine, in the Atlantic City, NJ area, because the cost of living was pretty low and I had no interest in moving or commuting to a big city.

EDIT: Although I guess it might've been a bit more if you include the value of health insurance and such.


Why do you assume that the parent was talking about your photography ability, and not their own?


They were talking about the act in general.


It's almost never a good idea to start by charging less. The people who don't want to pay your rates are just looking for the easiest excuse and weren't going to become customers anyway.

The bulk of commercial photographers' work are weddings. A run-of-the-mill wedding probably costs about 50k, so to have nice pictures from it you'll spend maybe 10% (?) on a photographer. So 5k for a day and a half of work? This puts a lower bound on other photo shoots as well, since there is never going to be a shortage of weddings.


I'm not sure exactly how to interpret "the bulk of commercial photographers' work are weddings".

Do you mean by total revenue, or for a given photographer?

I ask because in general people who do weddings tend to focus on those almost exclusively for their income (the same is true for some of the other categories I mention below).

The way I think of it is that there are perhaps only a few sources of steady income that pays a livable salary with photography:

- weddings

- headshots

- real-estate

- advertising / marketing

In many cases either photographers are being asked to do more these days (e.g. write the editorial that the photographs go with) or people who wouldn't traditionally have photography as part of their job are being asked to do the photographic work on top of their existing responsibilities (e.g. journalists who are asked to bring a camera along and snap some shots for a story).

[EDIT: I am not sure where the day and a half of work figure comes from, either. It is typical for something like an edited/touched-up photo album to be delivered a few weeks after a wedding shoot, with the photographer doing a few shoots in between and then sitting down and editing several in a batch over the course of a week or two until they are happy with the results.]


And the type of software people make for free is not the same software people get paid to create.

I bet few people would be eager to develop banking software on their free time for instance.


People would not want to build banking software for a specific company; however, if banks were to describe their problems in a sufficiently well defined way, people would cheerfully build various 'bank frameworks' for free. Some college student would happily have it on their resume.

This of course would have to have banks be more open about how they operate, so it probably won't happen.

This is to say, it's not really the type of software that is the issue, but rather lack of openness about the problem domain.


Might be starting to happen more than you think.

AMQP (messaging) came out of JPMC and other financial institutions

Financial institutions are also involved in blockchain projects

Another random example: https://developer.capitalone.com/open-source/


Also Goldman Sachs just announced they'd be releasing some additional software on Github: https://www.fnlondon.com/articles/goldmans-trading-floor-is-...


> This of course would have to have banks be more open about how they operate,

As someone for whom the day job involves working on projects for investment banks and other regulated industries, I'd say this is not the first problem that needs to be solved.

> if banks were to describe their problems in a sufficiently well defined way

THIS is often the problem. They often don't know exactly what they want. Well, many people in the company think know what is needed/wanted but most of them don't agree with each other (and if they do they probably don't agree on priorities) beyond the rules set by the regulators (which are usually deliberately "non prescriptive", which is to say "vague"). They often have long lists of what they don't want, but no proper specification of what they do want.

The larger organisations are often so siloed that the left hand doesn't know which foot the right hand is pointing a gun at and no one really knows which elbow they are collectivly sat on. When a project to clean things up starts it is usually populated by people seconded from elsewhere who either still have that job to do so can't commit themselves to the matter in the concentrated way required to deal with it properly, or are not close enough to the problem to have a full understanding of the nitty-gritty details and the interactions between those details. And sometimes those details are very difficult to find until they bite you due to the amount of legacy systems these groups have dotted around, especially in cases where organisations have formed from many mergers & acquisitions over the years.

They don't want to openly share this state because it would be a public embarrassment. Of course, it is hardly a well-kept secret: they all know what state each other are in, as do those of us slowly trying to fix it and the consultants (internal and external to the organisations) making piles out of part-way fixing it (often by reinventing the problem space in new and expensively interesting ways!). But still they don't want it to be any more an open secret than can be avoided.

I assume large organisations in other industries are similarly afflicted. It is human nature (we often don't individually know exactly what we want) magnified by scale.

"It can't be that hard, can it?" you would be forgiven for asking.

"Oh, but it can", I assure you!

As others have pointed out elsewhere in the thread: things are improving, particularly in specific areas where new ideas are forcing, or at least allowing, more radical rethinks. But overall it'll be a complete mess for some time to come.


There's a lot more overlap than I'd have predicted 30 years ago.

There are very good open source databases, content management systems, web servers, full text corpus search systems, operating systems, and 100s of other "kind of boring" things that a 20 year old version of me would assume people would need to be paid to create. (Some of those are a crossover where a substantial portion of the development was originally paid, of course, but many others are not.)


They are often paid to create these things, by their employers. They then open source them to in the hope of getting free engineering resources from other companies that care about the same thing.


Operating systems and programming languages do come in the cool catagory


Every one of those things falls into the cool category for some subset of the programming population.


The common attribute is that these things are generic. That is not an attribute most software has.


> I bet few people would be eager to develop banking software on their free time for instance.

If a bank found someone who was eager to develop its software for free, it would have a pretty good reason to question their motives.


I bet lots of people will contribute to open source banking software if creating a bank were not extremely regulated so creating public open source bank were legal.

In that case, banking software would be very useful for the community and people will help.

The fact that something is boring has nothing to do with it. There are few things as boring as developing operating systems like Hurd or developing Wayland and dealing all day with bugs and bugs and more bugs.

Of course, people is not going to create banking software if the only ones who benefit are private companies that give nothing in return.

There must be a good reason. Something that provides the sense of deep meaning for your work. Working for free so a private company could profit out of your work does not.


It's not about creating the software, so much as supporting it.


The way I look at it is that my employer isn't paying me to "make X", they're paying me so I'm not doing anything else.


The way I usually put it is "I'll happily code for free, but if you want me to code up your ideas, you have to pay me more than all the other folks that want me to code up theirs."

Interestingly this holds up even though I'm now coding up my own ideas - even though I'm calling the shots on what I work on, they're still constrained by what there's potentially a market for, and so it's still not really passion coding. If I were completely free of constraints, I'd do stuff that's more useless, more prestigious, more beautiful, with fewer corner cases and fewer dependencies on outside software. That's economically unviable (and kinda solipsistic, too), so I don't.


It works that way for me too. I’m (among other things) a game developer, and a few years ago someone asked me how much it’ll cost to make a game for them after looking my name up from one of the games I’ve made.

I gave them a quote without thinking too much (“$100/h, maybe a bit less if it’s something really interesting”[0]) and they were shocked, saying something like “I didn’t think you made that much money from these games!”. Well, if I did I wouldn’t be taking on contract work to begin with but you’re not getting the same rate as my own projects :)

[0] these days it would be more like $150/h.


> People spend countless hours working on open source software for free just because they like it.

Some people create or contribute as part of their job. If the job requires new software, the company doesn't want to sell the software, and the developer thinks others could use it, then why not open source?


Because open sourcing that code is taking work away from future software developers. The second company which needs that software would otherwise have to pay employees to build it or purchase it from third party software developers. The person open sourcing the software is therefore lowering the global demand for software developers which hurts the wages of all software developers.

For the record, I don't think this means we should abandon open source software. I simply thought it was a good analogy to illustrate why OP's argument was flawed and that we shouldn't be blaming people for taking these "terrible jobs".


When I walk by a window and don't break it, am I taking work away from glaziers?


That is stronger language than I would use, but yes you declined an opportunity to increase the demand for glaziers.

I imagine your are trying to allude to the glazier's fallacy [1]. However that is only a fallacy from the perspective of the entire economy. An extra dollar spent on a glazier is going to benefit the glazier. The problem for the economy at large is that the dollar might have otherwise been spent on the tailor, baker, etc.

To take this back to software development, the glazier fallacy is why I am not against open source software. The overall economy is made more efficient from it. However that doesn't change the fact that the increase in efficiency comes from not having to pay more money to software developers. That isn't great if you view the situation purely from the perspective of a (selfish) software developer.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window


It's not like humans have a finite amount of wants and needs; if that were the case we would have stopped progressing thousands of years ago after agriculture was developed.

Creating open source solutions to common problems doesn't eliminate work, it frees people up to work on new problems.


> However that doesn't change the fact that the increase in efficiency comes from not having to pay more money to software developers

I propose to you a law that will increase the wages of all software developers: demand that no code can be written in a computer fabricated after 2010. *

* Hint: Bastiat.


I think you are all missing my intent if you are trying to point out the absurdity of my argument. I was simply pointing out the absurdity of OP's argument by comparing it to something equally absurd that would be more familiar to the average HN reader.


Ooh, I like that for other reasons: all those electron apps and bloated web pages would start being painful for developers. Maybe 16 GB of RAM would start feeling spacious again.


Or maybe it just means the software developers are paid to do things other than reinvent the wheel.


I beleive that open source software creates fiercer competition and helps newcomers, thus in general increases wages for software developers.


Majority of open source developers are paid or work jobs that gives them a lot of free time. Foss runs yearly polls to determine that.


> So the “practical” solution is to change human nature?

We could at least stop giving young people terrible advice like, "you can do anything, live your dream!"

"Get a practical job to pay the bills, and do your dream as a side gig," is a pretty reasonable compromise.

Most people are have a low tolerance for risk and it's a problem when they get into a field that requires being a risk taker. That tolerance for risk is a strong unconscious bias, so they go into hyper-competitive fields and wind up being the 99% who go nowhere.

Putting out advice, "don't do risky stuff" also doesn't harm real risk-takers because they won't take that advice anyway.

> It’d be like saying that the practical solution to human trafficking is for people to stop visiting prostitutes; or that the solution to gangs’ drug income is for people to stop buying drugs.

No, it's like saying not getting into prostitution or gangs is a good way to avoid those problems in your life.


My observation is that a lot of teachers knew they were going into a profession known for low pay but lacked the financial literacy and practical experience at college age to understand that “low pay” meant “struggling to survive” rather than “you’re not going to own the biggest house on the block.”

As a result they walk out of school with debt, find it difficult to find a position (because e.g. some high school level positions in the US have very few vacancies), and end up taking whatever they can get or if they cannot get anything in teaching take some other low-wage job after following their passion led them to a short-term dead-end.


i think maybe better advice is "work really really hard and find the closest commercially viable approximation to your dream"

there are plenty of stable, well paying jobs for all sorts of different skill sets in the entertainment industry. becoming a key grip or an audio engineer isn't a high risk career trajectory. the bigger problem with creative fields is that most of the advice kids are getting is misinformation coming from people who have to idea what the industry actually entails. the quality of art education in the us is fucking abysmal. imagine if you had english teachers who only cared about slam poetry and discouraged students from learning functional writing skills or a music teacher who never taught meter. i never had a single art teacher who taught any representative drawing fundamentals or even hinted at what was required to become an employable commercial artist. anything even remotely representative or commercial was frowned upon.

>Putting out advice, "don't do risky stuff" also doesn't harm real risk-takers because they won't take that advice anyway.

maybe but when you're only ever told not to do something it doesn't exactly give you a strong footing to take smart risks and further sets up passionate but under informed kids to be exploited because no one ever taught them how to value their work.


> i never had a single art teacher who taught any representative drawing fundamentals or even hinted at what was required to become an employable commercial artist.

Wow, never realized the schooling situation was that bad in the arts.

> because no one ever taught them how to value their work.

That's a great point, though valuing one's work is bloody hard at any stage of life.


If we're honest with kids, it's going to be hard to get them to do anything.

"Well.. Tina's going to get a great job whatever she does, and however little effor she puts into it, but it's because her mom's a doctor and they have a lot of money. It doesn't matter if she owns an iPhone X and doesn't do homework. You need to, and it doesn't matter if you really love cooking because chefs make like $10 an hour and you need to pay rent so you need to go into investment banking even though you hate math and Excel."

Then we'll wonder why teenage suicides are sky high... oh gee i wonder why...


Ah, but she's uphill on that investment banking job as well - she's looking at vast odds for getting into Harvard. Tina's mom went to Harvard, so she's legacy and has classes to improve her SAT and her grades from her private school Ivy League feeder are artificially inflated.


Investment banking is certainly metasyntactic here. You could just replace it with chemical engineering or B2B marketing or construction management or something else sufficiently dry and lucrative.

Ultimately the reason that we view some jobs as more fun than others derives to some extent from the natural human tendency to build a sense of identity by pretending our work is more interesting than everyone else's; the caricature of the soulless office worker is intentionally, not unintentionally, dehumanizing, because it's necessary to reinforce the narrator's pride in their own work. People in visible professions inevitably present their professions as being admirable while trying to present themselves as admirable. The age of mass media creates the illusion that whatever is being talked about is in fact more interesting than what isn't being talked about. Which actually makes the world a better place, Fallout or Tide? Which generates more fame for its creators? The only complete solution requires the nomenklatura to relinquish--or be deprived of--their privileged position in the collective unconscious. (Woe on the invisible.)

Not that that's particularly easy. The kids aren't stupid. Everyone knows that being, say, an artist, doesn't just pay off in terms of money, but in the way people interact with you. The people chasing these rewards aren't unpaid; in fact, they go to great lengths to ensure they do get paid, in precisely the way they seek to be. The lionization of indolents makes people seek indolence--and why shouldn't they?

Years ago, I had the occasion to drive across the country with a traveler in my passenger seat. We spent dozens of hours discussing philosophy, law, farm work, and how to determine which cigarettes in an ashtray are still safe to smoke. When we passed through Denver, hundreds of miles from either our origin or destination, he recognized some of his friends walking on the sidewalk of an overpass; we met up and enjoyed chips and soft drugs by a creek under the bridge. My erstwhile friend is still hopping trains and sleeping outside to this day. As they say, "be careful what you wish for--you might just get it".


If we'd be truly honest with kids, we'd tell them that most of them can't become investment bankers either...


Actually, prostitution is relatively safe and predictable way to make good money, in countries that have the appropriate legal framework.

You can probably make as much as a software consultant if you play your cards right, get a nice house in the countryside and retire at 30.


"passion-based career choices" are 80% of the reason that women make less than men in most fields. They have a reputation as being there as a passion, not as a mercenary, and with less aggressiveness, are more likely to stay at a lower salary level if passed over for promotions, too risk-averse to leave for somewhere new.

Also they can follow their passion because many see their career as a sidelight until they marry and become mothers.. Men don't have this backstop or alternate way to follow their "passion", for men, low income = no marriage.


Yeah you're going to need to provide a source for this incredibly sexist theory.


>IT'd be like saying that the practical solution to human trafficking is for people to stop visiting prostitutes

I don't want to nitpick but a lot of the strategy surrounding ending human trafficking involves cutting off demand, which means trying to stop johns from buying prostitutes. This sort of `cut off the demand` strategy isn't entirely unheard of.


That is a common strategy but, as far as I can tell, a completely useless one. The US govt has been spending resources for years pushing messages that people should just not do drugs, or that by doing drugs they are funding terrorists, destroying families, etc. I haven't seen any evidence that such campaigns work, and given drug use rates across time and countries I'm pretty skeptical that they do.


People do less drugs then they did in the past. Especially young people.


Do they? There are many sources disputing whether DARE had any positive effect, and this specifically https://www.dualdiagnosis.org/drug-addiction/dare-program-wo... also shows growing use. (Then again, it depends what's "now" and "past")


I did not said that dare or any other specific anti drug program worked. It is completely irrelevant.

Simply, young people take less drugs and also have less teenage pregnancies then young people in the past used to.


i wonder how much of that decline is simply driven by changes in socialization. most casual drug use has always been peripheral to the spaces where people would congregate e.g; bars, concerts etc. now that kids pretty much have access to their ingroup basically on demand and entertain themselves differently than prior generations, maybe they're just less likely to end up in the kind of situations where social drugs are desirable.


No, that's cutting off the supply. The johns demand sex even if they're being prevented from buying any because it's been made too risky to approach the areas where there's supply.


I'd say a better solution would be to universal income, or a freedom fund of sorts. So people can be free to go and do their passion jobs, be it making music or writing games.

Game development companies might become more like a collective where the developers who are all on universal income pool together and treated as equals. One can dream.


Cool idea, but how do you split the profit (assuming this is a world where games are still sold for money)? I'd imagine once you start having discussions about equity distribution and revenue split, it stops being a collective of equals.


Each collective would come up with it's own, or perhaps the games are done for free since they are getting paid via universal income. Or perhaps the games are sold at a sliding scale, pay what you want. Perhaps the profits all go back into the company which would/could provide for its employees non financial benefits, even living arrangements.


I’m interested why the dreamer was downvoted.


That's sort of the point of money - to convince people to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do, because they're able to spend the money to get things that they do want.


but—even in the most totalitarian state you can imagine—you can’t quash demand

Well, what you do is you subsume all of human discourse into a new, faster, online form which can use the powerful mechanisms of variable schedule of reward and monetized viral growth. Moderate and supercharge all of that with AI and Deep Learning. Make sure that you infiltrate all of the big tech companies with underpaid (thus easily radicalized) ideologues who would gladly violate company policies and laws for their cause, or at least exercise bias in the way they enforce them. Use this pool of radicalized confederates wielding this vast technological power encompassing and accelerating all of the industrialized world's most relevant discourse. Use it to control all thought and all discourse.

If people dissent, then use the power over all information online to enable your ideologue radicals to construct propaganda narratives to push your favored view of reality. Use the technological power to construct a hermetically sealed filter/search bubble for everyone willing to subscribe -- then make it addictive to them on top of it! At the same time, find, marginalize, and silence all of the dissenters. De-platform and un-person a few to make an example of them. Control all of the narratives, and if contradictions and inconvenient facts leak out, then craft narratives to explain those away. If pesky dissenters still persist, notice that toxic wacko fringes are unparalleled at drawing attention and generating vicious circles of outrage driven virality. Amplify and weaponize their messages. Start tarring the dissenters. Use unfair guilt by association. The more outrageous, unfair, and toxic the tarring, the better, as it will generate yet more toxic outrage.

Control all of the new digital media. Make it cool for young people to nullify "Free Speech." Make it cool and hip for them to say, "..then f##k your "Free Speech!" Control all of the speech. Control all of the ideas. Make it "uncool" or even socially unacceptable to have any kind of dissenting thought to the pushed narratives.

It's a scary sounding plan, with the potential for tremendous destruction of societal cohesion and culture. I don't think it will work in the end, however.


Careful with those analogies


+1


Can confirm this having accidentally ended up working in the Media industry (in a non-passion capacity).

More pertinently, I know someone trying to get an entry level role in a similar passion field and is struggling.

Adding to the problem is:

- Passion fields are quite insular and like to only hire from within the industry

- Nepotism is everywhere. In something like art, hiring so and so's son/daughter may cost you $30k but could close you a $10M deal which is good business

- Pulling up the ladder culture: "well I had to go through XYZ to get where I am so I don't see why this new person shouldn't also have to do it and maybe a bit more"

I think the real problem is we've somehow managed to glamorize work as an end rather than a means. Is spending the first 5-10 years of your working career doing grunt work which could be making coffee and doing photocopying really "living the dream"?


> Nepotism is everywhere. In something like art, hiring so and so's son/daughter may cost you $30k but could close you a $10M deal which is good business

This is so true, and why you always see royals/semi-royals/royal-hangers-on work in a gallery/auction/museum capacity.


I worked for a large cable company and nepotism was rampant there as well. It seems that if money is involved then nepotism follows.


Yes, nepotism is everywhere, but I would argue that for some of these very insular sectors like art, many jobs exist solely so they can be filled with the relatives of rich potential clients. That's slightly different than some management job being filled by someone who may be less qualified but is still expected to do the work.


That's the main appeal of being a dev by far - they can't just hire an incompetent family member, no matter how much they want to.

They do put them through the best schools and coding classes to hire them, but they still need.someone.competent.


Not really. They just need to hire someone competent to take work alongside the family member and take up the slack. Happens in all industries with a measurable work product.

At one point my dad was doing finance for a 20ish person company, where five of the employees were family members. He said that they basically did nothing all day, but all collected paychecks. As the finance guy, he could see how their results were compared to everyone else.


Seconded. Seen more than one software company with departments named something like "R&D" that were used as a playground for executives' children where they could screw around all day and collect a wage, while once in a blue moon releasing some sort of press release composed of a meaningless soup of last year's buzzwords.


Nepotism is so pervasive and so horrible that I believe it should be outlawed.

My SO is trying to get into the Media industry and I am myself incredibly frustrated for her sake by the amount of nepotism she experiences, when you've got assistants who are rude to everyone and lazy outright at a company but can't be fired because one of the producers knows their mother it's pretty freaking annoying.


How do you outlaw it?

Do you propose shutting down every small family-run business in the country?


In some cases, nepotism isn't even harmful. Plenty of cases where hiring a family member doesn't mean that family member is necessarily unsuited for the job.


There can also just be a lot of randomness involved. How many actors hit at least B-list status because of some TV show that ends up a big hit and then they never really get a significant role again? [ADDED: Or, for that matter, the many other actors of similar talent who didn't click with the casting director for that role for whatever reason and never got that break at all.]


I think the randomness comes from the mismatched supply / demand. After the people with a leg up (very talented and pliable, or with good personal connections) get selected, you're left with a reserve army of labour, so random allocation is a sensible strategy.

I know many actors of this class (irregular appearances on TV shows), and the casting directors simply don't care; they and the crew just try to remember a few names on the spot that fit the needed profile, make a few calls, maybe do a couple of auditions (often not even that), and they're chosen.


I'm thinking randomness more in the sense of getting a big break which may be pretty much the result of a dice roll rather than getting on the list for bit parts.

Of course, luck plays a role pretty much everywhere and those who really strike it big in tech and other professionals should chalk that up to luck to at least some degree. But, for the most part, if someone with a modicum of talent and educational background doesn't get a job at $TECH_COMPANY_A because the interviewer was having a bad day, they didn't have the right keyword for HR, or they choked on an interview question, they probably haven't blown their one and only chance to get a decent professional job.


I don’t know, I think Jason knows a lot more about this stuff than we do.

The supply/demand thing, I wish he omitted because it lets people look at things way too reductionist.

It’s actually very difficult to look at a salary and have that tell you something about supply and demand for a job. It’s obviously not that simple. In particular, it would be impossible to look at that figure and try to make heads or tails of what the “supply and demand” for executives is, because they’re paid so much radically differently. And yet accelerators churn out CEOs every day! You’d point out that I’m asking the wrong question, “it’s not about supply and demand when it comes to executive pay.” I agree, and I don’t think it’s about supply and demand for game developer pay either.

From a strictly economic point of view, the bonus system is very distorting. You get paid a huge bonus if your game gets a lot of units sold after your crunch time. However, since the publishers own the studios now, that doesn’t happen as much, and the bonuses go to the “shareholder” (ie the CEO and other highly stock compensated executives). Seems like exactly the sort of thing a union could negotiate!

But making the low line developer sound like the antagonist? “People to stop taking on terrible jobs because of some sense of ‘passion.’” Like I know you didn’t mean to sound like the bad guy, but is your line of argument really to ignore how economic structures in the industry underpay people, and instead it’s the underpaid people’s fault for being passionate?


> I don’t think it’s about supply and demand for game developer pay either

If there was a shortage of game developers, employers would be forced to give much better benefits and compensation to retain and hire staff (and probably there would be a lot less games and studios). There may be more to the analysis, but I don't agree that you can ignore supply and demand and turn this into just oppressor greedy guy vs oppressed exploited worker instead.


I don't want to make it reductionist at all, you're right.

A more enlightened view of compensation, if you need a more general economic way of looking at it, is: "In a world where most of economic value exists in human relationships or in computation, compensation is more about (1) how accounting reflects that economic reality, and (2) how well the compensated individual extracts accounting value from whatever big picture the accountants came up with."

In that sense, unions are exactly the remedy, because they negotiate how these employees are paid relative to the accounting value of their business.

It's all accounting! I can't emphasize this enough--you can pay the employees 2x as much, or 10x as much, or 1/2x as much, and Fortnite will be EXACTLY as fun as it is now. That's what people are outraged about.

This is totally unlike another notoriously unionized industry, autos, where a lot of the value is tied up in really objective, physical stuff like gas mileage or maintenance. Most of the economic value of Fortnite is in the experiences it makes between friends and the computer code consistently delivering that experience, whether on your phone or in the servers.

Supply/demand as the framework is kind of a stupid point of view. We can't listen to too many finance/economics people, especially the rich ones we actually hear from as opposed to the poor ones who may be right but whom we don't give a shit about. The rich ones aren't in the ground level of humanity anymore. That's what the perspective on HN is really about: sorting out which rich person you agree with.

But if you want to do the right thing, you unionize because it will get these people paid better and feel happier at basically no economic cost.


> It's all accounting! I can't emphasize this enough--you can pay the employees 2x as much, or 10x as much, or 1/2x as much, and Fortnite will be EXACTLY as fun as it is now. That's what people are outraged about.

Yes, but there is a difference if it takes 20 devs to make it and there are only 10 available vs there being 200. Competition among the devs as to who gets to make it means each of them will tolerate worse conditions to get the offer over the other. Effectively driving down the costs of producing the game. With a union in play, the cost of production would be stopped from going down.

I'm not necessarily arguing that it is worse with a union than without. But an expected side effect of forcing high costs (high wages in this case) would be that it would make it much harder for aspiring game devs to enter the field.

> you unionize because it will get these people paid better and feel happier at basically no economic cost

This is not true. Again, unions might produce a better outcome, I don't know otherwise for sure. But to think that you can tweak the economic system to behave exactly as you want it to, producing all the positive outcomes with no negatives, is absurd. We can often fail to achieve anything similar with simple software systems, much less with something as intricate and complex as humanity.


For an example of unionization and certification issues that deal with this, look at the medical field.

There are many more people that want to be doctors than there are spots in med schools (US-centric view point here). The AMA artificially keeps the enrollment numbers at med-schools low, so as to drive demand for doctors in general and therefore, increase their wages. The AMA is well aware of the current shortage of pediatricians and over-abundance of cardiologists. Though the employment dynamics of literal brain-surgeons are a bit different teachers or gig-bassists, they do largely follow the same patterns in terms of pay. Granted, most MDs in the US really are very good at their jobs, so I'm not all that put-off when they literally save the lives of my loved ones (money has no value there).

Compare this to nurses and their employment dynamics. Phlebotomists aren't paid badly, but they aren't paid well either. Their shifts are hectic, long, and erratic. Hospice nursing in the US is nearly criminal in it's underpayment and overwork, especially for the emotional labor that goes into it. The reason here is that there is a vast oversupply of people that want to be nurses and in medicine.

The core issue with both cases is that such jobs provide meaning to people that want to do those jobs.

They trade off different things for that value. MDs trade their 20s and a lottery ticket into med school for that meaning in their lives, nurses trade comfort and pay for that meaning in their lives. MDs have what amounts to a very strong union, nurses (generally, but there are many exceptions in the US) do not have as strong of a union.

Generally, any profession that provides meaning in the life of a human will either be very underpaid/overworked OR will have a very strong union/credentialing system to pass before becoming employed. We all regress to the same level of misery.


A more accurate term for what is 'required' is a Guild. Medicine and Law are the last two examples in the US. It is a crime to practice law or medicine without a license. And, for the most part, the amount of licenses dispensed each year is left up to the practitioners' professional association.

In short, you'd want to make it illegal to program for pay (or to distribute free software) without being a member of the guild.

That will never happen -- thank goodness. But, it is the model that allowed the economy to chug along through the Middle Ages.


Another example is the Professional Engineer (PE).

Bridges don't just get designed and built. A PE is usually required to sign off that these structures are safe and usable. Little Fischer-Price playhouses aren't the same as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Though not a guild in all but name, the PE acts just the same.

In fact, there is guild-like behavior in a lot of professions, come to think of it.


There are several that are guild-like. For instance, in my state it is illegal to hold yourself out as providing 'accounting services' without being a CPA. Likewise, it is illegal to assist in the sale/purchase of real estate for a fee without being a broker/realtor (or a lawyer).

It's undoubtedly the same for engineering.

However, there may be a subtle difference... A non-accountant can certainly help with your books so long as they don't hold themselves out as an "accountant." And, a non-realtor can certainly help you find a house, so long as they aren't paid contingency related to the ultimate transaction. I think -- and I may be wrong -- a non-engineer can charge to design a treehouse for your... so long as he doesn't hold himself out as an engineer. (Obviously, when it comes to roads, permit-related structures, etc., a governmental agency may require a P.E.... but, that's a different set of requirements.)

But, one may not practice medicine EVEN IF one refrains from holding himself out as a doctor. And, one may not dispense legal advice EVEN IF it is clear to all involved that the person is not a lawyer.


IAAD. Most of these points on medicine are either outdated or plain inaccurate. 1. The AMA had tight control on med schools 50-100 years ago. These days a mediocre score on the MCAT and a desire for $300k+ in debt will get you into a for-profit medical school. More DOs match with MDs, there are more foreign IMGs, and even US med school slots have grown in the past 10 years. The (over)supply of med students is a non-issue in 2019 except for the aforementioned bag holders that really had no business in med school.

2. Since the 60s the AMA continues a slow decline in relevance. Less than 25% of MDs in the US are AMA members. I was an AMA member. Why? Because they bribed me and my classmates with significant discounts on exam prep material. At some point there will be more student members than practicing physicians.

3. The AMA may be aware of pediatricians vs. cardiologists, but they have little to do with it now. One, the over-abundance of cardiologists isn't an indisputable fact. Regional maldistribution is a thing. There are many parts of the US where a cards referral will still take months. The AMA is not the reason pediatric specialities have relatively poor compensation relative to years of training and lifestyle. The ACGME and other interest groups, even big pharma, device manufacturers had much to do with setting the stage. These days, large organizations help maintain the status quo.

Consider that pediatric subspecialties are not competitive. Just about any average to slightly below average US grad that wants to do it can... it's not a labor supply issue!

In 2019 some doctors have it pretty good, and some not so much. Geographic disparities are huge. The public policy affecting medical practitioners is now a large number of independent special interest groups and public policy wonks. For instance, cardiologists have the ACC (their own body), but what is really powerful at this point is the motley group of pharma companies and interventional device mfrs, and huge HCOs... practitioners can benefit because obviously some interests align (A TAVR isn't too profitable without a doc to place it).

tl;dr medical professionals sort of bounce around in a Medusa head of healthcare organization and industry special interests these days... we're doing well insofar as we are useful idiots in this machine. The idea that we have unified representation is laughable.


Thanks for the update to my mental schemas! I had no idea it was that far out of whack!


> Unionisation may help, but the only practical solution is for people to stop taking on terrible jobs because of some sense of 'passion', and to go where their skills are appreciated/where they're treated better/fairly compensated

This. Unionisation is basically an attempt to reject the reality that there isn't enough demand for all that labor to be valuable at/above market-average.

Ultimately I don't think there is a right answer and which way you choose is up to you. But it sounds like a "you can't have your cake and eat it too" situation.

Lucky are those who are passionate about things the majority of the labor pool hates but many businesses need.

Edit: Just to prevent misunderstandings, this is my opinion on Unionisation in this particular industry where there are many (private) companies. It can be a different story if your only employers are not driven by profits and losses or are not in a competitive market (e.g. a government) and I wasn't trying to make a sweeping generic statement like "all unions are always bad"


You don't need to look any further than the film/TV industry in the US. There are any number of guilds with various rules and minimum pay scales, etc. It doesn't keep countless people from waiting tables in LA hoping for their big break.


I think developers are more like the background technical staff and startup founders are the big name actor equivalents. Founders move to SF, work hard, and generally struggle trying to become Zuckerburg as much as LA actors trying to become Chris Pratt.

But for every movie with the Micheal Bay or The Rock there are hundreds of unionized workers creating the explosions, car chases, and sets in the background. Just like developers they're the ones that make the production work but no one knows our name. (with few exceptions like John Carmack, but then again there are special effects experts with tv shows)


The job of the guild / union isn't to give everyone a job who wants one, though. It's to ensure that people who have a job are treated fairly.


Yes, but that's important to know if you're proposing unionization in the hopes that it will make it so that every qualified person who wants to work in game development is paid fairly. Like with acting, only a small fraction of people will find such jobs, even with unionization.


But the point is they often go beyond ensuring people are treated fairly, and artificially drive up wages by constraining the supply of labor. This is a very unfair system. It benefits those they have the privilege to get into the guild (which often entails having the right connections, and until the Civil Rights movement also had the requirement of "be White"), at the expense if those that don't get into the guild. It also drives up costs for consumers.


I think it's a difficult claim to make that there's no demand when they specifically state that unpaid overtime is the norm. Why would they need overtime work if there were enough workers?


Because it's technically cheaper to have less workers and to work them for longer hours than to have more workers working for less time. Especially when you're not paying them for overtime.


>Because it's technically cheaper to have less workers and to work them for longer hours

That depends on whether fixed costs of hiring another developer (and coordination costs) outweigh the variable costs of the current developers working more. The variable costs could be lesser quality of work when the developer is overworked or overtime laws.

Overtime laws are supposed to act as a penalty on companies for not hiring enough labour for the required task.


They don't need it. They do it because it's more profitable. If you don't want those conditions they can easily find someone else willing to accept them due to the huge hiring pool available.

Edit: you're far less likely to risk burning out your employees if they are hard to replace.


I think the fact that they can get unpaid work, means they don't need to pay for it. Why pay for 10 people when you can get 5 to do it? No matter how little you pay for labor, free (i.e. unpaid overtime) is cheaper.


Which is why, in this case, unionization isn't just (to paraphrase) ignoring that there's not enough demand.

One intended result is that it would forcibly remove the option of externalizing the consequences of intentionally under-utilizing the labor pool. It prevents bad behavior (behavior that should already be illegal IMO). Freely exploiting your workers because they have no bargaining power should always discouraged.


While I certainly agree, the historical record suggests that unionization often requires a certain amount of labor scarcity in order to happen in the first place. Of course, enough scarcity and the workers won't see the need, perhaps because there isn't any, but in cases of superabundance of labor it is extraordinarily difficult (usually impossible) to successfully unionize.

I certainly agree that unions can make a big difference in the intermediate case.


You might be right here. In an ideal world, limitations on unpaid overtime would already protect these workers, and then there would be little or no perceived benefit for the unions they are talking about.


You answered your own question. The fact that people will put up with all that overtime pretty much sums it up.


Living on a country where unions are horizontal to the industry, with a couple of them supporting people on the computing world, regardless of the company, this US point of view keeps surprising me.


I guess in that case it would come as a bigger surprise that I'm from the EU, and from a country where unions are quite well established, and have never been to, studied, or worked in the US.


> there isn't enough demand for all that labor to be valuable at/above market-average.

This argument would be stronger if the game industry didn't also feature a large number of insanely well paid executives.

Unionization in the game industry is not about magically thinking that higher salaries will appear out of thin air. It's about low-ranking employees coordinating with each other to correct some of the power imbalance versus executives so that rank and file can get a larger share of the pie.


> This argument would be stronger if the game industry didn't also feature a large number of insanely well paid executives.

But why would a surplus of developers need to correlate with a surplus of executives?

If anything it makes more sense to see a larger rift between workers and executives/investors because the costs for developers have been driven down by competition among them.

I may concede that overall it could be better with a union, but lets not pretend this will mean all current game devs will make more money. You will have less game devs who will be making more money (narrowing the gap to execs in the industry) while others get driven away from the profession.


>Unionisation is basically an attempt to reject the reality that there isn't enough demand for all that labor to be valuable at/above market-average.

What a shallow definition of Unions.

How about it's about grabbing a larger share of the pie for workers, so the CEO of Activation isn't making 300x the average worker? Or are you of the mind he's "earned" that?


Pretty sure that comment is referring to unionizing within the games industry where there is an overabundance of qualified people who want the jobs available.


> the only practical solution is for people to stop taking on terrible jobs because of some sense of 'passion', and to go where their skills are appreciated/where they're treated better/fairly compensated.

I worked a couple years in game industry (shipping an auto racing game for Playstation and contributing to a few other titles; I did sleep under my desk a few nights during crunch time so we'd have a demo ready for E3).

My overall experience was amazing. I have a passion for motorsports and loved gaming as a kid. Part of the overall enjoyment (read: value proposition) I derived from that position was that it was in motorsports and gaming. I loved going into a computer store and seeing "my" game on the shelf. I look forward to showing my kids the game [that will look like crap now by comparison]. (I also, without any hard feelings, left the industry because it was clear that it wasn't going to get me where I wanted to be financially.)

I don't think that people should be prevented (or even shamed) for taking on work that they are passionate about. I'm glad I did it; I had some great experiences [spending Speedweek in the hot pits as a business trip is great], worked with some amazingly talented and passionate people, and took away some great memories before moving on(/selling out? :) ).


You seem like the exception rather than the rule.. I don't think anyone is suggesting people not follow their passions, its more about people not knowing what they're getting themselves into most of the time.


Consider this though, he's not doing that now.

He did that when he was young, dumb, and full of dreams...

He couldn't sustain that lifestyle. We do sort of glorify the past and lionize struggle as if there were some nobility to it.

There's not. There's no inherent nobility in struggling or being ignorant. Being a dumb kid willing to work awful hours for worse pay to get out a demo in time is not an ideal to strive towards.


I agree substantially with the first 3 paragraphs of your post and have way less agreement with the last paragraph. [0]

Just to be perfectly clear though: I'm glad I did it, have zero regrets, do find nobility in working a crunch period to ship [a demo] on-time as you promised you would [I was tech lead; that we weren't in a position to ship on-time without a crunch time was at least 50% on my shoulders], and would hope that I'd chase that same job/dream/experience if I had a chance to live my life all over again. (There are other things that I might wish to change, but that's not one of them.)

[0] - Technically, I surely could have sustained that lifestyle, but chose not to. Your overall point there remains valid, of course.


You got out before you found your limit. You think you could have sustained it, but you really don't know because you left. But leaving also means something.

And succeeding in the face of adversity is something to be proud of. There are many things I wouldn't change in my life even though they were difficult or caused me to struggle.

That's not the point.

If I could have learned all I learned, got to where I am, etc _without_ having to struggle, that would have been preferable. The struggle itself imparts no value.

I mean, would you rather have not had to crunch to get the demo out on time? Would you rather have hit all of your targets on time without working ridiculous hours?


> Would you rather have hit all of your targets on time without working ridiculous hours?

I don't know. Would I have rather run a 15 minute 2-mile instead of a 13:30 2-mile on my APFT in college and been less sweaty? Would I have rather gotten a B instead of an A on that digital design project while getting more sleep? (Obviously, no one but me could possibly really "care" about either of those scores at this point.)

Taking it specifically to that work topic, would I rather have worked sane hours and shipped an acceptable demo on time or worked ridiculous hours and shipped a stronger demo on time? Even though I know that nothing about my life changed as a result of the latter (because we didn't exceed our minimum units sold for the "monkey points" to pay anything), I'm happy I spent those nights in a sleeping bag at my cube and shipped the best demo and product we could.

For things that I care about at the time, I feel happier and more proud in doing more than the minimum (perhaps even my best), even at the expense of extra time and effort for which incremental compensation isn't tightly/directly linked.


That argument is suggesting a linear correllation of effort to results, which isn't really so with creative work: in a hypothetical "better industry", because talent is more expensive and less exploitable, management has to step up, grow beyond cheerleader/slavedriver metaphors, and find ways to create more force multipliers throughout the project. Quality to effort ratio goes up -- and given a sufficiently high multiplier, the workforce produces more while working less.

I think this is eminently possible within games, and the growing interest in unions is reflective of agreement of that fact, of a desire to professionalize and negotiate towards work arrangements that follow what our current science tells us is best practice. If most game workers believed in linear effort to reward they would see the status quo as OK: not staying late would simply mean you lack "passion". And indeed, that was very much the case throughout the early history of the industry - passionate people who became bosses and focused in Panglossian fashion only on the particular metrics they prized, resulting in exploitative, fanboy-heavy, butt-in-chair workplaces.


If they were unionized it would be much easier to understand what they're getting themselves into.

Union contracts are typically public, unambiguous and well enforced; certainly better than relying on "company policy" to judge what work conditions will be like.


|Unionisation may help

By restricting the supply of talent, thus artificially driving up wages, but at the same time keeping a lot of people from being able to pursue their dream.


Only if union membership is both required and restricted. In each of my workplaces, union membership has been optional and open to anyone who works there. It's weaker bargaining-wise than a closed shop with entry requirements, but we've still been able to collectively negotiate to better outcomes (the current round is UCU's dispute with the universities and their pension fund over proposed changes to the pension scheme, which we look to be fighting off).


Fair enough. I'm used to union arrangements where membership is required for the given profession, which is pretty common in the US.

There's been a movement to right to work, but even then, the non-union employees are forced to abide by the union negotiated contract, which is bullshit.


> There's been a movement to right to work

By which you mean, there's been a movement by employers towards the right to work for less.

> but even then, the non-union employees are forced to abide by the union negotiated contract, which is bullshit.

What's bullshit is that non-union employees get the same benefits that a union fought for, without having to do any work to get them.


|By which you mean, there's been a movement by employers towards the right to work for less.

Unions can keep people out of professions in a lot of places in the US. Right to work makes it so union membership isn't mandatory. Surely if the union is so awesome, voluntary membership would work just fine.

|What's bullshit is that non-union employees get the same benefits that a union fought for, without having to do any work to get them.

Take it up with the union leadership, not me pal. They're the ones agitating for this stuff.


Unions improve compensation by increasing the share of the profits pie given (or returned, rather) to labor, not by putting a stranglehold on new hiring.


> Unions improve compensation by increasing the share of the profits pie given (or returned, rather) to labor, not by putting a stranglehold on new hiring.

How do you think they magically achieve this?

Surprise - it's by threatening to restrict supply (not working for the company if they don't agree to the union's terms.)


Threatening to strike is much different from restricting the people who can work for the union?


In both cases you could be happy with the offered compensation but be forced to not work for the company anyway.


Yes, they're different things. They're also the two basic tools in the union toolkit for driving up wages.


You also don’t need a union to put a stranglehold on labor supply.

See: doctors


I guess you could say it's not a union, but it's pretty much the same thing. At least, it's pulling the same levers to get desired outcomes.


|Unions improve compensation by increasing the share of the profits pie given (or returned, rather) to labor

Revenue pie, not profits pie. A union will negotiate better terms for itself if the leadership thinks it's appropriate, regardless of the health of the company.


A lot of people from pursuing their dream who would be willing to do it for less. That's always the crux of unions, is the people left at zero wages who were willing to do the exact same work for less wages than the current person with the job.


In economics, there's the concept of a compensating differential[1]: when two jobs require the same skill and training, but one has an unpleasant aspect, so you have to pay people more to take that one.

The canonical example would be window washers on the ground level vs for a high-rise building. The latter -- even with appropriate safety measures -- is scarier, so they make more, as people willing to go up in those things are harder to find.

You can also have a negative compensating differential, where the job is so desirable that people take a lower wage to work in it, which is what's going on in the game industry; compared to developers and QA for other industries, they make less.

Another example might be astronauts, which make a lot less compared jobs requiring similar qualifications (i.e. extensive education, training, memorization, and fitness).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compensating_differential


Part of the problem is that while there is a lot of emphasis on "following passion", "dreams" and "sacrificing for the project", there is very little emphasis on "actual working conditions", "reality of that dream" and "impact of such sacrifice" (or whether it is even reasonable).

It is changing a bit lately but to large extend, going through deadmarches was/is bragpoint. It gives you credibility and proves you are passionate. Ability to say no and negotiating for good conditions, scope control and good treatment is framed as weakness or laziness.


That's only one half of the solution, the other half is taking into consideration that there's less demand for video games critics than there's people wanting to do it, and possibly choose another less crowded career.


Well, the article mostly focused on game development rather than game journalism, but you're right, both fields have many of the same issues.

In fact, video game journalism may be the worst of both the game development and media worlds, since it's got all the downsides of both (low pay, long hours, unstable employment, companies struggling) plus an endless supply of newcomers who (like with game development) think it'll be their dream job.

Oh, and the basic skill requirements to get employed are really low too. So it's like a minimum wage career people are passionate about getting into where pretty much anyone can do the work.


Games journalism is filled with people who want to work "in games" and know they aren't capable of actually making games.


I don't think that's necessarily true. Sports are another passion-driven job thay many, many more people want to do than are able to. Unions are the answer, but not just because they're effective tools for equalizing relative leverage between labor and owners. It's because unionization engenders a self-respect for one's employment - "THIS job that I do in particular" - that forces cooperation from management. It helps in this analogy that athletes are bona fide top-of-the-class performers, but the success of unions in other creative areas, including ones involving only moderate skill, shows that this principle extends further than that.

When people leave for greener pastures, they take their experience with them. There is no one that knows the tricks management uses to squeeze working hours out of employees (often unjustly and unfruitfully). The real solution is to unionize and force management to weed out the incompetence that creates inefficiencies that crunch is used to correct. Contrary to popular belief, unionization has thr potential to increase overall expertise.


+1.

Many of us working jobs we don't really have 'passion' for are doing it to fund the things we are passionate about.

I really hate it when people talk about how they need public subsidies to follow their self-gratifying dream, like that money comes from people who aren't following their dream. I'm not going to work harder on stuff I don't like to support you having fun.


The greatest difference is that in arts and journalism the companies are struggling. The videogame game industry have its troubles, but is full of money.


I think the other dimension here is the number of people who equate passion with qualification. They enter the industry thinking that a lifetime of playing video games qualifies them, whereas you actually end up needing strong software engineering skills, often with an emphasis in graphics and other math-heavy niches, a strong work ethic and many other qualities. Passion helps. Years of being a customer helps. Doesn't replace other qualifications, though. I've seen more than a few friends on the losing end of some miserable attempts to create their own video game company (or graphic design business, photography business, etc.) because they equated interest with immediate ability.


Also, there are a crap ton of people who think lazily: “i love playing video games / i am so good at playing video games, that i should be a game designer. Look at how stupid these developers are compared to me!!”

Ive known several of this type. And they are terrible at understanding the grueling tediousness it takes to develop a good game.

Basically they operate on the superficial end of things and think they can grok the actual reqs to develop something.

(Same thing with pipe dream “app designers”)


This effect hits non-profit organizations really hard - people feel like they need to suffer to earn the right to make the world a better place, but the overall effect is that non-profit workers lead precarious lives, and their effectiveness suffers due to this instability. People with the ability to fix organizational dysfunction can rarely continue to make those wages, and so they move into for-profit industry.

This is not a good way to run a society.


Adam Smith literally mentions that wages and profits of industries where people can do it as a hobby, for pleasure, or part time, will go down.

1776.


The other practical solution is basic income.

In a basic income society people can do (if they want) the jobs they have a passion for without poor conditions.

And people who will want a higher income will do the jobs that a few people can do (highly skilled jobs..), or wants to do (picking up garbage, cleaning toilets...). These jobs will probably have much better conditions than now.


Who is going to pick up garbage in a basic income society and why? Don’t be surprised if you have to pay these people radically more than they are currently paid. In which case COL goes up significantly and the basic income doesn’t go as far and we are back to square one.


"Millionaires don't exist, because who would ever want more money?"


Are you suggesting garbage men will be millionaires? When we're talking about spending trillions and fundamentally changing the relationship between citizens, their government, and work, platitudes convince nobody but the choir.


No, I'm saying people will continue to be garbage men because they want more money. Basic income is not going to stop people from wanting more money.


Pay for pilots is also poor. I've seen the sentiment from fighter pilots many times: "I can't believe they're paying me to fly!"

Being a pilot is not only a dream job, it's high status.


To add to your list, aerospace is a big one. For senior stuff they usually pay ok but especially entry level jobs, even in software, they know that everyone wants to build jets, rockets, and satellites.


Personally I would argue that in terms of education we need to encourage academia to give students a cash cow to milk prior to chasing their passion.

Learn the basics of a trade, THEN you can do Drama. There's this dreamy state of mind that bets way too much on making it and its important that "the worst case scenario" for an actor not making it isn't a dead-end job but a trade/profession they can also excel at.


> artists/musicians/writers/whatever

I've met a lot of girls who want to be fashion designers, and a lot of guys who want to be sports announcers.


It's weird but even in sub-sectors of the gaming industry (like server/back end developers which are in permanent short supply) the experience of working in that industry is terrible - there is a general assumption that if people actually might enjoy part of their job you should treat them like crap. So, I partially agree but there is another factor there.


> teaching wages

On the other hand, the retirement and health care packages for public school teachers is quite generous


Retirement benefits for government employees typically also rely on the current government adequately funding those liabilities. There are several examples of governments that consistently failed to do this and then reducing those benefits when they need to be paid out.


Another way of saying that is the benefits package is so large it often throws the city/state government into a crisis.


Will the influx of bootcamp grads cause the same effect on the supply and demand of developers?


I have my doubts. Maybe a bootcamp can prep someone to make apps (though I know very little about mobile app development), but at least in my job, I need a pretty in-depth understanding of how technology works. It's not enough to have used Spark a few times but I really need to know what it's good at and what it lacks and I need this understanding across all my tools. I need to know at least the basics of the implementation and to have that understanding across all my tools, I have to have a pretty strong theoretical grounding that I just don't see the bootcamps providing. Like maybe a few really bright people figure that out while in bootcamp, but I suspect most don't.


What field do you work in?

In app and web dev this theoretical grounding is less important.


What is life if getting rid of passion is sensible? It's a better goal to create systems where passions can flourish.


passion isn't always productive to society.

Some passion is, but i would argue most passion isn't. That's just simple economics, and i dont think humanity can get away from that - at least, not until we reach post-scarcity.


The solution is lowering the salary of jobs in the field until people stop applying. It's already solved.


"Success often leads to passion." - The TechLead


when?


Teaching is another such job.


It is appalling that the top 3 comments (at time of writing this one) are victim-blaming. "They should get better jobs". "There's a high demand so they should go elsewhere". "They should have known before they went there".

Where have you been in the last few years, and how have you not learned anything about abusive practices which entrap people? These companies are basically abusive — they abuse their staff with long hours and low benefits, taking full advantage of the cool-factor to entangle them. As anyone who has the slightest empathy and has read anything in the news cycle in the last few years would know, people caught in this situation are often unaware they're being abused, blame themselves, and don't realize there is better elsewhere.

If you're one of the people who are, right now reading this, thinking "That's a load of BS these people are idiots and they deserve what they get", then I implore that you think again and realize you are essentially blaming the victim. That's almost never the right side to be on.

What we need to do is expose these companies for what they really. Put all these things out in the open and air them for all to see. Perhaps at some point we can have all the major studios unionized, and perhaps once their internal cultures become less toxic, their external one will likewise clear up a bit. Here's hoping.


Enh... They're not victims. They're just people who picked a profession that doesn't have great terms. By changing professions they may get better terms. That might also change the supply in the industry and help others too.

One lucky thing about game dev is that your skills do transfer. Whether to graphic design or programming or marketing or whatnot. It's not like they got a gamedev license and are locked in.


Exactly. A victim can't get out of whatever situation they are in. Each employee probably signed an "at-will" employment agreement, so they can leave at any time, for any reason.


I take issue with your definition of a "victim" as someone who can't get out of a situation they are in. If we are speaking counter-factually about what any victim of an assault could have done, let's look to the "why didn't they leave?" question to those in abusive intimate relationships. Surely, you're not claiming it's all on the abused spouse, as they could have left at any time? Could they really have, when their emotional, financial, and personal livelihood is wrapped up in this relationship? Could they break their psychological barricades and escape? Some can, some do, and some can't.

It just comes across as a very callous definition, the 22 year old brain is much more idealistic and hopeful, and far less experienced/knowledgeable about workplace rights/conditions. Surely, you see the difficulty of these naive, youhtful video game makers' situations, who get exploited with unpaid overtime, unrealistic demands, and being cut from their company with little cause?

My point is 100% of the blame can not fall on an employee here, there is agency on both sides. Companies can be better to their workers, and workers can save money more diligently, improve their skills, and apply around for other jobs to improve their situation.


I never understand this kind of black and white thinking. So I either have to believe that people are total victims of circumstance with no control over their own situations or my opinions are "appalling"?

The reality is that there are obviously unfair elements to how these industries are operating and it would be desirable to most people to figure out how to improve that situation. It's also a reality that at the end of the day people have a big incentive to understand the big choices they are making in their lives regardless of subjective fairness. Regardless of your moral position it certainly seems they have paid a price for entering the industry and they entered the industry on their own free will(I doubt many people are being coerced into video game dev through threats of violence, blackmail or extortion).

Like literally everything else, the truth lies in the grey area and it's not "appalling" to have other opinions.

The idea of being so unable to believe that there may be validity to an opinion you don't like is a whole lot more appalling in my opinion.


Apparently, everyone is a victim these days simply by making life decisions they end up regretting. Nobody is responsible for anything concerning themselves anymore.

The idea that these people are entrapped is a bunch of nonsense. We're not talking about people that have zero alternatives besides scraping at the bottom of a barrel. We're talking about people that are already well-paid and would be even higher paid if only they decided to switch industries. They can switch jobs and they do switch jobs.

That's simply the truth. It's not victim blaming. The allegation of victim blaming itself is dishonest. These people aren't victims. These people have jobs they don't like. Welcome to adulthood, comrades!


>>Apparently, everyone is a victim these days simply by making life decisions they end up regretting. Nobody is responsible for anything concerning themselves anymore.

No one makes decisions in a vacuum. People's behaviors are informed by their upbringing and circumstances, most of which they have no control over. Studies show that people are deeply affected by those around them, and their role models (whether those be friends or family members) have a deep impact on the paths they take in life. For example, arranging regular interactions between kids in school and young, successful white collar professionals drastically increases the likelihood that those kids end up picking similar careers. In contrast, if they are surrounded by high crime and poverty, they tend to not do so well.

This is why one should not rush to judgment when discussing these issues: things are never as simple as "well, they made the wrong decisions in life." Even if the decisions were indeed wrong in retrospect, at the time they might have looked like (or actually have been) the right ones, or simply the best ones available.


The point is, these jobs still pay an average of over $90k year. They may come with serious hours but that's not unheard of in many white collar industries (e.g. finance, medicine, law). To turn around and call these people victims is really not valuable, and seriously degrades what it means to be a "victim" of labor practices. There are jobs that are a lot harder to do and pay a lot less that nobody bats an eye about.

The video game industry has been nothing but transparent about the working conditions, at least from what I've seen. Every game Dev I've talked to has been clear that working on X field in the game industry is going to be more stressful and less lucrative than applying the same skills elsewhere. The slogan in my CS department was that the game Dev industry is twice the pay for half the work.

While many do have fulfilling careers it was common sense to me and my peers that going into the game development industry was not worth it unless your passion seriously outweighs practical interests. Some people think they belong in that group and later find out that they misjudged their priorities. They made a life decision they regret but they are not victims. No more than my sister is a victim of biology because she studied biology and discovered after graduation she didn't like biology and changed to working in tech.


> No one makes decisions in a vacuum.

Of course not. It's still their decision. It's their responsibility what to do with their lives. It's not like we tell young children that they absolutely must become game developers or that it's the greatest job in the world. It's rather the contrary.

It doesn't make you a victim.

Even if we were to agree that this makes you a victim, who the hell cares? There's millions of workers that work far tougher jobs at lousy pay, with no upward mobility. Let's start there.


Unionization is never going to happen, and won't have much benefit.

Excessive overtime and crunch need to be outlawed. It's not a matter of whether or not it's paid, beyond a certain threshold it's a question of health. Nothing will change until people start suing. If companies can just abuse and then terminate people once their lives are ruined, they will continue to do so.


Just out of curiosity, which people (or perhaps, organizations) do you think first pushed for overtime laws in the U.S.?


Collective bargaining will never happen, but outlawing overtime will?


I agree with this and think there's been a really good effort lately to shine a light at the problems. A good example are the articles by Jason Schreier of Kotaku.

However, I'd also like to add my own data point. I'm someone who grew up dreaming about developing games and taught myself programming as a kid, with the idea of spending my days as a game developer. However, after having heard so much bad stuff about the game industry and then experienced it first hand when doing a summer job at Starbreeze, I decided to stay away from the game industry after I got my Master's.

Nearly four years later, I ended up switching jobs and entering the video game industry (at an EA studio). I've been there for four years, now. Every week I actively turn down headhunters trying to recruit me for all manner of jobs outside of game development. A lot of things could, and should, be better in game development. But all in all, I still love making games and am much happier with my day to day job now than before becoming a game dev.


> For many kids who grew up with controllers in their hands, being a game developer is a dream job, so when it comes to talent, supply is higher than demand.

That's the crux of this entire article in one sentence. This might be an upopular opinion here, but right now the supply of developers overall [across all industries] is much lower than demand. No one is forcing a developer to work for a game studio. It might be your dream job, but if you're not treated well you're a highly talented skilled worker, go work for someone else. Let the supply diminish because of the working conditions and alternatives and suddenly studios won't have the option to treat their employees this way.

edit: typos


You're right. I have sympathy for game developers: no one should have to endure those conditions. But I also don't understand them. The state of the industry is so widely publicised, and there are so many amazing jobs outside of gaming for people with that skill set.

Probably the reason I don't get it is that I'm not really "into" games. I like playing Civ or overwatch a few times a month, mostly to keep in touch with old friends, but there must be people out there who care so much about video games that they can't imagine working on anything else. Maybe these are the people who choose to endure the awful conditions.


The state of the industry is so widely publicised...

The people ensnared & abused the most, genearlly seem to be very young developers, fresh out of college or high school. That age group is, through no fault of their own, never particularly worldly or in touch with current working conditions.


When I was in college a few years back I had many colleagues that wanted to get into the game industry. Most all were pretty serious gamers and many seemed to have false expectations of what the industry was like, namely that: Playing Video Games === Creating Video Games. While I'm not one to tell someone what they should or shouldn't do with their careers (hell my mother wanted me to become a lawyer), I always made a point to tell them they should research the industry a bit more before making the leap. I know quite a few that ended up pivoting what field they went into after learning how brutal the gaming industry can be.

Making games might be your dream job, just make sure you are fully aware of the realities of your dream job and decide if you are willing to accept that reality day in and day out.


Game development is more than just programming.


I know one guy who is like that, he realized his dream by doing it as a side job and it look like he's been successful so far (released one game, worked as a writer for a handful of other games)


Apparently the game he's worked on made at least 300k $, to split between the publisher (WE Games) and the guy and his two collaborator. And he used a good chunk of his share to fund games on kickstater


> In many of these cases, laid-off employees had no idea what was coming. One developer at a major studio told me in February that he and his colleagues had been crunching — putting in long hours, including nights and weekends — for a video game release, only to be suddenly told that security was waiting to escort them off the premises.

Man, that really sucks, if you think about it. I'm sure many people here on HN have worked very hard on something in their life. I know I have, and in a couple of cases I ended up being acutely unhappy with the outcomes. But, DAMN, at least none of my moments of extreme toil were punctuated like this.


In a civilised society, it would be illegal for an employer to behave like that.

(Yes, I know, I'm imposing my view of what it would mean to be "civilised", and not everyone will agree.)


There are plenty of countries where all employers are required to give certain notice, and you can't suddenly fire someone. It is outrageous that your ability to eat and pay rent can be taken away with zero notice in America.


> It is outrageous that your ability to eat and pay rent can be taken away with zero notice in America.

Also your healthcare in most cases.


Not true. It's stupid expensive but you can use COBRA.

> Eligibility for COBRA. In general, employees who were previously actively enrolled in health insurance coverage for at least one day, but lost it due to a change from full-time to part-time employment or termination(both voluntary and involuntary), are eligible for COBRA

https://help.zenefits.com/COBRA/Understanding_COBRA/01_Emplo...


That just means they have to pay you for some time after they fired you.

You can still be fired in an instant and be escorted out the door, especially if you have/had access to critical systems


Actually, at least in the UK, you can't be fired without cause.

Normally you'll have to be told that you're underperforming, be put on a "performance improvement plan", and have to be given time to improve yourself, or demonstrate that you are performing well.

You can be made redundant for no reason, but you have to be warned the moment management are considering redundancies that your job is at risk, and you are able to make a case for how redundancies could be avoided, or how your position could be changed to fit into the new structure. If you are made redundant, you have to be paid extra (although it's a tiny amount and only after 2 years)


> ...you can't be fired without cause. Normally you'll have to be told that you're underperforming, be put on a "performance improvement plan", and have to be given time to improve yourself, or demonstrate that you are performing well.

This is de facto the case in the United States as well. Employers will put employees on a PIP before letting them go to prevent them from claiming that they were wrongfully terminated (due to discrimination, retaliation, etc.).


They could, and after that time you fall back on 'unemployment wage' by the government. Which is less than what you'd normally earn, but by the time that happens you probably have another job already.


In banking industry its fairly common to have an HR talk about you being let go/fired, and just collecting your stuff at desk and walking home. Not logging into computer anymore. This obviously comes with additional mandatory salary being paid (where I am currently its 3 monthly salaries), but employer won't risk having disgruntled employee doing some last minute hacks/deletions of important data/repos etc.


And in that industry, workers are lucky that this is the contractual norm. In my industry, enterprise software, it is common for contracts to have "at-will" clauses that let the company cut your employment short at any time for any reason with immediate cessation of pay and benefits.

Word has it, this is the norm in video games as well.


Well, unemployment is supposed to be the protection against this. It is basically mandatory insurance that an employer is required to pay premiums for so that if they fire an employee that employee still gets money to live.

It is not a perfect system in practice, but I don't think it is conceptually incorrect.


Your ability to eat and pay rent should not be dependent on your income as a game developer. You know there are some professions where the pay is so low that yes, people really need to live paycheck to paycheck. Game developers do not, sorry.


For what it's worth, you shouldn't have to end statements with 'sorry'. I this kind of context it typically implies that you're making the statement with the intent to belittle someone.


That's kind of a blanket statement don't you think?


No name calling is necessary - you can replace "civilised society" with "Europe" and the sentence will hold true for the most part.


My video game developers need unions story:

I was a core developer on a major feature of Sleeping Dogs/'True Crime: Hong Kong' for 2+ years. At one point, when the game was still being published by ATVI under the title 'True Crime: Hong Kong', ATVI cancelled the game and 100+ developers were laid off including me. Fast forward a few months and miraculously Square Enix decided to pick up the publishing rights for the name, invested a few more months in polish to finish up the title and released it as Sleeping Dogs. I was of course delighted that this canned game saw the light of day and people were able to play it.

In Sleeping Dogs, despite the significant work I put on the project my name appears in 'Special Thanks' instead of being listed as part of the development team. This is very unfair and inappropriate.

Enforcing a clear set of crediting rules would be one of the things that a game developers union could do.


This is a bit off-topic, but a lot of my friends and peers who have Cantonese-speaking heritage (eg: Chinese-Canadian) have spent a lot of time playing Sleeping Dogs and I think deep-down there's a representation they resonate with in the game. Kotaku even did an article on the topic years ago.[1] Thank you for investing (uncredited!) time and work into the project, as I think it's likely given something special to a group of people.

[1] https://kotaku.com/what-sleeping-dogs-gets-so-right-about-be...


Sleeping Dogs is one of my favourite games of all time. It got me hooked immediately from the login screen with the unforgettable soundtrack. Thanks for your contribution to the game.


Did you use skookumscript? Just curious because they say it was heavily used in Sleeping Dogs.

I like skookumscript and miss it now that I switched from unreal to unity.


Yes. The primary author of skookumscript worked at UFG.

I helped designers debug many failing skookumscripts and built a lot of hooks for them for specialized missions.


I'm all for protecting the vulnerable and underprivileged. I'm all for universal healthcare, increased minimum wages/EITC, and increased taxes on the rich.

But I'm very skeptical of the idea that white collar professionals earning well above the median, are somehow in need of "protecting". They have every opportunity to quit the video game industry and take up very lucrative and easygoing jobs in other industries. They are expressly choosing not to do so. That is their choice, and their burden to bear.

Anything that reduces competition in the marketplace is bad for society as a whole. This is why I'm all in favor of anti-trust regulations and breaking up the tech giants. This is also why I'm not a fan of unions. Maybe a case can be made for specially disadvantaged demographics. I just don't see it for programmers.


Those were my initial feelings as well. I guess the issue comes down to focusing on software development as a skill and having that skill rewarded in manner you can count on.

Our industry is really similar to actors. They have SAG and their guild negotiates with the MPAA. So every studio needs to belong to MPAA. Every year they negotiate the daily/weekly minimum rates for actors with SAG. They are pretty flexible with different rates for indy films vs big budget films.

It's not so hard to imagine a software developers guild where they negotiate for a daily/weekly minimum for developers, dba's, qa's, devops, and such...

https://www.sagaftra.org/production-center/contract/810/rate...

If you are celebrity equivalent of a developer, then you can get paid more. There are no real restrictions. You don't see famous actors getting paid below the daily minimum. When they work for a big budget film they typically get x multiple times the daily rate. Also, if they want to work on an indy film they can agree to those minimum daily rates as well.

I think its flexible enough so if you want to work for a nonprofit you can just accept the daily/weekly minimum vs asking full price if you work for FAANG.

I don't think it's a crazy amount of protections but it sets aside a basic set of standards you can expect from job to job.

If your are over 120k they suggest actors create a loan out corporation at that point...

https://firemark.com/2015/01/12/should-you-have-a-loan-out-c...

Can you imagine all the FAANG companies having to setup a Software Industry Association to negotiate with a Software Developers Guild every year? It seems plausible. It's probably in their best interest as well. These companies could just dump any social issues on to the union and just focus on making profits. The ability to lock out competitors might force other big software dev employers to join the association as well.


>Anything that reduces competition in the marketplace is bad for society as a whole

Just like engineering, every economic design has tradeoffs. There's no ideal solution to the problem, and if there is it certainly isn't unbridled competition.

Labor protections have to exist in order to humanize the commodity that it is, especially when demand dips below supply. Otherwise labor will be exploited. The difference between labor and oil as a commodity is that labor is people with unalienable rights. Unlimited and unregulated competition cannot always guarantee those rights, it can infringe on them for no fault of the individuals affected.

That's why there can never be a truly free market for labor that is also moral - all the upsides of the S/D curve are mirrored by the downsides. Competition is amoral; it's neither innately good or bad for society. The effects of competition can be good, which we should encourage, but they can also be quite negative, which is why we need consumer and labor protection.

For developers in all industries, I see major upsides to unionization. It's not synonymous with reduced competition or salary schedules. Think more in terms of minimum salaries, work and vacation schedules, healthcare/pension funding that isn't tied to your employer, standardized NDA and non-competes, standard FOSS contribution policies.

And yea, I think a lot of us in a hypothetical union would want to codify stuff like a meritocracy and salary/equity negotiations. People on the whole are reasonable. The idea of a union is not to ruin competition for developers, but to provide some benefits developers who don't work at the top of the game for the biggest companies out there. There's a lot of bullshit people at small and mid sized shops deal with that we could fix if we unionized.


Jason Schreier has been pushing for game developers to unionize for a while now.

In the case of programmers, it really doesn't make much sense. There's a lot of BS that can come with unions. They have transferable skills. It's just easier to change jobs.

For more specialized workers a union probably does make sense, eg: 3d artists, game testers.

But I think union organizers are really only interested in the programmers, because they'll probably generate the most dues.


It certainly makes sense for game developers. They're being exploited with super long working hours, being let go at a moment's notice once a game is out the door, and their pay usually isn't that good. They'd benefit greatly from unionization same as everyone else working on these games.


Programmers need it the least. They are paid the highest and have the best alternatives employment options. I think we should be talking about the production artist and testers in a completely separate breath from the programmers. In fact, this could explain why people are arguing in circles here, they could be talking about separate groups in completely different situations as far as compensation & leverage goes!


Jason Schreier has never worked as developer or in the gaming industry. It's insane how so many people give these people so much credence and attention. The guy literally doesn't know what he is a talking about. Also 3d artists and game testers/QA/etc are transferable skills just like programmers.


What does it matter that he isn't a game developer? I don't need to be an industrial revolution era child factory worker to understand that the conditions they labored under were inhumane.


It's incredible reading through the comments on this post and nobody seems to see the game industry for what it is: the canary in the coal mine.

Programming within the game industry is sliding rapidly toward blue collar, and you'd be a fool to assume the problem is contained. The problem for programmers is simple - Supply and Demand.

Thanks to a massive publicity push from big tech, the public is being sold - hook line and sinker - a story about how we're in a "shortage of developers" and how everyone needs to "learn to code". Combine that with the plethora of boot camps, and online materials, and it's never been easier to pickup JavaScript on a weekend and be coding a website.

I've never seen people shoot themselves in the foot more. For god sakes, you're sawing your foot off at this point. There is now a massive wave of young developers, just getting their footing who will be entering a work force near you in the next 10-20 years. And don't forget about remote workers, they gun for your job too. It's becoming more and more technically feasible for a software shop in the US to hire a dev team based in, I dunno, China. I've seen it happen to a group of incredible devs. At the end of the day, the numbers didn't pencil in their favor.

Ask yourselves if you really think the good times will always roll. Really ask yourself if Obama standing up in front of the nation beckoning for everyone to "Learn to Code" was really good for you, or good for the big tech companies that got him up there? Wake up, and smell the ashes. There are industry and economic forces actively working AGAINST you. Don't help them. Stop parroting the narrative that there is a "shortage of developers", for starters. And hedge your bets while you're at it - get really good at something. Specialize. Maybe it's firmware, maybe it's iOS AR, maybe its machine learning, find something niche, and get world class level good at it. In 15 years, hopefully you'll be one of the few still making "6 figure salaries".


While that may be true, I can't but think of the scribes. Mass literacy has destroyed the scribe occupation (think of their children!) but overall it has been a benefit to mankind. I'm thinking the same with computers and programming. Computers and programming have so transformed the world (much like literacy and numeracy) that I have to think the same should be true of computeracy (computer literacy).

And just like there are people who have an affinity for literacy (we call them "writers") and numeracy ("mathematicians" or "accountants" depending upon the math work), I think we're still working through what it means to be computerate.


Seems to me like you've kinda cherry picked scribes. Among other reasons why that doesn't really apply here, could be pointed out that scribes as a profession evaporated HUNDREDS (thousands?) of years ago, so I hardly see the direct analogy to modern life. There are plenty of examples that are more relevant.

Take metal working. Or, coal mining. Post-industrial revolution during the "boom" of the early 1900s, metal working was seen as the end-all of careers. Everyone needed to "learn to work metal!". In fact, it was pushed so much as the best career, that it became integrated into the educational system (shop). It was believed that everyone needed to learn to work with metal.

What has that done for the industry? Honestly, can you look at the metal working industry, or the coal industry, and tell me that they (or us?) are better off because of it being integrated into our educational system. We could probably argue all day about whether or not that was a smart move for mankind, but one thing is for sure - all those people ended up with depressed wages as two effects took hold - over supply of workers locally, and cheap labor abroad.

Similarly, I think we can debate all day about whether or not everyone knowing how to code is going to be a good thing. I don't think I have the same perspective as you on that, but neither of us can really make a definitive statement of fact. We can probably both agree however, that software faces the same destiny as other professions which went through the very same life cycle.


The impression I've gotten is the exact opposite. Game development has never been a good career, at any point between the Atari and today. No matter what year the story is set, stories of game development always seem to have the same stressful backdrop. No game developers are reminiscing about the good old days, before the supply of programmers increased.


I hope the future is not so terrible but I can't really disagree with you. I had one executive tell me "programming is becoming a blue collar job". And general programming companies are adopting the bad practices that were pioneered by gaming industry.

20 years ago when I started programming I had my own office, and that continued for a few years. Then I shared an office with a few people. Now we have open-floor plan factories and Agile fanaticism, and many companies that expect >40 hours of work per week from their salaried programmers. Fortunately I work at home now so I don't have to deal with this, but I take a salary penalty to do so.

It definitely seems like in terms of people and jobs, churn and burn is the future of programming. But maybe not just programming. It seems like there is an employment culture based on "exploit the millennials". Consider the weird "Hustle Harder" posters in WeWork offices.


This. It's coming for the rest of the industry. Amazon and Google aren't encouraging young people to code for the good of the world. It's so the can hire people for less money once the pool is larger. The intent is to drive down the cost so that devs will do the exact same work and the company will take a larger cut of the profit. Once this gets to a point of exploitation like in the games industry a union is necessary unless you are lucky enough to choose the right speciality but this is a gamble.


Following this logic further, should we try to fight against education initiatives in general too? Educated people are more likely to be able to pick up programming, or take one of many other white-collar jobs. We could team up with people of other white-collar jobs and work on slashing funding for public schools, etc., to make sure future generations don't replace us too soon.

Somehow that doesn't seem right. I think it's a horrible zero-sum view of the world.


Or you could have a more nuanced perspective... Maybe computer science should remain where it belongs - higher education.

Not everyone and their mother needs to "learn to code".


Not anymore no. It used to be when I did it in the 80s and 90s. It grew up and it is hell now (if I may believe my friends in the industry).

Edit; come to think about it: I made games a few years ago; educational games for government, utilities, zoos and education for money, so a job and that was still fun and really quite a dream job imho. But not big open world fps ofcourse :) Nice 2d games which is like the most anyway.

Edit 2; what I liked about game dev in the 80s and 90s was the limitations of the machines: you could lock yourself up in the basement for weeks, eat and drink and dream optimizations while writing the most rancid (but in my eyes genious) code and in the end ship it and never think about it again. I would say it was far more of an intellectual challenge than (for most devs) now as all was always from scratch; engines did not fit in memory or were just too slow if they they did. Also; there was a clear end to deathmarches: after a while nothing fits anymore and you cannot optimize it further so you ship or just scrap it. Now you can continue forever marching, which must be hell.


Heh, I wouldn't say grown up. The work environment I had in games was an hr nightmare.


In the early 80s, you could be a 15 year old and make a ton of money making a computer game. This got harder as time went on and computers got more complicated (and expectations rose).


I think in general software developers can use something like SAG to enforce a basic daily minimum rate.

https://www.sagaftra.org/production-center/contract/810/rate...

Daily rates for developers, dbas, qa's and such...

The same guild could make special rate sheets for different stages of a firm. For example SAG has a daily rate sheet for indy films, a software dev guild could have one for startups as well. This could at least prevent abusive startups.

https://www.sagindie.org/signatory/

If you are a star developer equivalent to a celebrity actor, these would just be the minimum rates. There is nothing preventing a studio from paying more.

If anything this would resolve the use of contract labor 1099 misclassifications. If you are good enough to get paid above 120k you could have a loan out corporation and deduct more of your costs while still paying union fees.

https://abspayroll.com/loan-out-companies/

https://firemark.com/2015/01/12/should-you-have-a-loan-out-c...

This wouldn't be a an factory type union. It would be something like a professional union like SAG.

Read the rate sheets to get a better understanding.


Throughout my childhood I enjoyed playing and making games. I eventually studied a mixture of CS and digital art in college in order to join the game industry. It was a dream job to me in so many ways - I imagined an open, friendly culture of people working together to create an immersive experience. The reality: minimum wage entry level, planned for "crunch" time >3 months long, constant fear of running out of "runway" (money), etc. All of this culminated with the company simply stopping paying people for a month before eventually shutting down. I tried one more game company (really just a fb/ios thinly-veiled gambling app) before I quit the industry for good. That was roughly 5 years ago - at this point I'm _just_ starting to re-kindle my love for games and creativity.


For tech workers, I think that making video games is "not a dream job" is an understatement. Except maybe for a select few.

That's what I wanted to do. A short look at what the reality looks like was enough to make me run away really fast.

I suppose the industry manages to lure in new talent who don't know any better, that's how they still manage to get people to work for them despite the terrible conditions. They project an image of an industry that is young (no shit, "old guys" jumped ship long ago) and fun to people who grew up playing video games and want to see the other side.

That's not just the big studios. On the indie side, the good thing is that you are not exploited, the bad thing is that it is even harder, with low chances of success. The only team that I've seen personally and was somewhat successful are the guys who made Crosscode (I highly recommend the game BTW), and the process looked like hard and stressful work. The others ended up doing gigs completely unrelated to game dev in order to eat.


I left an engineering job at a finance startup in the mid 90's to take a "dream job" at a video game startup. It was.. awful: all the fun and creativity was being done by on the production/game design part, and the engineering was... both demanding and boring at the same time.

It was weird realizing I was happier and feeling more creatively engaged when I was figuring out how to price derivatives.


They are not being exploited. They are free to take on another job. Especially coders could certainly find jobs in other industries.

And "Fortnite" is not the games industry. There are a variety of ways to make a living making games.


Of course you can stop being exploited as a game developer by leaving the games industry---but why should people be forced to change their career in order to avoid exploitation?


There's only so many jobs available in a career field. If there's far more people clamoring to take those jobs than positions available, why should employers bother to pay them more than a pittance? The employer who pays extremely well will be uncompetitive compared to the other employers.

If employees don't like this, they should stop trying to get these terribly-compensated jobs, and go to other industries. There is a shortage of qualified developers in other industries. Salaries are very high, working conditions are generally good, so why do these masochists insist on "pursuing their passion" in the games field where this isn't the case?

I'm sorry, I have no sympathy. It's not like these people don't have options. This is seriously a "first world problem" here.

The big problem is that too many people seem to think that people have some kind of "right" to a career. They don't. As a society, people should have the right to a decent job and livelihood, I will agree. However, no one has the right to do their dream job, and get paid a fortune for doing it! Careers are subject to the laws of supply and demand like anything else, and games are not something vital to society where the government has any business stepping in with regulation to keep things running smoothly, as it does with things like electric utilities, infrastructure, education, or aviation safety.


> but why should people be forced to change their career in order to avoid exploitation?

"change their career"? come on, it isn't as though they're being asked to become coal miners or journalists. just go compete for some of the jobs doing scientific visualization software, or take some other high paying software job.


They are welcome to jump in independently, produce their own games, and compete with the rest. They will then learn the realities of "GET IT DONE", that those whining at management about >40hr work weeks get trounced by those viewing projects as "24/7 with bio breaks".

It's not about whether you have a right to follow a chosen career. It's about that chosen career being chosen by many more people than the market can support, the competition being ferocious, and the reality that those wanting to get it right get run over by those getting it DONE.


Because nobody is entitled to a job. Nobody should be forced to give you money. If they don't need your services, why should they?

I guess game development is more like wanting to be an artist.

What if I want to make a living making paintings? Should people/society be forced to buy my paintings? I don't think so. It's my job to convince people to buy my paintings, and if I fail, too bad. Back to selling fries.


Don't know why someone is entitled to a particular career. Change can be hard but I certainly wasn't ever promised an easy life.


It is also worth noting that many of the skills in the games industry are highly specialized to the games industry.

Games is kind of like a 'galapagos island' to its own. Most games developers won't know any language other than C++, won't know anything about the web, won't know anything about databases, etc....


C++ is consistently one of the most popular programming languages [0].

Large-project, high-performance C++ programming that a game developer likely possesses is probably one of the most broadly portable programming skills a person could have.

[0] https://www.tiobe.com/tiobe-index/cplusplus/


> but why should people be forced to change their career in order to avoid exploitation?

You've got to be kidding, right?


And they're also free to, rather than leave their dream career, push for unionization instead and fight to remain inside it.

Just leaving is one choice, but fighting is another.


Sure, they are free to do that. I mostly take issue with the framing by the NYT, talking of "exploitation" and unionization as the only choice/way to fight back. Especially the "exploitation" bit - game developers are not slaves, by a long stretch. If work conditions are bad, it is because many people fancy their job over the alternatives.

You could also "fight" by creating your own game studio with better work conditions, for example.

In my personal view, unionization is just blackmailing. That's my personal opinion, though (guess that doesn't make me better than the NYT, but at least I state it as my opinion, not as absolute truth).

I am not sympathetic to unionization, because I think it probably harms the game developers who are currently unemployed, and it is not really fair play imo (it is banking on arbitrary laws that are not rooted in economic reality).


> If work conditions are bad, it is because many people fancy their job over the alternatives.

What lol? No, working conditions are bad due to deadlines and management being unwilling to hire more people / move deadlines / cut scope / etc.


They get away with it because people are queuing for the job.

And you can't assume there is infinite money available to spend, either.

Of course there is no need to make a job horrible just because it is in demand. I'm pretty sure there are some pretty good jobs in game development, too. For example indie developers who hit it big (Mojang...).


Yes, we know they are getting away with it, but that's not the subject...


But the company was there first. If the company sucks, than those devs could also found a better company instead of trying to change the bad company.

So fighting, yes, but maybe for something solid.


I don't see why that matters.

It's legal to go find another job. It's also legal to unionize. Who are you to tell other people what to do? It's fine if you would just leave, but maybe others don't want to. Maybe they've poured their heart and soul into that company, or it's the best job around and if they leave it they'd have to move. There's plenty of reasons why people who are not you would choose to fight instead of give up and leave.

It doesn't make sense to criticize others for doing something that's perfectly acceptable just because you wouldn't do it.


" It doesn't make sense to criticize others for doing something that's perfectly acceptable just because you wouldn't do it."

So you criticize me for criticizing? And that makes sense?


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