Like many of you (probably), I grew up playing video games and I dreamt that someday I would be making my own video games for the world to enjoy. However, a severe lack of technical aptitude put on me a different path, which turned out to be a blessing as a new study revealed just how thankless making video games can be.
According to a new study from the International Game Developers Association, 38% of game developers worked unpaid overtime during the “crunch”, which is the industry term for the final deadline before a video game is released.
This same survey conducted in 2014 found that 37% of developers reported working unpaid overtime during crunch, meaning that not only does the problem persist but it’s slowly getting worse. And even when overtime pay is factored in, crunch time often means working 70 hours weeks, the IDGA reports.
“It’s just how things are done,” IDGA Executive Director Kate Edwards told Business Insider.
The real issue, Edwards says, is that an employee’s passion for the gaming industry can actually become a hazard to their quality of life. Developers are afraid to speak up because they know there are dozens of wannabes who would be happy to take their place should their insubordination draw the wrath of the higher-ups.
It’s seriously demoralizing for a developer, Edwards says — they spend a lot of time and effort perfecting their art, then come to realize they’re just a “cog in the machine.”
“It really diminishes their role as a creative artist,” Edwards says.
Edwards says that a great way to address the problem in the short term is for job candidates to ask better questions when they are job hunting.
If you just ask during a job interview how much of your time will be spent in the loathsome crunch, and whether or not you’ll be compensated, at least you’ll be able to make an informed decision. After all, Edwards says, those companies’ HR departments have the data.
“You need to be blunt with your questions, you need to be clear with your concerns,” Edwards says.
Still, big video game companies tend to only select candidates that care more about working on a high-profile game than those interested in maintaining a personal life, which could inevitably get in the way once crunch time rolls around.
The hope is if enough candidates ask those questions — and she says that young jobseekers are getting smarter about this — companies will have more incentive to fix their practices as they work to attract more talent.
“It’s going to take years to fix,” Edwards says. “It’s going to take a cultural change.”
And until then, working 70 hour weeks without any overtime pay only to have the world hate your game sounds like a shitty way to go through life. Thank goodness we’re just gamers and not game developers.