The gaming industry is not as fun as one might think. A recent survey by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) uncovers some concerns surrounding working conditions of some developers.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Over half of game developers have faced crunch culture in the past two years.
  • The majority of developers work an average of 40 hours weekly, but some report up to 95 hours.
  • Retirement security and sustainable career concerns are prevalent among developers.

The data collected by IATSE spanned from March to mid-August 2023 and included developers from various sections of the industry – AAA, mobile, and indie games. Among those who took part, 57% had most recently worked on AAA games, and the average industry experience stood at 6.9 years. Intriguingly, less than half had been in the industry for seven years or more.

Overwhelming Working Hours and Pay Concerns

Despite most developers indicating a standard 40-hour work week, a concerning 25% reported working 41 hours or more. Some even stated a staggering 95 hours weekly average. The pay structures varied, with 58% on an annual salary and 26.4% paid hourly. This brought forth another significant issue: overtime pay. A substantial number of salaried developers faced challenges with this, with one developer expressing:

“It’s frustrating to work a 14-hour day and know that with California overtime laws, I should be getting paid for 18 hours of my time when I’m only getting paid eight.”

Moreover, over half of the surveyed individuals stated they couldn’t negotiate a pay rise. Adding to the financial strain, under half felt their earnings didn’t match up with the living costs.

Retirement Issues and Career Sustainability

Retirement security emerged as another significant point of concern. A notable 36% of developers revealed they didn’t have an employer-sponsored retirement plan. When considering the sustainability of their career in the gaming industry, opinions were mixed. While 42.9% believed in its sustainability, 37.9% felt it was unsustainable, and 19.2% remained uncertain.

In addition to the primary concerns, the IATSE survey delved into various other topics such as freelance pay, tasks beyond the job description, remote work provisions, and healthcare among others. In light of these findings, IATSE is gearing up to engage with the respondents in a town hall. The overarching goal is to drive a conversation about the possibility of unionization in the gaming industry – a move that seems to resonate with many. This aligns with last year’s report from the UNI Global Union, revealing that a whopping 79% of game industry workers were in favor of unionization.

How Crunch Culture Impacts the Gaming Industry

While the immediate concerns surrounding crunch culture often center on developer well-being, it’s undeniable that persistent overwork can also have ripple effects on the end products — the games themselves. As developers are pushed to their limits, creativity and attention to detail can suffer. Fatigue, burnout, and stress aren’t just health issues; they can translate to bugs in code, lackluster design, or unpolished game mechanics. When teams are under constant pressure, the thorough testing and iteration processes, which are vital for producing high-quality games, might be rushed or overlooked. This not only affects the immediate launch of a game but can tarnish a studio’s reputation in the long run.

Potential consequences of crunch on game quality include:

  1. Reduced Creativity: Continual pressure can stifle innovation and lead to formulaic game design.
  2. Increased Bugs and Glitches: Fatigue can result in oversights, leading to game-breaking or immersion-shattering bugs.
  3. Lack of Polish: A game’s finishing touches, which often make it stand out, can be rushed or omitted entirely.
  4. Weakened Storytelling: Narrative depth and consistency can suffer when writers and designers are overworked.
  5. Post-launch Issues: Overburdened development cycles can lead to problematic game updates, server issues, or inadequate customer support post-launch.

Addressing the crunch culture is not just about better working conditions for developers, but also about ensuring that gamers receive the high-quality experiences they anticipate and deserve.

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