Friday, November 8, 2013

Blips: Labor Intensive

Source: 'You Can Sleep Here All Night': Video Games and Labor
Author: Ian Williams
Site: Jacobin

I'm so pleased to share this wonderfully insightful piece by Ian Williams for Jacobin about labor practices in the video game industry. Well, the report isn't exactly exciting in a "good news" sort of way; it's a sobering reality check about an industry that flies under the radar when it comes to how it treats its workers. In summation it's a cycle of extended crunch time hours that inspires high burn-out and layoff rates, ensuring that there are entry-level openings for the most "passionate" of young developers, willing to subject themselves to menial, low-paying labor with equally low job security for a chance at the big time that has been promised them: the dream job of working in the video game industry. There are no unions and there is very little diversity in the workforce. Much of the data on the video game labor force is either obfuscated or not tracked seriously. I highly recommend reading through the entire piece for all the details and citations.

Indie development, which was only brought up briefly in Williams' piece, is often seen as an alternative to these corporate practices, but from what I've heard and seen from small development teams, this isn't a solution, just a different way of doing business with its own set of problems. For starters indie devs aren't known for getting a whole lot of sleep either. Small teams may work from home and subject themselves to the very same kinds of crunch time hours that big corporations do. A solo developer who self-publishes does not receive a salary, and is wholly dependent on the performance of their finished game at market to provide enough money to live off, not to mention fund their next project. According to Williams' research, the average indie worker income is only $23,000. It's the "starving artist" mentality all over again. I'm not saying indie development needs to be regulated, just that it's not free of the problems that plague the rest of the industry and makes for a poor (literally) alternative. The real solution is to actually fix the problems at the corporate level, not to point to another corner of the market that you hope will overtake the establishment and go on to not become the same structure that it once replaced.

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