Toxic Workplaces Are Driving Video Game Developers to Unionize
Grim stories of unpaid overtime and sexism have workers organizing for change
For those of us who grew up swapping Pokémon with classmates and strategizing how to defeat bosses late into the night with friends, making video games is a dream job. But the reality of working in the industry is different. Careers in the video game industry can be very rewarding, but there’s also a dark side that’s finally getting the attention it deserves — and workers are organizing to change it.
In the past few years, journalists have reported shocking stories about the work environments at game studios around the world. Crunch is an industry term that refers to a 40-hour workweek spiraling into 60, 80, or even 100 hours without extra pay. This can happen not just in the final weeks before release, but throughout the development cycle. Kotaku’s Jason Schreier wrote that many producers, “see mandatory overtime not as a contingency plan but as a natural part of game development, to be regularly used as a way to cut costs and make the most ambitious games on the shortest schedules.” Crunch isn’t just an overtime problem; it eats into workers’ ability to enjoy their lives, spend time with their families, and can even lead to severe health issues when they’re overworked for extended periods of time.
Ahead of the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 in October 2018, a game which made $725 million in its first three days, Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser told Vulture the team had worked “100-hour weeks” to finish it — that would be seven 14-hour days. Soon after, Kotaku published an exposé on the endemic culture of crunch at Rockstar and how workers were struggling under the pressure — but Rockstar isn’t the only company working its employees to the bone. After Bioware’s much-anticipated cooperative shooter Anthem flopped earlier this year, Schreier revealed how bad planning and a series of last-minute changes led to such extreme crunch and exhaustion that one worker told him, “Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware.”
This is not the image that many players have of how their favorite games get made. Yet it gets worse. In addition to crunch, game workers can face instability from unexpected studio…