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Games facilitate social connections among people, but there is a group whose social connections and personal life are stolen in the name of development. I feel that it is urgent and important for us consumers and future business leaders to be aware of the causes of this multi-billion-dollar industry’s exploitation and think on how we can eliminate its apparent need for it.
The most notorious issue management and developers in this industry face is “crunch time”. Most developers report working “up to 20 hours a day and more than 100 hours a week”. This is an extremely unsustainable practice, one that will cause even the best talent to burn out and leave. The process is this: nearing a deadline, a company mass hires if they are behind schedule so they can deliver on time, and as soon as they are done, there is a mass firing to cut costs. Employees old and new often don’t get paid for overtime. Simply speaking, “crunch is the cheapest way to meet a deadline”. Telltale Games and Capcom do this, and EA has been sued twice for it. It is unethical to exploit the passion of the developers in this way. Large companies manage to get away with this behavior by “lobbying the Canadian government to introduce software employee overtime exemptions”.
Indeed, “the desire to grow has perhaps the most perverse effect on strategy”. The loss of strategy changes the culture of a game company, leading to more psychopathic behavior. Furthermore, the strong sense of camaraderie, one of the most attractive aspects to working in this industry, is lost. For example, Telltale started as a “tight-knit group…but never properly adapted from its indie mentality to one more appropriate for its larger size” after the success of The Walking Dead. Not only do people no longer recognize each other, communication is lost-and this is the start of disaster. Having experienced game development from a founder-producer standpoint myself, I know it can be extremely difficult to stick to schedule even with superior collaboration and communication. The story can change infinitely, art dramatically altered, and fatal errors appear right before a deadline when it is time-consuming and risky to train somebody from scratch. However, bad planning is the root cause behind pre-production and post-release layoffs. Publishers set a release date for a game, well in advance for the development team. Rather than announcing a date, announce a time frame. This gives the entire team enough room to breathe, helps coordinate schedules of multiple projects in ramp-up and exploit stages, and avoids the cutthroat scheduling often derailed by unpredictable development issues.
It also prevents hiring at the wrong times and, consequently, huge layoffs. Sensible and strategic management at the top is crucial to project success in this trickle-down industry. Few industries elicit as much passion as this one, which is why I am sure that a balanced solution can be found.
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