The Ugly Truth Behind Video Game Industry’s Beautiful Art

The following is an editorial submitted by a vetted source posted anonymously.

You know what’s a shame? Every ounce of praise that I can give to a game and it’s beautiful creative work as an art-form is corrupted by the foul practices of the exploitative and outright evil video gaming industry. Almost every single studio exploits their employees because “games.” See, video games are a seen by some as a hedonistic form of entertainment and so working on them is seen as “fun” and a “privilege.” There is very few video game jobs out there, you see, so if you get one then you’re “cool” and “hip” and this allows the employer and management to leverage that against you as if you owe them something for the benefit.

I know this first hand, I know this from seeing it with my eyes, I know this from countless nights spent with developers who were friends across Aim and Skype and IRC and from reading so many forums and social media posts. It’s constantly occurring. It’s never ending. It’s everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

Issues Everywhere

Video game employees are constantly asked to work unreasonable hours, deal with random changes in their pay structure, be accountable for work far in excess of what should ever be assigned a single person and held accountable to it and other avenues of just generally bad employer’in. Like being yelled at, called names, etc.

One time, I had a manager make fun of my mother while on the company’s Ventrilo right after I just had reunited with her after 20 years. Nice, right? I spent the night crying. I never received an apology. That guy? Still works in gaming with a lot of others accused of the same. Very nice.

One time, I was at a game studio covering an event and one employee grabbed a chair and threw it across the room (this was a very very large area) and another employee’s personal laptop was on the chair. Literally someone’s laptop just got yeeted deleted, something he bought to make his job easier. Well naturally the screen shattered to bits.

“I’ll buy you a new one next week.”

So very nice.

Economic Turmoil Equals Rough Tides

Then every time like, say in 2020 or during 2023, or even back in 2008 when the economy hits any kind of fumble the industry decides to play musical chairs with its staff. For some reason, there doesn’t ever seem to be anyone who can manage a budget well enough to keep staff around at a reasonable cadence that every financial issue that hits the markets doesn’t result in people being laid off.

Not to mention, HR is sometimes a self taught department ran off those free handbook guides you find in Facebook ads. Sometimes, it doesn’t exist. In which cases there’s scenarios where like during ’08 when I had to take a bigger pay cut than others because “I was the only one without kids.”

Needless to say, it’s not fair that studios with set budgets can’t ever manage them. It’s absolute nonsense that it’s so easy for investors and upper management to hand wave away complaints because they’re “paid to play video games” while at the same time fail over and over again to budget properly, require constant layoffs and allow their studios to become toxic atmospheres.

Fair Treatment Equals Great Games

Excessive crunch, toxic environments, etc. don’t produce great games. There’s a drastic difference between a team who is crunching with passion and a team that’s forced to crunch to keep being paid. Fair treatment allows creative workers to stress less about the harsh reality of bills, getting paid, finding jobs, etc. and more time on actually developing the thing they’re tasked to do.

Treating game industry workers as professionals is absolutely critical to produce a healthy environment and quality product. It’s absolute nonsense that there are those out there who think otherwise, but they exist and have those opinions.

The Solution: Common Sense

Knowing the existence of these issues is half the battle; getting it changed is the war. Sadly, so many of these articles, this one included, can’t achieve change with the mere discussion of what happens. The discussion will muddy quickly when the reality is that those who invest and drive the game studios from the top can often be disconnected from the product.

Imagine, if you will, instead of a game developer they see a product designer who is spending too much time with a controller in their hand. Imagine how that would color their attitude about what they’re investing in or managing. It’s not a rare sight to see in gaming. Many of the games you love can have many people working on the game, especially close to the top, that know nothing about the game itself.

So change is something that everyone has to work together on, but not something this article can provide – other than yet another voice of encouragement to see video game employees universally treated fairly and with dignity and respect.

Cheryl Brown is a video game journalist with 7 years of experience. She is known for her in-depth analysis of the gaming industry and her ability to connect with her audience. Cheryl has worked for several gaming publications where she has written numerous articles and reviews. Her passion for gaming began at a young age, and she has since become an expert in the field. Cheryl is also an advocate for diversity in gaming and has spoken at several conventions on the topic. She believes that video games have the power to bring people together and create positive change in the world. Cheryl is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she earned a degree in journalism.