Game on: A tribute to game developers

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Words Jovi Figueroa

Last month, we heard the tragic news that Activision-Blizzard laid off hundreds of employees shortly after losing three executives. It was a devastating time for the gaming industry, and many developers and companies quickly extended their arms to those who have been left without work by the mega company’s move, advertising open positions and call for talents. 

But the thing is, mass layoff in the size of Activision-Blizzard’s is a thing in the gaming industry. Last year, Tell-Tale folded and laid of all their staff save 25 people, causing class lawsuits and chaos in the industry. And there are more non-isolated cases in the industry that’s part of the gaming world’s vicious cycle of overhiring-mass layoff-rinse-and-repeat when they start and ship off AAA titles.

Ironically, the gaming industry is actually performing quite well. Games won’t leave, they’ll just continue to change and innovate. But in recent years, it seems all we’ve cared about is how underwhelming the new Call of Duty title is, how delayed the next Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy installment is, how buggy the servers of Ubisoft’s multiplayer bid are. Everything that we’ve been concerned about are the flaws, the mishaps, the bugs. But did we ever stop to think about the people laboring day and night to deliver these games to us?

Working in the gaming industry is a largely creative and passion-driven career. While the work is very much rewarding in the sense that people get to do what they love to do, the industry breeds a toxic environment that may sometimes be the cause of all these buggy titles and underperforming titles. 

Here’s one such evil: developers are mass-hired when a company starts production on a project, and then mass-laid off when the project ships off. While there’s always a new game in some company starting all the time, this forces many developers to uproot themselves and their families every time they finish a game and would have to look for a new one to work on. 

I’ve always hated DLCs and thought they were rip-offs and scams by companies to make more money off of people. But then I stumbled upon an interview with a developer who would share their relief when they were asked to sign a DLC contract, because that meant their stay in that project is extended and they wouldn’t have to look for a new project as soon as one is done. Now I hold a polarizing stand about DLCs.

Second of such evils is the “crunch.” It’s a period, sometimes as short as a week or two, or as long as a year, where developers are forced to put in 80 to 100 hours of work a week, going on sleepless nights and foodless hours just to meet their deadline. While passion can get you running for so long, one developer shares that during a particular stretch of crunching, he was admitted to the hospital thrice in one week for stomach cramps triggered by too much working. If this is the kind of environment in the workplace, how can you expect employees to give their 100 percent and create a game that will dazzle? 

It seems that the lousy games and releases that we’ve been seeing have become reflections of the very conditions companies are putting their employees under—generally undernourished and likely to crash at the next curve or turn.

On a slightly brighter note, free-to-play, “service-oriented” games nowadays have started to gain momentum, most especially on smartphone devices. Unlike AAA games that take forever to develop and when completed are a sealed deal package, these mobile-friendly games encourage you to play on and on as they continuously release updates, new items, and events. This kind of model makes it sustainable for developers who are on board, especially since they are able to keep working on the project as long as they keep it interesting enough for their players. 

But is this the solution to the toxic cycles of the gaming industry? Probably not. Not every game can be that game that you want to keep playing forever. And not all of us are particularly thrilled about investing thousands of hours on a game that requires us to keep waiting for a cool down or keeps asking money every time a cool item comes up.

We take our hats off and raise our glasses to all the developers who work hard day and night to bring us these amazing games and titles that distract us from the cruel world that we live in. And we offer our best wishes to all the developers and employees who have, in their stint in the gaming industry, have experienced being discarded on the sidewalk after they have created masterpieces and works of art. We only hope that they finally get the stability and compensation that they deserve.

This story was originally published in Speed Magazine’s March 2019 issue.

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