Game Devs: Wage Slaves Or Underappreciated?

Alex St. John takes aim at game developers.

First of all, read Alex St. John’s opinion piece on Venture Beat. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

 

Finished? Good.

Update: I really couldn’t have said it better. Alex St. John’s daughter spoke out against him.

To give you some background, St. John spends his time writing in his blog and teaching his ways to people who will listen. He’s also an extremely accomplished man, having co-created DirectX and owning many intellectual properties.

He also has a unique view on modern game development and the Millennial generation as well.

AND THEN HE SPOKE

“Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations.”

St. John’s opening salvo couldn’t be more divisive or sound more condescending (actually it probably could be). He followed up his introduction with equally inflammatory speech that reeks of ignorance. That isn’t the crux of the argument here though. There have always been and there always will be people that blame the “victim”. In this case, the victim is the average game developer that feels he or she is being worked to their capacity and more.

When 30%+ of developers regularly work 45+ hours a week and over half  were required to work “crunch” time on projects that had them working 50-70 hours a week, something is clearly wrong. That’s without even considering that over a third of surveyed devs receive no overtime pay and are often paid by salary. (IGDA DSS 2015)

But St. John doesn’t care about that. Instead he waxed nostalgic about how he “…grew up in a log cabin in Alaska with no electricity, plumbing, heating, or cable TV” and how he is “…still thrilled by the incredibly decadent luxury of porcelain toilets and fast food.” His anecdotes are cute at best, and his words drip with disdain for modern devs. His attitude sounds like the arguments of video game forum warriors that mock the complaints of others by declaring that “people in some countries don’t even have clean water to drink, and you’re complaining about a video game. First-world problems…”

DETACHED FROM REALITY

I can’t begin to imagine how sheltered the lives of modern technology employees must be to think that any amount of hours they spend pushing a mouse around for a paycheck is really demanding strenuous work.

The thing is that St. John doesn’t consider working at a desk as real work. Sound familiar? It’s the same shtick that you hear from baby-boomers that worked 30 years in manufacturing and scoff at the retail employee that is tired from 40 hours of dealing with difficult customers. That brain-work isn’t real work.

But brain-work is definitely real work. It’s stressful to program and animate (I speak from a modicum of experience). To be on a deadline and need to polish your project in time to submit it, while trying to remain mentally sharp is a difficult task. Then factor in stress itself and the toll it takes on the human body, something that organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now monitors due to the health hazards it presents.

St. John’s criticism of modern devs proves not only his lack of empathy for others but a disconnect from the realities of the modern workplace. Ask any college student during finals about how they feel about studying while trying to fit in homework, their classes, and hopefully a social life and you’ll likely get the same answer… “I’m stressed out”. True, the hypothetical student isn’t working a 40 hour week building houses or working on an oil rig, but it’s tiring nonetheless. I personally work just shy of 40 hours a week at a manufacturing job, attend school full time, and try to find time to write and play video games. Some days I’m downright exhausted. Most days I feel like I deserve better, because I know I do.

I remember times I had to spend my entire day at a computer, programming or animating, and the way it drains me, even though I enjoy it. Work is work, regardless of what it entails. Loving what you do doesn’t change the fact that you’re eventually going to want to see your family or relax eventually and while some people are workaholics (which is what St. John sounds like), even they can burn out too.

AN AMERICAN TREND: OVERWORKING

Don’t be in the game industry if you can’t love all 80 hours/week of it…

Us Americans live in a culture of overworking, fueled by the likes of men like St. John and the fear that not “pulling your weight” will result in getting shown to the nearest exit. It’s sad to me that one of my favorite hobbies is created by people that are often so mistreated. And don’t kid yourself. Game developers are mistreated. Between working insane hours or always feeling their neck near the guillotine, a sizable portion of the dev community is in a state of constant stress. Sure they probably love making video games but there’s a reason why so many devs have gone indie.

I never did get that high school diploma. None of those educational shortcomings seems to matter in the high-tech world.

However, that’s where we are in today’s society. The aging workforce complaining about those damned, lazy Millennials because they want to go to school without going into severe debt to get a job that pays well. Gone are the days of being able to go straight from high school to a full-time job with good benefits. The world isn’t the same as it used to be back then. Employers are getting pickier, which can be a good thing for the company, but bad for the potential employees.

Hopefully, now that a man like St.John has opened his mouth and said what he said, companies can see just how ludicrous their mentality is when it comes to crunch and benefits. Hopefully things will get better for those that are trying to enjoy working in their dream jobs.

Hopefully Alex St. John was only kidding or being hyperbolic. Otherwise I am legitimately concerned about the video game industry.

 

As a side note to St. John:

“Having worked with many of the game industry’s most legendary game developers and also many of the game industry’s least known early retirees… Making games is not a job — it’s an art…”

Art is not an industrial creation. Stop trying to write off complaints about the state of affairs in the gaming industry as the grumblings of petulant artists. It’s not ridiculous that they want to be paid fairly for their work.

 

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4 thoughts on “Game Devs: Wage Slaves Or Underappreciated?

  1. Yeah, that guy sounds like an Über-cockwomble. And a really great rebuttal from you!

    I’ll just add that whenever anybody addresses complaints about working conditions, unpaid hours, unfair practices etc. with a (dismissive and offensive) ‘just quit then – plenty of other people would do the job instead’ you can safely go ahead and disregard anything else they might say. At best it shows a level of ignorance and stupidity that beggars belief, and in this particular case, it actually undermines the rest of the (quote-unquote) “point” he’s trying to make. Because if games are art, and if they require (and ultimately reflect) the passion, skill and creativity of their developers – a) they’re your greatest assets, and b) practices that negatively affect your greatest assets will undoubtedly have an impact on the quality of the “art” they’re producing.

    That St. John couldn’t see the contradiction inherent in this little extrapolation from his own, limited experience (with a bit of ‘I know some guys who were *totes* successful doing exactly what I’m suggesting’ thrown in for good measure) would very much suggest he hasn’t really thought this through properly.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoyed reading it – it was a great piece.

        “I’ve found that it mostly comes from people that are fine with the status quo”

        Yup – and more often than not, from the very people who are actually benefiting from it and the exploitation it facilitates. Ironically, given he talks about the victim-mentality of Developers and their level of privilege and whatnot, his whole schtick reads like some rich guy throwing his toys out of the pram because some people had the audacity to suggest they should be treated more fairly.

        Liked by 1 person

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