Call Them Out: Accountability for Gaming Corporations

Aug 25, 19  | posted by Joel Castro (1218)

Stop allowing suffering to continue in the gaming industry

In the past few years, a few trends in the gaming industry have come into the light, and few of them signal positive changes. From so-called “crunch” periods forcing employees to work over a hundred hours a week under stressful time constraints, to the avaricious behavior of top publishers with regards to how much money they want to make off their products via items such as loot boxes, microtransactions, and content staggered pre-orders. Thanks to the work of several fine journalists, such as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, Jim Sterling of the Jimquisition, YongYea on YouTube, as well as internal leaks from developers themselves, these practices have come into the light and we have now become more aware of them.

What’s being done to stop these practices? Not a single damn thing.

Think about it: what major AAA publisher has changed their standard practices in response to these revelations? Konami treats their employees like potential spies and induces paranoia via email monitoring and punishing ex-employees. Electronic Arts grinds their employees down with severe crunch periods and abusive bosses to the point where employees suffer mental breakdowns similar to soldiers in combat zones. Rockstar Games actively segregates their quality assurance testers from the rest of the development staff by forbidding them from going to company parties, events, and other such activities, treating them like lower-class citizens within their corporate structure. These are just the more high-profile examples, but the picture is clear: game publishers are mistreating their employees to a severe degree.

This is to say nothing about the corporate wide initiatives to implement exploitative monetization mechanics into their biggest and best-selling titles. From loot boxes that behave like in-game slot machines with no actual real-world value, to paid modifications on PC games, to even microtransactions and pre-order bonuses that can offer a gameplay advantage for those willing to pay an extra few dollars on top of the $60 most games cost nowadays. The loot boxes themselves contribute to a larger issue as well. Mainly, the fact that they exploit problem gamblers and teenagers in order to make them spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on cosmetic items. They even put children under their spell, forcing them to drain their parents’ bank accounts in search of cosmetics that will prevent their so-called friends from bullying them.

Publishers will claim that these types of extra monetization help mitigate the increasing cost of development, but let’s be honest: it’s nothing more than publishers wanting more money for their products in order to make as much money as humanly possible, and even further than that. Electronic Arts once even admitted that the removal of loot boxes from their Star Wars Battlefront II title—as an example—didn’t affect their bottom line. Why admit that if they claim they’re needed? Greed, plain and simple.

It’s time not only to speak out about these practices, but to act upon them.

Developers, programmers, artists, QA testers: lend me your ears. Don’t add to the current development culture. Most young developers believe that crunch periods and lack of overtime compensation are just the price of admission for a job in the industry. Please help the newest generation of creators feel safe in their new field. If negotiations fail, unionize if you must. Voice actors have SAG-AFTRA to help them against greedy publishers not wanting to pay for their work. Let’s create unions for the programmers, QA testers, and all the other creators who suffer from the intense pressure put upon them by these publishers.

On another note, if you have issues with the monetization of games, speak up. Not only have these practices done harm to consumers, they’ve also hindered projects from reaching their full potential. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided suffered from these, as did Battlefront II, Destiny 2, Apex Legends, and other such titles with ridiculous loot boxes and microtransactions. Don’t settle for a lesser game just because corporate decides charging extra for a better experience is better. You are creating the game, so you should have a say in what you put into these games. There are independent developers who make complete games that sell exceptionally well and are critical hits that don’t utilize these mechanics, and they’re held in higher regard than the photorealistic messes that most AAA published games are in their current states.

Players—paying customers—you must continue to make your voices heard. If nothing else, your voices are the ones with the biggest sway. Publishers might not seem like they’re listening, but the creators are. Ultimately, you are the ones who decide if a game is worth buying or not. Continue to show publishers that you will not accept titles that costs the sanity of the people who pour their heart and soul into a product. Regardless of whether it’s a mess like Fallout 76 or a masterpiece like Red Dead Redemption II, no video game is worth the exploitation of its creators. If you don’t like being coerced into paying extra on top of the $60 you spent on a game, continue to speak out against that as well.

I know I’m likely beating a dead horse at this point, but the fact remains that this is a subject near and dear to me. Video games mean more to me than I could ever explain in this piece I’m making. Hell, I’m not even under the assumption that many people will read it beyond this website. I want all games to succeed, but not if there’s suffering involved on the creator or customer side of things. Not if CEOs see only cogs in a money-making machine instead of the humans they employ. It’s time to act, and it’s time to end the silence.

It’s time to take more action. Who’s with me?

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