Open Letter: Quality of Life Issues are Holding Back the Game Industry
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Despite the continued success of the games industry, the immaturity of current business and production practices is severely crippling the industry . The recent frenzy of discussion over impassioned testimony about the horrible working conditions within much of the industry attests to the reality of this often unspoken disease.
As the professional association that unites the game development community and serves as its voice, the International Game Developers Association is deeply disturbed by this vicious cycle and is working to better the situation. Improving the quality of life of game developers is an IGDA priority.
In tackling quality of life issues, it is important to realize that poor quality of life is symptomatic of more fundamental challenges within the industry (e.g., consolidation, ever-evolving technology, one-sided contracting, lack of project management expertise, no craft/job standards, etc), which in turn all need to be addressed in order to truly improve our work/life balance.
What's more, game developers are sometimes just as much to blame for submitting themselves to extreme working conditions, adopting a macho bravado in hopes of "proving" themselves worthy for the industry. Our own attitudes towards work/life balance and production practices need to change just as much as the attitudes of the "suits."
For those who are looking to unionization as an option, it is important to note that the IGDA is not a union and cannot "become" one: the IGDA is incorporated as a non-profit professional association, which has a distinct role from that of a union. Further, as an international organization, the localized nature of unions (i.e., often requiring state by state and country by country solutions) is beyond our organizational scope.
It is unfortunate that it has gotten to the point of engaging in class action lawsuits. While some industry workers choose such legal means to gain retribution, the IGDA believes that a conciliatory approach is also an option.
The reality is that there are game companies that have proven that a focus on quality of life can lead to great games, AND business success: BioWare, Firaxis, Team17, Blue Fang, Cyberlore and Ensemble are just a few of the studios that put as much effort on keeping their employees happy and healthy as on their bottom line. These, and other sensible companies, realize that a strong quality of life leads to more productive and creative workers. In turn, these workers produce better games, and stay in the industry to share their experience with all the passionate new recruits - helping to avoid common mistakes and recurring pitfalls. Further, they realize that driving their people into the ground is a short-term view that is not sustainable.
It is sadly ironic that those who strive for success at any cost don't realize that mature and responsible human resource and production practices will more readily bring them what they so desperately seek. That is to say, regardless of the humane imperative, maintaining a strong quality of life is just good business.
The IGDA's white paper on quality of life best practices has already served as a powerful tool, but it is only the first step. Via an upcoming "best companies to work for" initiative, the IGDA will provide awareness of enlightened companies and their practices so that others in the industry can learn from their wisdom. Similarly, the IGDA will shine a light on the wealth of research and knowledge being generated from outside the games industry.
To aid in these outreach efforts, the IGDA will be hosting a full-day quality of life think-tank at the annual Game Developers Conference in March. Also, we'll be encouraging our 80+ chapters from all over the world to host local meetings and sessions to discuss and explore this important issue.
Further, the IGDA has two special interest groups that will help in sharing knowledge and work on related issues: the Production SIG (working to formalize the production process) and the Human Resources SIG (hub for HR professionals). The efforts of these two SIGs, in addition to the ongoing work of the Quality of Life Committee, will ensure a diverse perspective on solving quality of life problems.
This is only the beginning and we're still forming plans. We encourage everyone to get involved. We ask that you contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to volunteer, provide ideas, success stories, resources and any other relevant information. In particular, the IGDA is requesting details on active and pending lawsuits to add to our reference list online.
We have no doubt that with everyone's help and contribution we can save the industry and art form we are all so passionate about.
The IGDA Board of Directors,
Jason Della Rocca