Behind the unbridled success of video games, the harsh reality of the industry’s working conditions

Video game developers often find themselves having to switch location for a job. — AFP Relaxnews

Video game designers are sharing their stories, revealing the unpleasant, even debilitating, parts of their jobs.

Relocations, negative effects on spouses’ professional and personal lives, looking for a fulfilling job after a difficult experience... Not to mention the particular situation of foreign workers, who are likely the most affected by these complicated working conditions in the United States.

If there is one sector that has not suffered from the health crisis, it is the video game industry. Unlike with cinema or music, the successive lockdowns actually boosted this market, which is now worth US$200bil (RM832.70bil), according to a study published in April by consulting firm Accenture.

But this buoyancy, which specialists expect to continue in the years to come, does not prevent the sector’s employment from being precarious. Careers can be irregular, quickly shifting or stagnant. And when passion is central to the profession, one's work can encroach on all areas of life.

In a Twitter thread, Laralyn McWilliams, a video game designer since the ‘90s, talks about the “unspoken taxes” to pay in the world of video game development, one of which involves moving often. In particular, she lists her many moves (10 in 27 years) that have taken a toll on her personal life.

“It almost certainly destroys your spouse/partner’s career because they have no consistency, no long track record, less opportunity for advancement. And it becomes harder and harder to make friends in new cities as you age, especially for an introvert like me,” explains McWilliams.

“One of the reasons myself and so many other immigrants have stayed in Montreal is the number of studios. You can change jobs without giving up your friends, property and quality of life,” responded Gavin Young, programming projects lead, raising an issue concerning immigrant workers.

60 days to find a job

Video game developers’ dedication comes face to face with a complex and saturated market. In the United States, the industry directly hires 143,000 people, thanks to major publishers like Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard and Valve, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But apart from the US, very few countries can offer a large number of jobs.

A constraint that often forces employees in this sector to take the first job offered, or to have to move to another city to maintain their quality of life.

In April, the technology news media The Verge pointed out the deportation risks faced by many foreign designers by publishing the testimony of several developers working in gaming.

“They don’t just lose a job. They might be forced to abandon their lives entirely and leave the country. This fear trickles down into different aspects of their careers, limiting where developers can afford to take jobs and how much leverage they have to ask for better pay or work conditions once they’re in,” writes The Verge journalist.

Because “[w]ithin the games industry, specifically, getting hired within two to three months is just not a thing, or really rare and difficult to do”, Jennifer Scheurle told The Verge. After projects were cancelled, Scheurle lost her job and had only 60 days to find a new job to avoid being evicted. This short time led her to not be able to listen to her desires when making decisions for the future of her career. – AFP Relaxnews

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