First of all, I want to say, this is just click bait for the sake of click bait in terms of titles. I know, not a lot of people like these types of titles, and no, I won’t change them. It’s always been my writers way of putting on a certain flair or theatrics into my writing. So if you don’t want to read what’s below, I won’t blame you, but TGGD ain’t gonna change because a few people have a problem with them. Furthermore, no this is not an announcement for the end of TGGD, and I know I’ve not posted much here mostly because I’ve got a ton of real life stuff going on, I’ve got a game in the works (if I ever finish the damn thing, that will be a wonder to behold) and I’ve still got mods to work on. My life is a never ending A.D.D. episode, pray you never become me because holy shit.
No, this has been bubbling for awhile, and I really wanted to talk about The End, as in, The End of the AAA video game industry. The road AAA game company’s travel is a road I feel will end in it’s demise, even if there are a number of people, that proclaim and defend the industry and it’s practices, I can not and will not allow these stories to go unknown. There are things in the AAA industry that need to be addressed, and I feel it unjust if I simply sit on the sidelines and let them happen. Yes, other Youtubers are covering this, many far better than I, but I still want to cover them, and although I might be late to the party, there’s one or two things I can add that may not have been touched upon… especially some things I found out about Gamestop recently, but there are far greater issues that need to be touched upon before we get there, starting with crunch.
So, crunch time, and lets talk about what crunch is because there are some reading this going what the fuck does Nestle have to do about what we’re talking about. Crunch is a term referred to as a period of game development where employers coerce their own employee’s to work longer hours. This can be anywhere from forcing people to work 50 to 100 hour work weeks, this can demoralize, and in many studies, actually decrease productivity overall. Usually crunch occurs near the end of game development, maybe the last 6 months to the last year depending on how far behind a video game may be in to reach a predetermined deadline. Though, in my research, I’ve found crunch can be prevalent during the entire game development, even past the end when there are small fixes or balancing issues that are constantly being worked out. Obviously this practice is illegal in the USA, but because video game developers are not a part of a union, it goes largely ignored. The list of stories include: (source from Polygon link Below. Sorry, I really do not like Polygon, but good on them for this, this is one of the few times I will actually give them credit where it’s due.)
Crunch, however which way you look at it, even light hartidly, plain sucks.
- “I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.
- “I hardly sleep. I’m grumpy at home. I have no energy to go out. Getting a weekend away from work is a major achievement. If I take a Saturday off, I feel guilty. I’m not being forced to work this way, but if I don’t, then the job won’t get done.”
- “I know some people who just refused to work weekends, and then we missed a deadline because their part of the package wasn’t completed, and they were fired,” said another source. “People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to work these hours.”
- “We worked, typically, 50- or 60-hour weeks and upwards of 70-hour weeks on occasion,” one source who worked as a contractor in QA said. “If I got to the end of an eight-hour workday and I turned to my supervisor to ask if I needed to stay on, they’d often look at me as if I was actively stupid. Officially, you don’t have to keep working, but in reality: ‘Sit back down, we’ll be here for a while.’ If you did not do overtime, that was a mark against your character.”
That’s just at Epic Games, but this problem is rampant across almost every AAA video game studio. Electronic Arts for example, had a spouse write an open letter regarding crunch. (again, Links are always down below)
- Within weeks production had accelerated into a ‘mild’ crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this “pre-crunch” was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don’t know how many of the developers bought EA’s explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title’s shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.
- The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend — bad things happen to one’s physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.
- And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! (‘comp’ time is the equalization of time off for overtime — any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave.
Bioware, Rockstar Games, Bethesda, the horror stories continue for every single one working under the boot of one of these companies. Blizzard, for example, doesn’t even pay enough for it’s employees for where they are currently based, (Irvine California) some employee’s have to live with others just to make ends meet. Many have secondary jobs such as Uber drivers. The statement from Activision/Blizzard is ‘We pay the industry standard’, but if your based in a high upkeep area, then the standard is absolute shit. It doesn’t end there however because this is on top of Activision/Blizzard not paying any taxes, and in fact, due to the new tax laws, we the people, are paying them for the hefty tax return they get. They made $447 MILLION dollars in profit in 2018, and got $228 MILLION back from the US Government. This is also on top of layoff’s from Activision to Blizzard even after reporting record sales, which… the actual fuck!?! No, I’m not kidding, about 8% of Blizzards work force or in other terms, about 800 people got laid off.
The abuse that the AAA industry has done, is amazing, and I can’t imagine why CNN or Fox News, or hell, fucking John Oliver doesn’t cover this. Seems like it would be his thing, but because it doesn’t rank up their next to school shooter has X link to video game, this sort of employee abuse isn’t covered. Thus this blog, Youtube, or the occasional video game Journalist, will be the only ones covering this, and that’s a bloody shame because, I haven’t even begun to touch the horror that is the AAA video game industry… that’s right folks, there’s more.
The cherry on top of this Shit Sunday is the tactics employed by these AAA Publishers, is games as a service. ‘What is Games as a Service?’ You may be asking, and good question my non-resistant reader. Games as a Service is typically charging people over time for digital goods and comes in a few forms. The first form of Games as a Service is known to many as Loot Boxes. Many Loot Boxes are a random chest or chests that you open and get randomized digital goods. In all cases, you usually have to pay real world cash to buy these chests, or the key to open these chests. (Quick add here, you can earn these items in game, meaning you don’t always have to pay cash, but in order to do that, you sometimes have to play weeks worth to get even a small amount of loot in these loot boxes.) The items in these chests are randomized, but there is rarity attached to all of the goods. Meaning if there is a particular armor/weapon/skin/ect. you want, if it’s a rare item, you may be paying a lot of cash to get it. These digital items can sell for real world currency as well.
The problem is, children, and I hate the, ‘Think of the children.’ Argument because it’s the dumbest argument you can make. We don’t live in Never Never Land, and kids will eventually grow the fudge up. However, this argument works here because we already have laws that prevent children from gambling, and that is exactly what is happening here. You have digital goods that pay out big time for the rare items that people are paying real money to get the good random drops. It’s like getting all 777 in a slot machine when a really rare unique item drops. Some of these items can give you a return in the thousands of dollars. There is even a rise of problem gamblers in the USA that took rise at the same time as the rise of Loot Box mechanics.
Not only that, but we have microtransactions, which are not as bad as Loot Boxes, but it’s still pretty shady. Basically a microtransactions is another form of Games as a Service, where the item isn’t randomized, but you still have to pay to get the item. This is a problem for a number of reasons, such as your paying to win/cheat. The list for these particular items could be an experience or performance boost, which grants your character in the game faster progression. The reason that this is shite, is that many of these games with microtransactions have mechanics that make the game arbitrarily grindy or not fun unless your paying for these items. In a sense, the AAA industry looked at the mobile market, and applied those lessons on top of charging its customers a $60 price tag. In many cases, the consumer is forced to pay, upwards of over $1000 per game if they even want to make it to the end of the game (within a reasonable amount of time) or receive all the items or digital goods a particular game has to offer.
Electronic Arts is a horrible offender here, in one instance, a 32 year old gamer paid over $16K in loot boxes for said FIFA. This is even after Electronic Arts said it wasn’t going to add microtransactions to some games but will still continue the process in future titles. This, in spite of laws in some European nations banning the practice as a whole, and if you think people would rather pay for this, nope. Thats because some people stateside have switched their settings to make EA think they’re from these European nations to avoid paying for microtransactions.
Yet, I’m still not done yet, because the video game industry has one more tale of greed to tell, specifically GameStop. In several instances, from a few youtube videos from people who work at GameStop, one tells a tale of GameStop ignoring State Laws regarding Pawn Shops. Which, if you didn’t know, you trade in your old games, in the state of Florida, that constitutes a Pawn Shop and GameStop has to follow those laws… Unless corporate decides it doesn’t want to, because thats exactly what seems to be happening. Granted I have a single source on this, so take this with a grain of salt, but it seems legit enough to post, so here we go on this train wreck.
The Story goes, that there was this guy who would constantly trade in 30 to 60 games a week for store credit. Obviously he was stealing, and he even admitted to the theft to a store manager, who then calls corporate to see what should be done. Corporate tells him to accept the games as is because that’s how the GameStop makes the majority of it’s money, from used games. You see, GameStop doesn’t make a lot of money on new games because a large percentage of that money gets paid to the Publisher/Developer (as it should be) but when GameStop sells used, they make 30% more. It’s because they’re reselling the game, and as such, technically, the Publisher/Developer already got paid. Issues abound, in the past, GameStop would often sell new games as used, and got caught over this. (which, they were forced to stop that practice altogether. I mean sell new games as used.)
Back on point, you have a video game retailer, ignoring state laws because it’s convenient for them. At this point, I’d be shocked, but… this really is light, based on what the rest of the AAA video game industry is doing.
The big question is, why is this happening in the AAA video game industry? It’s a simple and complex answer, greed. Not consumer greed, or corporate greed, though that plays a small part, it’s investor greed. You see, the industry is built more for investors, and Publishers/Developers need to see constant booming growth to catch and keep investors. Here we see Publishers pushing their Developers to do insane crunches, and build games with microtransactions or loot boxes or both because they aren’t building games for consumers anymore, they’re building games for investors. The $100 million you made this year better be $400 million next year, and the 400 million you make next year better be the $5 billion you make the year after that. It’s a never ending cycle of unreachable expectations the market demands on the video game industry, this in turn has the AAA Publishers push hard to reach. So, greed drives this market to do unimaginable and unethical things, and it’s going to keep getting worse.
This is why I say it’s ‘The End’ of the AAA industry, not because this goes beyond morals, or because I’m not the only one saying it, but because the AAA industry can’t sustain itself under this business model. Slow growth will always get you investors, maybe not at the speed you want but at a speed you can maintain. Not every AAA Publisher is pushing for these unethical practices, but almost all of them are. Many are changing their own business models because it has the potential of striking it big. The problem? The consumer doesn’t want it, and when you lose consumer trust, (which is a thing in investment) you seldom gain in back, which is my whole two cents. So my last question, ‘Is this The End of the AAA video game market?’ Maybe, maybe not, but I can’t help but think that we may very well be looking at the beginning of The End, at the very least, and that in of itself, is worth an article or two.
Polygons Epic Fortnight article:
Open Letter to EA:
The Quartering regarding Blizzard:
Blizzard/Activision Pays no taxes:
Gamer Ranks on 5 people who spent crazy money on microtransactions:
Senator Hassan FTC:
Yongyea regarding insane purchase on FIFA:
Gamestop Florida Story: