Game Developer Unions


Hahaha that made me lough out loud


Sadly, a lot of store supervisor and managers are exempt, so many companies expect those people to work 60 or so hours a week. They could change jobs, but it seems like an industry standard, so you don’t have a lot of options. You are stuck getting paid 40,000 to 50,000 and working a lot of extra hours.

What’s scary is that recent industry consolidations means less competition for employees. Market place had a piece focused on how fewer hospital employers (because of consolidation) meant that nurses had fewer options for employment and had to settle for lower wages. At least that was one of the theses of the piece about lower employment, but no real wage gain.

Anyway, without a specialized skill or union, your life in the US might be pretty rough, and you might be working longer hours compared to other people in other nations. It’s one of those horrible truths of the US.


Not necessarily for game programmers, though. A good game programmer is essentially a software engineer with additional specializations. In our program, we routinely have some of of our best game programmers decide to take jobs in, say, banking or other fields, because the benefits, pay, hours, and stability are better.

The problem is for artists and designers, mostly. They have a harder time breaking out of the game industry framework, though it’s definitely possible.


Except that the model is also usually screw over the bulk of the people who made the startup work, and leave all the stock options and the rest for the principals after you burn out/drive away the overworked labor that got you there. Startups are like lotteries; you put a lot in for very little chance of getting anything out.


Amen to that. The idea that exempt employees are super highly paid is based on small samples of specific locations in specific fields. The bulk of exempt employees, as Timex noted, are those making more than about $23k a year; that’s…not rock star money, to put it mildly.

What baffles me here is the blithe acceptance of an exploitative labor system that leverages the need of young workers to pay off student loans and get established in a profession to create an army of highly educated and trained proles, who may or may not eventually be well paid and who may or may not actually end up with lives beyond white collar drudgery.


Oh yeah, its a horrible system we have in the states, but too many well funded groups benefit from it, so we all are forced to drink the Kool-Aid.

Responsible changes won’t happen until after the political power of the baby boomers is reduced and even after that, it might take a while.


I don’t think that works. Rod’s goals are to reduce friction/overhead and align incentives. Just outsourcing content production doesn’t help with either of those. In fact these things are probably going to get worse, since coordination across company boundaries is going to be a lot more painful than inside a company.

So my guess is that the idea isn’t to outsource bulk asset creation, but to design games that don’t need tens of people working on content. That’s certainly a model that’s worked well for some studios.


My humble opinion:

Maybe the game industry need to addopt the “royalties” system.

User case:
You worked your ass to develop Skyrim, but every time a new Skyrim copy is sell, you will receive a check that month.

Why I think this work:
If you own a bussines, it make sense to work 100 hours a week. On the success of this company depends your entire life.
If you don’t own a bussines, you are a salary men, and the company bankrupt. You just find another job. You can be working for a different company the next week.

If you are going to burn yourself has developer by working 100 hours a week and probably hurt your future. You should be more like the bussines owner, and less like the salary men. Royalties is the capitalism solution to that.


Financial industry has very high demands - often requiring a minimum of 12 hour days, especially in global markets. But definitely at the end of the year, there is the expectation of bonuses in line with both the company’s profits and that you “played the game” correctly (worked all those hours).These bonuses for the good companies are quite substantial. But man does that work grind you to a nub.


Eh, that’s just the minimum that’s legally required to be an exempt employee. I don’t know that’s the “bulk” of them.
No software engineer is making that. They’re making $50k, the first year out of school, easy… no matter where they’re working. In a bigger metro area, they’re going to be making way more.

Again, maybe not “rockstar money”, but it’s definitely a very comfortable living.

Honestly, if you want to look into exploitation, I’d first look at the diploma mills that are non-accredited schools handing out useless game design degrees, with ads on TV telling kids that making games involves just sitting around playing games.


Uhmmmm. No. Haven’t done anything like a hard crunch since I left the Game Industry a decade and a half ago, and have spent the time in big tech.


100 hour weeks seems extreme to me, but I can say that crunch time definitely exists outside the game industry.

It’s definitely not the norm though. It’s a rare thing that happens when a project is due and things have gone a bit awry.


It’s more than 5x18 hour days, or 7x14 hour days.


So this is what is happening. I read somewhere that the average age people leave the game industry is 27.

As someone who has made a career in the industry and wants it to be healthy and to excel at what it does, I want that to stop because I’ve seen too many great creative people leave games. And it’s incredibly demanding work, so we need those experienced folks.

Also, don’t assume that most video game developers are software engineers. Not by a long shot. On a team of 55, we have 8 engineers and a couple of QA engineers who might be able to jump quickly into another tech job.

Also also, you can be insouciant about switching jobs, but it’s disruptive and stressful. I know it’s fashionable to promote fluidity of labor in our modern economy, but the reality is that those are people leaving their homes to find jobs, maybe never even having the opportunity to create a home for themselves because they’re chasing jobs from one city to another. That takes a psychological toll on people that I think we’ve barely started to take an accounting of.


It’s been fun and enlightening. I am out. All salient issues have been “solved”.

1.) This thread should be titled “Unions in the Game Industry”. The issue is inexorably tied to unionization in the tech industry, and to a lesser extent getting some specialties representation in specific pre-existing guilds and unions.

2.) The people who work there need to unionize; owners and Corporate entities exist to make profits/accomplish goals not set up unions, it is not in their interest to do so. It never will be. This means reaching out and organizing.


Fun note!

The organization I work for hired me as an exempt employee with no access to overtime and the possibility of unlimited working hours (and during our major institutes and interview periods, that comes to fruition heavily; a week of 12-hour days isn’t at all uncommon at that point).

I got hired at $35,000. Less 6% for the mandatory retirement plan.

Just a fun thought for those who labor under the assumption that folks with potentially shitty work contracts are always well-compensated in return!

Vs. the figures that @Timex linked a little later.

Timex’s link actually lists a ton of duties that I do not in any way have. I’m in no way managerial. I’m a glorified secretary + actual events planner + de facto tech support guy in a small nonprofit. Per my own organization’s hiring standards I don’t meet the bar for exempt. . . and yet here I am!

. . . I should really try to leave.


Haha, yup. I’ve mentioned several times around here I’m a chef. The pay in this industry is abysmally low and you’re expected to work 60+ hours/week in most kitchens. At a minimum. I mean sure, you’re making more than your cooks make on paper, but you make the same or less hourly, for sure. If you don’t accept that, you get told ‘you’re just not passionate enough about the food’. Hahaha.


Oh, yeah, i realize that most of the game development community isn’t actually engineers. So that’s fair. My experience is just from the tech side, and encountering those guys.

And honestly, for those guys, there’s a good market outside the game community.

Actually, even for the artists, there’s a growing market in the modeling and simulation community. We need 3D artists. It’s just that they aren’t making cool looking characters and crap. They’re making boring stuff. But the pay’s good, and they don’t need to work 100 hour weeks.


Note, executive duties are just one of the different types of exemption groups.

It sounds like you’d fall into the “Administrative” exemption.

Exempt Administrative job duties.

The most elusive and imprecise of the definitions of exempt job duties is for exempt “administrative” job duties.

The Regulatory definition provides that exempt administrative job duties are

(a) office or nonmanual work, which is
(b) directly related to management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers, and
© a primary component of which involves the exercise of independent judgment and discretion about
(d) matters of significance.


It’s an odd feeling knowing my employer’s short-sighted cheapness in switching a bunch of analysts over to hourly so they don’t have to pay out the exempt level benefits (and insistence on no overtime) is the only thing keeping me from 50-60 hour weeks.

I was pretty pissed at first but now that we’re ~50% staffed should really be thanking them.