In the past 20 years, people have used many words to describe the phenomenon of excessive overtime in the game industry, such as “crisis”, “trap”, “death race” and so on. Two Canadian researchers also pointed out that in game development, it is the rust on the “digital masterpiece”. Many people realize that endless, unpaid overtime (often referred to as “Crunch”) is one of the great threats to the gaming industry and is corroding the entire industry from the inside out.
According to a survey conducted by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) in 2019, 40% of developers have experienced overtime work at least once in a year. For most of these developers, in addition to the standard 40 hours a week, they have to work at least 20 hours a week overtime, but only 8% are paid extra.
Why is excessive overtime so common in the gaming industry? Some developers think this is often because of poor management or the company has set unrealistic deadlines for the project. Others mentioned the unreliable engine and the backward tax credit policy to encourage developers to use immature new technologies and software, as well as other reasons why young men with a light family burden hope to show manhood through masochistic overtime work.
Few people point out that the law is the main cause of the crisis, but in many cases this is the best explanation.
■ “Your income is too high”
In the United States, the long-term phenomenon of overtime in the game industry is because it is legal. In the federal or state legal system, as long as the annual salary of computer professionals is higher than a certain standard (the specific number varies from state to state), they cannot enjoy the protection of the overtime law-the overtime law requires companies to pay additional compensation to overtime employees. Therefore, once a company encounters a problem in the game development process, the simplest and cheapest solution is to let the developers work overtime.
“Large publishers and mainframe manufacturers have established very strict contracts, and R&D studios must abide by them.” Johanna Weiss, co-founder of the IGDA Quality of Life Research Group and associate professor at Weston University in London, Ontario, Canada who specializes in labor relations Da (Johanna Weststar) said, “In project management, the so-called’iron triangle’ has gradually formed. They are fixed budgets, (project) scales and timetables. The development team must complete the game within these parameters. “
“In this triangle, the working hours of developers are usually the most flexible, but the premise is that they must accept unpaid overtime. If overtime has to be paid, it doesn’t make much sense even if the project is completed on time, because the project cost will definitely exceed the budget. Therefore, yes In the gaming industry, it’s really important not to pay extra for overtime employees.”
For decades, such situations have become part of American labor law. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (Fair Labor Standards Act) established the federal minimum wage standard, prohibiting children under the age of 14 from working, clarifying the standard working hours of 40 hours a week and 8 hours a day on a working day, and requiring companies to Overtime employees pay 50% of their normal wages for overtime work. In addition, the bill also lists some industries and situations in which practitioners may not be protected by overtime laws.
In the 1980s and 1990s, with the rapid development of the game industry, according to the regulations at the time, many developers could not receive overtime pay like white-collar workers in some other industries. In California, where game companies gather together and have large companies such as Activision, EA, Sega, Blizzard, THQ, and Sony Computer Entertainment America, developers, like other professionals including teachers, accountants, and optometrists, cannot enjoy overtime protection. . The reason is simple. The salary of practitioners in these fields is more than twice the California minimum wage (an hourly salary of only $5.75 in 1998).
In 2000, California formulated a policy that only applies to professionals in the computer field, which greatly increased the wage requirements for employees who are not protected by overtime laws: only when the employee’s hourly salary reaches US$41 (or annual salary of US$85,280), Companies don’t have to pay them extra for overtime. A questionnaire survey conducted by Gamasutra and “Game Developer” magazine in 2001 showed that the annual salary of American game developers was about $61,403.
In 2004, the U.S. federal government followed California’s example by establishing a special rule for employees engaged in “computer-related occupations” to exempt overtime protection, but the threshold was lowered to a weekly salary of US$455 or an annual salary of US$23,660.
■ Judicial practice
Many overworked game developers have begun to consider legal measures to protect their own interests and initiate class actions against their employers. In 2004, the artist Jimmy Kirchenbaum who participated in the development of the PS2 version of The Sims 2 claimed that he and hundreds of other artists working for EA were illegally classified as employees who cannot enjoy overtime protection. Get the overtime pay you deserve. A few months later, a post entitled “EA: The Human Story” described in detail the almost never-ending overtime experience of programmers at EA’s Los Angeles studio, which caused a huge response online and even spawned another lawsuit.
Through an intermediary introduction, the developer Lindel Hasti described in that article met Thomas Hermi, a partner of the Boston law firm Shapiro Haber & Urmy. “What EA did was shocking.” Hermi said, “I remember a developer who told me that he needed to stay at the workstation for more than 18 hours a day.”
Hermi helped Hasti organize a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of EA developers, demanding that EA provide overtime pay. In the following two years, he helped some developers initiate class actions against Activision, Sony, and Angel Studios (now Rockstar San Diego Studios). According to Hermie, with the exception of one lawsuit, several other class actions were settled out of court, and EA, Sony and Rockstar paid a large sum of money to the plaintiff.
In addition, the settlement agreement also reclassified hundreds of developers, stipulating that they are eligible to be protected by the overtime law-in other words, once the company requires them to work overtime, they must pay overtime.
Regrettably, in 2008, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new regulation for California computer professionals exempting overtime protection, adjusting the wage threshold from US$49.99 per hour (US$103,500 per year). As low as US$36 per hour (US$75,000 per year). In fact, the average annual salary of many employees is more than 75,000 US dollars. For example, in 2007, the average annual salary of programmers and producers reached 80,800 and 77,100 US dollars respectively…
Some people believe that California introduced this new rule to help technology and entertainment companies reduce the burden of overtime and encourage them to continue doing business in California instead of moving their business to cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, which often have positive taxes. Reduction and exemption policy, lower operating costs.
The new regulations have also made some adjustments to the description of overtime protection, making it difficult to define who is eligible to sue companies that violate overtime regulations, making it more difficult to sue and win the case. Law firms often need to bear various expenses first, and cannot draw a certain percentage of commission (usually 25%) from the settlement fee or the defendant’s fines imposed by the court until the lawsuit is over. Considering this situation, many law firms are not Willing to accept cases where the factual evidence is not clear enough.
“Those cases are too time-consuming and laborious, and we are very careful in making choices because we have to spend a lot of money.” Hermi said.
Hermi introduced another non-gaming industry class action lawsuit represented by the law firm. According to him, the lawsuit has lasted for more than 18 years, during which he has appeared in the Massachusetts Supreme Court twice and once in the United States Supreme Court. “I can’t tell whether the time we spent on that case is worth millions of dollars, but now that we have reached this point, we definitely don’t want to lose the case.”
For most game studios and publishers, California labor law changes have made it easier for them to use overtime as a work practice. On the other hand, because personal treatment is often higher than the average American salary, many developers have also accepted the fact that they have to work overtime frequently.
“The game industry circle is too small. You need a good reputation to make a living.” Wistar said, “You may often change jobs. Once everyone knows that you have filed a lawsuit against your employer, then you are done. Therefore, most Developers don’t do this.”
For developers who are dissatisfied with their work, changing careers seems more realistic. Most of the plaintiffs in the several class actions mentioned above have already found jobs in other industries. For example, one person entered the film industry, and later began to design an augmented reality interface for a large technology company, and another developer turned to make educational software for high school students. Another person raised three children, founded his own furniture company, and worked part-time web design.
Weststar believes that advocacy groups may play an important role in improving the working conditions of practitioners in the game industry, because such organizations can both lobby the government and negotiate with mainstream publishers.
“If someone can successfully bring together two or three large studios to form an employer association that talks to the employee union, then there is an opportunity to lay the foundation for some more general change initiatives. Of course, you must first find a way to get these employers Willing to discuss these aspects.”
This article is compiled from: washingtonpost.com
原文标题：《Why is the games industry so burdened with crunch? It starts with labor laws》
Author: Michael Thomsen
Source: Touch Music