Dream job game designer? How the work ruined my relationship

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picture alliance / dpa | Sebastian Kahnert

Andrew Carl works for the game producer Activision Blizzard in the USA. There, he organized a strike along with other employees last month.

He says the video game industry has a culture of exploitation and burnout.

Since then, workers have continued to organize, especially through a union vote at Raven Software.

This is a testimony from Andrew Carl, a 31-year-old senior system designer at video game company Activision Blizzard in Albany, New York. Carl talks about what it’s like to work in the video game industry. Many who work in the industry say that the corporate culture is unhealthy and that employees are often overworked.

My parents always say I was 8 years old when I said I wanted to make video games. Eventually, as a teenager, I participated in a program at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that taught high school students how to make such games. This experience got me hooked and I decided to study Game Design. I graduated in 2013 and joined Vicarious Visions, now Blizzard Albany, as a quality assurance tester in January of that year. Today I am a senior system designer and working on the game “Diablo IV”. I work with a number of teams and other members of the Systems team to design the different levels for the game.

Working as a game designer is a very collaborative job that is about communicating effectively. It’s not about being good at math or having good ideas; it’s about recognizing good ideas, no matter where they come from. You will then need to refine and communicate these ideas in such a way that you can complete the work with your team.

Although I have wanted this job since I was young, I would not call it a dream job. There are some negative aspects. When you describe something as a dream job, you risk being exploited by employers. Because they know they’re less likely to quit – or that a replacement would be available right away.

There are a number of structural issues in the gaming industry. Often, the values ​​that these companies claim to have – as care for the individual – are not in line with their actual corporate policies. As a result, Activision workers have organized labor strikes. We are also taking other steps to promote better working conditions.

This is how it is to work at Activision.

There is a “brotherhood culture” at play

When there was a scandal about sexual harassment, discrimination and corporate culture at the competitor Riot Games, a lot of morality was preached in the industry. Many people have pointed the finger and said it is not happening to them. As it turned out, there were a number of other top companies – including my employer, Activision Blizzard – where the problem was common.

Especially in the best companies in the gaming industry, where blockbuster games are developed, there is a culture that prevails in much criticized fraternities.

There have been horrific allegations of harassment and abuse at Activision Blizzard. Many colleagues suspect that these were best known. They have been reported in internal channels and have not been treated satisfactorily. Often the victim was expelled from the company and not the perpetrator. The problem is that the internal channels do not always work to solve these problems. They have often been designed by the company in such a way that they benefit the employer more than the individual. Publication is usually the last resort for employees.

A current topic is the abolition of compulsory vaccination

On April 4, a group of Activision employees announced that they were stepping down from their jobs after the company lifted the vaccination requirements for stays in the office. The vaccination requirement was lifted just as the staff was about to return to the office. Many of the employees work in open work spaces or team rooms where people could easily get infected and were worried.

On the day we announced the strike, another email was sent reversing the company’s decision for the entire Activision Blizzard organization. Blizzard Albany employees were still on strike because other demands were not taken into account, including the ability to work more flexibly and independently from a place in the longer term.

The crisis ruined my love life

One of the least understood problems in the gaming industry is the crunch. This is the stage where developers and testers have to work too much overtime to finish a game on time. It is either many hours in a very short time or spread over a very long period.

Sometimes gaming companies even hire laundry under the “crunch” so people can take their laundry to work and wash it there. You were never home long enough to get this done. There are certain departments, especially quality assurance, that have day and night shifts and try to provide 24 hour coverage. I belonged to this department.

During the crisis, it became a huge effort for me to do simple tasks outside of work. When I was not at work, I either slept or felt guilty about having postponed errands. Sometimes I did not have the energy to leave the house.

As a result, the “crunch” also ruined several relationships for me. I had to cancel dates and ended up barely seeing the other person for weeks. This has sometimes led me into depression. I felt useless because I was unable to do anything but work and sleep. It is a big problem for everyone who has been the order of the day for many years and still has not been solved. There are already a few studies that have done away with the “crunch”.

Part of the problem is that game development is a passion. Many employees get a pay cut for working in this industry when they could work in another industry with the same skills.

As a systems designer, I earn $ 106,000 a year. But developers who work for Apple, Google, or other Silicon Valley companies earn much more than those who work on video games. The same goes for user experience designers and user interface artists.

In my opinion, the biggest gap is in the quality assurance tests. I started in Quality Assurance (QA) in January 2013 and was earning around $ 12 an hour at the time. The average for QA testers in other areas is around $ 19 per hour.

Trade union organization could make our workplace better – but the company is fighting against it

A few days ago, the Washington Post reported on a union poll at Activision Blizzard’s subsidiary Raven Software. I think it’s a good thing that QA testers are trying to organize. As one of the most exploited disciplines in game development, it is important that we use collective power to get a seat at the negotiating table.

This text was translated from English by Solveig Gode. Here you can find the original.

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