“The video game production model is unsustainable” – Gama Revista

Author of books debunking abusive practices in the gaming industry discusses the current state of the gaming world

Few games have been as highly anticipated by the gaming community as Cyberpunk 2077 (2020). Announced in 2012 by Polish studio CD Projekt Red, the work has been building up expectations for years. After the huge success of “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” (2015), a game created by the Poles and considered by many to be one of the best video game productions ever made, fans were very excited. The trailers advertised ultra-realistic graphics, giant maps, and the appearance of actor Keanu Reeves as the character Johnny Silverhand.

The release, which was planned for early 2020, was delayed because, according to its developers, more time was needed to polish the game. And then the game was postponed again. And then one more time. The reasons listed by the studio were the same as before, the developers just asked for a few months to work out the final details and have the game in good condition on launch day. In December 2020, “Cyberpunk 2077” finally saw the light of day. And what followed was a disaster.

Gamers who turned on their consoles on launch day found their work unfinished. The story and gameplay were there, but the graphics suffered from what was promised. Bugs and bugs plagued production and, at every turn, the game became unresponsive and stopped working. The situation was so ugly that Sony removed the game from its online store PlayStation Store and returned it to all players who were unhappy with the product.

This is just one of countless cases plaguing the video game industry. More and more productions face tight schedules, high expectations, and toxic and exploitative work environments. If the hobby of electronic games is considered by some as an escape from reality, there are those who take this world seriously. After the disastrous release of CyberPunk 2077, journalist Jason Schreier investigated and published a story explaining how things went so wrong for video game developer CD Projekt Red.

In recent years, Schreier has become known for his investigative journalism in the gaming world. His first book, Blood, Sweat and Pixels: The Dramas, Triumphs, and Curious Stories Behind Video Games (HarperCollins, 2018), chronicles the failures and successes of game studios large and small. His latest book, still without a Brazilian translation, examines how volatile the video game market can be and how this affects developers working in the industry.

In “Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Games Industry” (Grand Central Publishing, 2021), Schreier decries a particularly common practice in the gaming world – cramming. The term describes a harmful work culture that demands overtime from game developers, with work hours reaching 100 hours a week. The practice becomes especially common as the game’s release date nears.

“You work late because everyone around you works late. Often this is not even said or discussed. It just becomes part of the atmosphere of the company,” says the journalist to Gama. In addition to labor complaints, Schreier’s reports also raise the topic of sexual harassment in the gaming world. In recent years, several executives from major game studios have come under fire for abusive behavior, a move similar to the film industry’s #MeToo.

Anyone who thinks that creating video games is paradise is wrong. An industry that moves billions of dollars a year is the professional dream of many people. Working conditions, however, are far from ideal. in conversation GammaSchreier spoke about the state of the gaming industry, focusing on increasingly megalomaniac productions, the labor challenges facing the market, and the future of video games.

  • G |In recent years, we’ve seen a significant number of great games released in an unfinished state. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the production of these works, many of these titles are released with technical issues that can ruin the player’s experience. Why is this happening?

    Jason Schreier |

    The pandemic has damaged the work logic, organization and calendar of video game studios. Working from home can be great for many people, but it presents a lot of internal communication difficulties and technical issues when creating a game. This is one of the main reasons we’ve seen games released in unfinished states. Also, the games are getting more and more difficult. Every year they become more and more difficult. The bigger the game, the harder it is to find bugs and errors and get it working.

  • G |Is this production model sustainable where games get bigger, more complex and more expensive?

    JS |

    We are seeing signs that this is not sustainable. Every year, the expectation for higher graphics quality only increases. At least, that’s what the game’s publishers think. Of course, it can be argued that there are ways to succeed by betting on creative games that aren’t necessarily the prettiest games. But that’s a conversation EA, Sony, Activision and Microsoft don’t often have. Graphical fidelity is what they all demand in their products, but this race for more and more beautiful games is not sustainable at all. I don’t think we’ll see the game industry crash, but we’re already seeing a lot of smaller companies being taken over by larger companies or going out of business.

  • G |The gaming industry has never made so much money. However, many video game studios are closing their doors or being sold. why is this happening

    JS |

    One of the main reasons is the race for bigger and better products, hence more expensive projects. The more expensive the project, the more copies it needs to sell to justify the investment. The more copies you have to sell, the greater the risk of failure and not selling as many as you need. If this happens, what to do? You have no more money to keep the game. This is the main reason why studios close, but there are others. Sometimes it’s a parent company decision or sometimes it’s because the company is run by people who have never made a video game.

  • G |And what is the dynamic of this job worth, where everything has to be bigger and better?

    Jason Schreier |

    We’ve reached a point where many gaming professionals are experiencing burnout. My latest book, Press Reset, deals with industry volatility and poor working conditions. Many people lost their jobs, either because they quit or because they were fired, and some chose not to work in the industry anymore. It’s an environment that would make you believe it’s impossible to have a healthy and long career, but there is a very high human cost to the way this industry works.

  • G |How much of this is a prejudiced, overworked practice in the industry?

    JS |

    Everyone has to work overtime from time to time, and as long as you get paid for it, it’s not a problem. The thing is, for many video game companies, this becomes repetitive, especially as the project nears its release date. When this behavior becomes part of the work logic, it is entering dangerous territory. It becomes something that is part of the logic of the company’s work. As a company, you should work hard not to create such an atmosphere. Otherwise, you will eventually fall into this culture. This is a much more complex topic than just overtime.

  • G |Whether in film or music, the clashes between the artistic vision and the marketing vision of a project are well documented. What is this reality in the gaming sector?

    Jason Schreier |

    It really depends on the company. In many of them, especially the big ones, the tension is the same. When you put $100 million into a game, you want it to be as popular as possible. And to do so, it follows a series of formulas that executives believe make the product more attractive to consumers. They want to explore games with a huge world where you can create objects and acquire new skills while playing. As executives invest in the product, they demand that games adhere to these formulas regardless of the creators’ artistic vision. Otherwise, there may be pressure to finish the game as quickly as possible. The distributor wants the game ready by Christmas, even if that date isn’t possible. This is one of the factors that cause games to go bad.

  • G |Last year, a series of labor, moral and sexual harassment complaints hit major video game companies. How do these complaints affect the industry?

    JS |

    One of the biggest changes in recent years has been that people feel more and more comfortable speaking up and denouncing the problems they face in their companies. In social media or in the press. One way to solve this problem is to be transparent, to create an environment that breaks this culture of silence. There is no way to solve a problem if no one knows it exists. Therefore, however painful the process may be, it is important to talk about these issues. I am always amazed by the courage of people who tell their stories. I believe the industry improves when this type of report is shared.

  • G |Conversations about workplace violence have never been more talked about among video game developers. Many point to unionization as the best answer to this problem. Where is this process? Could it be a win-win for workers?

    JS |

    I believe that a merger can be beneficial. It creates a mechanism to negotiate with those who run companies, allowing you to have a voice and a seat at the bargaining table. I can only speak for the situation in North America, but developers are struggling to unite. However, there is still not a large enough movement for this union. While workers at major companies are on the move, this process has yet to happen at any major video game company.

  • G |You write articles that are serious and hard-hitting denunciations of a hobby that many people love. Does the audience understand the importance of the work you do? Or are you just seen as “the enemy of fun”?

    Jason Schreier |

    I always wanted to tell interesting stories, my goal was never to change the industry and expose all these issues. My job is to find out what’s going on in the world of video games and let people know about it. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of praise for the stories I tell, and to be honest, I don’t pay much attention to the backlash. There are people who want to know the truth about how video games are made, and those are the people who matter to me. Sure, there are people who just want games, but I don’t pay much attention.

  • G |What is the future of the video game industry? Is it possible to come up with a healthier environment for workers in the coming years?

    JS |

    Over the past 10 years, video games have reached new audiences. People who were not interested in the hobby before are now playing it. And not necessarily on consoles or PC, but often on the mobile phone itself. The audience is growing, and this allows for more exploration of the creativity of developers. As for the working conditions, I believe that everything will be fixed. People are talking about the problems, the labor movement in the industry has increased and many people are working to improve this environment. I am optimistic.

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