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Why Do Game Developers Suck So Much?

Another week, another list of publishers and developers that have been accused of treating their staff abysmally. Add in Sony and Activision – and no doubt countless others – and it feels like the industry is just awful.

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Sexism, racism, abuse. These companies fly flags and issue press releases when International Women’s Day rolls around, but behind closed doors hate just about everybody regardless of anything. Equal opportunities abuse – finally we’ve made it.

This week there have been stories about Moon Studios, Mountains, Fullbright and Funomena – as well as ongoing stories about Sony. And whether these specific stories are true or not, the question of if abuse and ‘isms’ exist in the industry isn’t really a question at all. If the actual abuse doesn’t bother you, and the hypocrisy doesn’t bother you either (both should), maybe the overall impact should. Talented people are being forced out because their bosses are assholes. That will never be a positive thing.

But why does this keep happening? What is it about this industry that keeps rewarding the biggest assholes? The truth is, this stuff is everywhere. And fixing it is no simple task.

Fix developers, Fix the World

There are certain things that anybody who has worked in the corporate world will tell you. Assholes rise to the top is one of those things. Sometimes that’s because assholes recognise other assholes as “confident and dedicated” (read: not those things), and sometimes it’s because the hardest workers are strategically best placed to continue being the best workers, and others are given promotions. Sometimes you need to be an asshole just to get your voice heard at all. Othertimes success breeds arrogance.

Say “My boss is so hard on me,” and you’ll be told that’s life. Nose down, keep at it, and eventually the hard work will pay off. It is so normalised that you should be unhappy in your job, that any mention of that not being normal on social media will lead to long discussions where people defend poor practices JUST BECAUSE.

Game developers, along with anybody to do with politics, sports and film, are different. Nobody is pretending Terry from HR is a good guy. But your local MP? He wants you to think he has your best interests at heart. Your favourite actor? He has a multi-million dollar campaign going on to highlight how down-to-earth he is. Come and see his movies, he’s oh so random, lol.

We’re supposed to like game developers, because we like games. I’m not really sure why. I remember a “meet the staff” video Naughty Dog did a couple of years ago, where everyone was saying how easy and free it felt. They even showed the actual Naughty Dog – an animal they let roam around while people worked. What did that have to do with game development? I don’t know, but it gave me a nice glowing feeling.

Hypocrisy at its Finest

This disconnect between what they want us to feel and what we actual feel is why we keep getting so damn angry when this happens. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t be.

“But I LIKE their games” we say when we find out that certain developers have been accused of abuse. The disappointment is in the discovery, not in the act itself. Had we remained ignorant, we’d have been content not knowing the truth behind our favourite titles.

What we need to foster is less bull. Stop marketing to me that you’re good people unless you’re actually good people. Stop giving me a picture on PlayStation where female characters are happy if your female workers are not. It’s surprisingly easy not to be a dick.

The problem of abuse in the gaming industry is a problem with abuse everywhere. We don’t value people the way we should. That’s just a fact. Some of that is just that there are limits on time and patience – a director can’t be best buds with every single person on his set. If that means a disconnect between the person at the top and at the bottom, that’s sad, but with respect and fairness, that issue almost goes away.

It’s when you take away the respect and fairness that the issue multiples. That’s what’s happening in the gaming industry. A field already filled with the socially awkward, we make the biggest names famous and the smallest names blend into a kind of massive nothingness. We laugh at their angry rants on Resetera or Twitter because they’re just like us. We soak up their marketing, because we agree with their world view. Then we feel hurt when it turns out they’re not who they say they are.

Conclusion

It’d be too easy to say something like “maybe we should be the real change”, but that’s taking responsibility away from the worst people and putting it onto the innocent. The real change should be kicking the ass of anybody who thinks they’re so big they can make the little people feel broken and worthless.

But we do enable this behaviour, over and over again. Want to see proof? Go to any gaming forum and compare the reaction to the Sony allegations with the reaction to the Activision allegations. The relative silence to what’s happening at Sony is deafening.

But how do we change that? How do we ensure we do our bit to protect those who need protecting, without knowing exactly who or even where they are? There is no easy answer outside of stopping a culture of hero worship we’re willing to give to anybody or anything that makes us feel like part of an in-group.

Yeah. Easy, right?

 

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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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