An opinion piece written by a games industry veteran arguing that developers should stop complaining about poor working conditions and accept the sacrifices needed to create ‘art’ has sparked heated debate among the development community.
“Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations,” DirectX co-creator and founder of game services firm WildTangent Alex St. John wrote on VentureBeat. “They complain that the long hours and personal sacrifices great games require are a consequence of poor management.
“They want to pretend that they can turn an inherently entrepreneurial endeavour like game development into a 9-to-5 job. Somehow, these people have managed to adopt a wage-slave attitude toward one of the most remarkable and privileged careers in the world.”
He expanded on his suggestion that making games should be rewarding in and of itself by stating: “Making games is not a job – it’s an art.
“There’s nothing that can compensate people ‘fairly’ for the sacrifices that great art requires. It’s art. You need to get an actual job producing productivity software if you want to be paid ‘fairly’ and go home at 5pm."
Understandably, St. John’s comments provoked a flood of negative feedback from developers across both the triple-A and indie sectors.
Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail penned an in-line response to St. John’s op-ed, retorting that “passion and taking care of yourself aren’t mutually exclusive”.
Making art and a job isn’t mutually exclusive,” he continued. “Monet was a painter. That’s a job. His job produced art. Shakespeare was a writer. That’s a job. His job produced art. Marina Abramovic is a performance artist. That’s a job. Her work produced art.”
“Turns out great studios and developers make better games because they have more experience that they can apply because they did not burn the fuck out.
“Great art isn’t made by burning out making it. Great art is made through passion and experience and you won’t have either if you burn out.”
Ismail was far from the sole opposing voice. Thomas Was Alone and Volume creator Mike Bithell took solace in the criticism directed at St. John’s defence of long working hours and ‘unfair’ pay.
“The more I think about that dumb article about crunch, and the resounding ‘nope’ of this generation of devs, the more proud I am,” he tweeted.
“As an industry, we tend to focus on games, which is totally right, but I like the cultural innovation and advances we’ve made too.”
He said of his own experience: “Been working 9-6 for a couple weeks now, and my productivity has gone through the roof. It’s almost like working hours exist for a reason.
"It’s a little embarrassing how years of ‘if you cared about this project, you’d stay late tonight’ actually worked on me.”
Meanwhile, Fireproof Games’ Barry Meade said St. John’s piece was “yet more proof the games industry is running on a lot of biz-fetish, IT-boom inspired blatherthink”.
Responding to St. John’s discussion of ‘art versus business’, Laralyn McWilliams highlighted the incompatibility between the perspectives of studio owners and developers working on the ground floor.
“You’re asking devs to NOT treat employment as a business venture while employers certainly see it as such,” she stated.
McWilliams also praised healthier working conditions as allowing devs to build on their experience in more varied ways than simply working on code.
“Taking time to be healthy and have a life outside work isn’t a ‘wage slave’ attitude,” she argued. “It means I learn and change in ways that HELP the company.
“A designer who spends 60-80 hours a week in the office isn’t playing other games, doing game jams, seeing influential films, traveling…
“It infuriates me to see the people looking at game dev as a profession and a career essentially called whiners who phone it in.”
Have your own opinion on St. John’s comments? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.