Working at a video game company might seem like the perfect job, but Bloomberg News reporter Jason Schreier says the reality is far from ideal.
“It is not really an industry that treats people well,” Schreier says in Episode 466 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It’s not an industry that is stable or well-paid. It’s also an industry that has tons and tons of supply and not a lot of demand. So it’s not the most ideal place to work.”
For his new book Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Game Industry, Schreier spoke to countless game developers who have had their lives upended by the industry’s frequent layoffs. “The game industry sells the illusion of careers,” he says. “It sells the illusion that you’ll be at the same company for 10 years, 15 years, but in practice that never happens. This is a world where people are bouncing between jobs all the time.”
The poor working conditions are particularly striking when you consider that the video game industry is a massively profitable global juggernaut. “This is an industry that is worth $180 billion,” Schreier says, “so you would think they would be able to keep workers employed, but they’ve got to see those revenue numbers go up, please those shareholders.”
The situation may sound grim, but Schreier is optimistic that unionization and remote work could greatly improve the lives of game developers. “[Press Reset] is built on the premise that things can—and will, and need to—change,” he says. “I didn’t just want it to be a book that examines and points out all these problems without at least offering a few solutions.”
Listen to the complete interview with Jason Schreier in Episode 466 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Jason Schreier on remote work:
“One of the problems with volatility is that you can wind up stuck in a city where there are no other game jobs, because like I said before, the games industry is so decentralized. It’s not like there’s one area where you get all your jobs. So if you wind up losing your job, and you’re stuck in Boston or something like that, you would have to move 3,000 miles away, potentially, to get your next games job. So that is just unrealistic for a lot of people. They have to uproot their lives and take their kids out of school and stuff, it’s just not going to happen. So that’s one of the reasons people burn out. And if they could just work remotely, if they could get a job anywhere without having to move, that might change things, and might make the games industry way more accommodating to a lot of people.”
Jason Schreier on the 1980s:
“I haven’t talked to people who have worked at every single company in the history of games, so I’m not sure which had it worse than others. I’ve certainly heard all sorts of horror stories about working conditions throughout the course of the video game industry, since it really started in the 1980s. Back in those days, it was essentially people in frat houses developing games—a dozen dudes all eating pizza and drinking diet soda and staying up all night making games. And while that might have been fun for some people, it’s the type of thing that you can really only do in your twenties. The games industry has professionalized in some ways since then, but on the whole it still has a lot of growing pains to deal with.”
Jason Schreier on 38 Studios:
“Rhode Island was kind of in trouble at the time—they were still feeling the effects from the 2008 recession. [The governor] had this vision of a ‘Silicon Valley of the east,’ based in Providence, Rhode Island. He thought 38 Studios would be the nucleus, and not only would it bring hundreds of jobs to Rhode Island, and bring all these people who would spend money in the neighboring bars and restaurants and coffee shops, but he thought other game developers or tech companies would follow. … I’m not a politician, so I would have a hard time saying whether [$75 million] is an appropriate amount of money to spend in a case like this, but the logic did make sense, and you can see why a desperate governor, who had made all these promises to his state about bringing back jobs, why he would want to pull off a crazy move like this.”
Jason Schreier on release dates:
“If I were making word processing software, I would know that, ‘OK, I need this to make documents, and I need it to print words on the screen if you type them,’ and I would know, ‘OK, this has to function in this way.’ But with a game, you not only need it to function and not be buggy, you also need it to be fun to play. And that nebulous concept of ‘fun’ adds so many wrenches into the whole situation, because how do I know that this game is going to be fun? How do I know exactly how long it’s going to take before I make this game fun? How do I know whether this will be four weeks before I make it fun or eight weeks? It’s just impossible. And so all of game scheduling is just, essentially, based on educated guesses.”