Controversial “Wage Slave” Article Prompts Games Industry Crunch Discussion

Developer Alex St. John express his controversial opinion on working life within the video game industry recently, and has since triggered a passionate debate surrounding the notorious crunch period (via. GameSpot).

The controversy arose from a VentureBeat interview with International Game Developers Association executive director Kate Edwards about industry crunch time – the period leading up to a game’s release in which developers are expected to work extremely long hours in order to get it finished. This lasts months, and has been known to stem into years, with developers going uncompensated for all this extra overtime. Understandably, crunch can have detrimental effects on a developer’s physical and mental well-being, as well as place a strain on their relationships.

Despite the IGDA showing conditions to be slowly improving, crunch time continues to be a significant problem in the games industry. Kate Edwards and the organisation intend to aid working conditions for developers further however, by drawing attention to the companies that do and do not treat the subject well.

Edwards’ interview sparked an editorial response from St. John – one of the creators of Microsoft’s DirectX and founder of game network WildTangent – which was also published on VentureBeat. St. John refuted crunch as an issue and accused those in favour of fair wages and reasonable working conditions of having a “wage-slave attitude.”

St. John

The editorial also expressed a contempt towards developers (or aspiring to be such) who were anything less than excited about working upwards of 80 hours per week without appropriate reimbursement. The piece concludes:

“Don’t be in the game industry if you can’t love all 80 hours/week of it–you’re taking a job from somebody who would really value it,”

The article saw a great deal of protest from those within the industry, and has lead to three follow-up posts by the developer on his website – two of which radiate a similarly derisive tone. His third post elaborates on his prior presentation.

Amongst the most astounding responses produced from St. John’s words have been those of his 22-year-old daughter, Amilia St. John. She describes her father’s article as a “horrific toddler meltdown”, and recounts some of her experiences as a woman in the technology industry to rebuke some of her father’s problematic views towards roles of women in the tech business. The article ends with St. John imploring her father to reevaluate his views and consider the effects they have on those in the industry:

“And it is from here that I beg my father, for the love of his daughters, to stop hindering our progress as women in the industry and start using his influence to promote positive experiences for minorities in tech.”

During an interview with GameSpot, IGDA’s exec Kate Edwards was asked what she’d say to any developers who feel disheartened by Alex St. John’s words. Edwards’ reply was:

 “The majority of the companies in the game industry are aware of the need for better work-life balance and better management of the factors that are conducive to creating extended crunch periods. That being said, the industry has a long way to go to make sustained crunch more of an anomaly than a norm.”

For further information on the realities of crunch time in the games industry, you check out GameSpot’s interview with Kate Edwards here.

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Charlie is a platforming romantic from England, that still speaks in a fashion that died with the Elizabethan era. Having been gaming since the days of Crash Bandicoot, he champions the Playstation, and is only a little bit embarassed that Super Mario Land keeps spelling his defeat.