Thursday, January 18, 2018

IGDA Survey Shows Diversity and Job Stability Concerns

In this article, game designer Sande Chen relates the lack of progress on diversity and job stability, as indicated by the IGDA 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey.

The IGDA's 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS) was released last week (and can be downloaded here) and in it, you'll find that according to the data, the typical worker in the video game industry, whether freelance, self-employed, or employed, is a 30-something, white or multiracial with white, heterosexual, college-educated, married male without a disability or children.  According to the 2017 survey, 74% of respondents identified as male while 21% identified as female.  Despite growing interest in the importance of diversity, very little has translated into actual change at companies, as can be seen from the similar results on the 2014 DSS survey.  


The survey also provided a snapshot of an industry with constant job volatility.  Even though 70% of respondents were permanent employees, on average they had already switched employers twice within 5 years. This is consistent with surveys from prior years. And only 39% expected that they would stay with their current employer for 3 years or less. 53% reported that crunch time was expected at the company and employees would work anywhere from 50 hours to more than 70 hours a week during crunch.

Just like the permanent employees, freelancers or contractors who responded to the survey predominately had 6 years or less experience working in the industry. But unlike the permanent employees, freelancers tended to have a longer relationship with clients, which leads to the concern that freelancers may be de facto employees, just without benefits or regulatory rules. The IGDA believes there is a real danger of freelancers bearing the brunt of the development work without any protection from potential abuse.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.


Friday, January 5, 2018

The Passion Requirement

In this article, game designer Sande Chen weighs the pros and cons to hiring super-passionate game fans.

In a recent New York Times article about Nintendo, an interesting Shigeru Miyamoto hiring tidbit came to light.  He said, “I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.” The article states that many of the current staff hadn't been gamers when first hired.

Considering that as a designer, Shigeru Miyamoto is inspired by everyday life (Pikmin was inspired by his gardens), this statement from him is not altogether surprising, and many people would agree that aspiring game designers should have broad interests and seek a liberal education.  However, a lot of game job adverts do call for "passion" for games. It's almost like a requirement.

And what is passion? Is it just regular enthusiasm?  Is it code for "hardcore gamer" or perhaps "superfan," at least for the company's products?  A recent Verge article points out sometimes, "passion" can be PRSpeak for "rude, obnoxious, and toxic."  And with the recent World Health Organization draft on gaming disorder, is "passion" just a nice way of saying "mental health addiction"?

One advantage to having gaming fanatics as new employees is that they are already up to date with gaming culture.  They understand what gamers want and how gamers act.  They already know the history of gaming and what's the latest craze.  They may play the latest games and know all the latest game news.  Moreover, they may know your game inside and out.  They fit in.

This requirement, however, could exclude a lot of worthy candidates.  In the past, women hires didn't have that gaming acumen but had expertise from related fields like entertainment or the technology sector.  By not hiring diverse employees, companies may stagnate, appealing to the same limited market instead of broadening its appeal.  As I have mentioned before at conferences, there are case studies where diversity of employees have led to expanded markets and more profit.  A diverse pool brings new perspectives, opening the door to originality.  In an industry where copycat games can run rampant, it can pay off to be the first mover.

What do you think? Is passion a requirement for you?

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.