Magazine article Metro Magazine

Not Just Fun and Games: Exploitation in the Games Industry

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Not Just Fun and Games: Exploitation in the Games Industry

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Digital products like video games often arrive before us as though they're miraculous products of mindless machines; they can seem so thoroughly branded as to seem impersonal. Often, the product bought from a store shelf or a digital retailer can be so polished that it's all too easy to forget that humans --artists and artisans alike--made it in the first place. It can sometimes be difficult, if not impossible, to see the person behind the video game.

This is, of course, intentional, as marginalising the work of labourers (even creative ones like game developers) can often benefit capital. Even early on in the history of video games, it was clear there was a financial imperative that drove major companies to push the spotlight away from the humans that made them and towards the brand name of the gaming company itself. In 1979, to cite the most noted example, programmers David Crane, Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead left American video game pioneer Atari to form rival company Activision because the former refused to publicly credit them for their work. As far as Atari was concerned, the company was better placed if consumers thought of Atari as the name behind the games, and not individual artists (who might leave and work elsewhere, taking their cache with them). Tellingly, although Activision began with designers' names on game boxes (Pitfall! from 1982 was always 'David Crane's Pitfall!', just like the famed 1972 film is 'Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather'), that's no longer the case. Today, an Activision game is just an Activision game.

So questions of labour have always been crucial to the games industry. Closer to home, as recently as in 2011, allegations of unreasonable (and possibly illegal) labour practices were made about Team Bondi, a development company in Sydney that had recently released the internationally successful console game L.A. Noire (probably the highest-profile console game made in Australia up to that point). Eleven anonymous sources, speaking to IGN Australia, alleged that the company had an abusive managerial style, routine staff turnover and perpetually long hours (anything from sixty to 110 hours per week). 'I never would have thought you could put a sweat shop in the Sydney CBD,' said one of the anonymous sources. Team Bondi was later closed, and its assets sold to production firm Kennedy Miller Mitchell.

This context makes recent allegations regarding poor workplace practices at retailer EB Games all the more important to take seriously. …

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