November 30, 2021

The archers pub

Serving the business world

Progress isn't always pretty | This Week in Business

Progress isn’t always pretty | This Week in Business

This Week in Business is our weekly recap column, a collection of stats and quotes from recent stories presented with a dash of opinion (sometimes more than a dash) and intended to shed light on various trends. Check back every Friday for a new entry.

As much as gaming is a thriving industry right now, there’s no shortage of bad news in the headlines. It can be discouraging seeing a near-constant succession of stories about abusive studios and communities rife with racism, sexism, xenophobia, and general intolerance of all stripes.

Sometimes the avalanche of bad news might make it seem like we’re living through a uniquely terrible moment in games, but I actually think it’s a sign of progress in the industry.

Consider the stories of toxic workplaces, and how many of them detail long-standing patterns of behavior, cultures built on sexism or crunch at studios and publishers that have been doing their dirt for decades. In generations past, these stories simply wouldn’t be told in public.

“Developers have always crunched, but industry attitudes have shifted from glorifying it, to tolerating it as a necessary evil, to regarding it somewhere between irresponsible and exploitive”

It’s not like poor work-life balance is a recent innovation in the industry. Developers have always crunched, but industry attitudes have shifted from glorifying it, to tolerating it as a necessary evil, to regarding it somewhere between irresponsible and exploitive.

We may not look at the outcomes of these stories as any kind of justice for the wrongs done and the harms caused, especially considering how often the leaders who built and oversaw toxic cultures are left in place to deal with the problems they created. But at the very least there’s a much greater understanding in the industry — and critically, a greater understanding for people just entering it — that workplaces like this are not acceptable, that they cannot be the norm.

As frustrating as it might be for veterans to see the companies that wronged them paying lip service to the need for healthy and supportive workplaces, the next generation of developers have them on the record now and can insist they live up to those sentiments. (Or call them out for failing to do so, at the very least undermining recruitment efforts in the process.)

The increased awareness and volume around these issues has not only given some momentum to unionization efforts in the industry, but it has (perhaps not coincidentally) prompted more companies to explore alternative ways of working more explicitly centered around employees’ work-life balance and well-being, whether through shorter work weeks, allowing remote working, or other measures.

And as for the bigotry against various groups, it’s at least taken more seriously now. Various indies have long blazed a trail for curating better communities, and even massive companies like EA (with its Positive Play charter) and Microsoft (with its accessibility push) have realized that a bigger tent for gaming is a better tent — or more profitable, at least — and the most caustic corners of our audiences have been holding that back.

There’s a lot of rotten news out there, but there’s reason to hope these are necessary (if long overdue) growing pains for an immature industry. I don’t see how we can go from the industry that was to something better without a whole lot of bad news along the way.

The rest of the week in review

STAT | 44% – The percentage of Paradox Interactive employees who reported experiencing mistreatment at the company, according to a survey conducted by Swedish union groups Unionen and Sveriges Ingenjörer.

QUOTE | “In this time that we’ve very visibly fended off this cohort of trolls, their stance is that, ‘You’re killing your sales by doing this. We’re the gamers and you’re keeping us out.’ The reality is that our baseline sales since that time, through that whole turmoil, have more than doubled, which is extremely material to us.” – Caves of Qud developer Brian Bucklew says the game’s tightly controlled Discord community has resulted in financial and community benefits that far outweigh the backlash.

QUOTE | “If we’re all happier to be at work because we’re well-rested, I think we’re going to be better off in the long run.” – Phil Tibitoski of Bugsnax developer Young Horses explains the reasoning behind the studio’s shift to a four-day work week. It made the change in July and hasn’t noticed any change to productivity.

QUOTE | “We realized that working from home is a work mode that is more suitable for some people, as it offers a work-life balance adapted to their needs.” Dontnod HR director Matthieu Hoffman on the company’s decision allowing all employees to choose between working in the office or remotely.

QUOTE | “Currently, as it stands, the creative team at Ubisoft is composed of white people who are of uniform cultural backgrounds. This leaves us with a lack of confidence in the future shape of the editorial team.” – Employee group A Better Ubisoft responds to the promotion of long-time Ubisoft employee Igor Manceau to be chief creative officer. Manceau replaces Serge Hascoët, who left the company last year after reported naming him as a central figure in sexual harassment and discrimination claims at the company.

STAT | 24% – Percentage of Riot’s global employees in 2020 who were women, according to the company’s latest diversity update. That figure is up 2% from 2019.

QUOTE | “If you’re a bunch of white guys and one woman, some people might be cautious about [being] the first person of [their identity] because they don’t know what to expect… If you haven’t been paying attention and you grow to 20, 50, 100, you are going to have a harder sell in a lot of ways.” – Poorly Timed Games founder Chris Wright emphasizes that diverse candidates are a lot easier to attract if you care about diversity from the start.

QUOTE | “Proud of #USSupremeCourt affirming the Texas law banning abortion for babies with a heartbeat. As an entertainer I don’t get political often. Yet with so many vocal peers on the other side of this issue, I felt it was important to go on the record as a pro-life game developer.” – Tripwire Interactive president John Gibson, posting on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

QUOTE | “We started Shipwright with the idea that it was finally time to put our money where our mouth is. We cannot in good conscience continue to work with Tripwire under the current leadership structure. We will begin the cancellation of our existing contracts effective immediately.” – Tripwire co-development partner Shipwright Studios, responding to Gibson’s tweet on Sunday afternoon.

QUOTE | “We do not share the opinion expressed in a recent tweet by the president of Tripwire, publisher of Chivalry 2. This perspective is not shared by our team, nor is it reflected in the games we create. The statement stands in opposition to what we believe about women’s rights.” – Chivalry 2 developer Torn Banner Studios distances itself from Gibson’s comments on Sunday night.

QUOTE | “His comments disregarded the values of our whole team, our partners and much of our broader community. Our leadership team at Tripwire are deeply sorry and are unified in our commitment to take swift action and to foster a more positive environment.” – Tripwire Interactive, in a statement announcing Gibson’s resignation Monday night.

QUOTE | “To work with people that go as far back as Wipeout… the entire leadership team we have worked with in the past. Graeme Ankers, Stuart Tilley, Dr Lovegrove… I’ve worked directly with them on projects, on Killzone 2. That legacy of the old Studio Liverpool with Formula 1… it’s a really great feeling to welcome them back to the family.” – PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst talks about how highly Sony thinks of the people behind its new acquisition Firesprite.

QUOTE | “It was felt that by focusing our investment plans on other Studios that are currently working on exciting new projects, we would be in a stronger position to offer the best possible content for our consumers.” – Sony, in 2012, explaining why it was closing Studio Liverpool and kicking Ankers, Tilley, and Lovegrove out of “the family” in the process.

STAT | 1 year – The minimum amount of time remaining until the worldwide semiconductor shortage starts to ease, according to Toshiba. Good luck meeting demand until then, console makers!

QUOTE | “It’s abundantly clear that the offerings we confirmed in [Horizon Forbidden West’s] pre-order kickoff missed the mark.” – Sony Interactive Entertainment’s president and CEO Jim Ryan resorts to the dreaded “missed the mark” euphemism for explaining why the company was going to charge an extra $10 to upgrade the PS4 version of Forbidden West to the PS5 edition, even though it had specifically told people the upgrade would be free. Turns out charging people for things you previously told them would be free will indeed “miss the mark” more often than not.