19 February 2019 -
Around a month ago, when I was scrolling down my subscription feed on YouTube, I noticed this video posted by GameSpot called “2018: The Year That Shook Video Games” by Mike Mahardy. The first part of the video I strongly agreed with, he mainly laid down the successes and failures of specific platforms and games throughout the year. Those I have played I wholeheartedly agreed with his evaluation, those I haven’t played I’m definitely keen on doing so sometime in the near future. Where I have strong disagreements is in the second part of this video when it comes to desirable working cultures in the industry and what was viewed as poor practices by companies.
The first company to take centre stage was Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends. Back in August the company came under fire for an alleged “culture of sexism”, as titled by the Kotaku article referenced. There are obviously many actions that are described in this article which I find awful and disgusting, some that the accusers could provide evidence for and, by the statements from the company, something would be done about it. This article though wasn’t about simply exposing harassment to shine the light on those responsible, it was about complete cultural change at Riot Games.
Riot’s explicit values as a company comprise of employing those who are passionate about their games to create the best product possible, the article presents these values as bad because of the small proportion of women that their games appeal to. What then is being asked of Riot? They’re being asked to throw out pro-business values in favour of arbitrary values that have nothing to do with the goals of the company.
Can good values be poorly or wrongly implemented to the detriment of the business? Yes. Does that mean one must do away with those values? No. To do away with them would be explicitly accepting values that aren’t for the betterment of the company and their goals, and therefore to their detriment. What must be propagated is rationality in the understanding and implementation of their values so they may prosper by employing people who will further the business’ goals.
The second company to come under fire is Red Dead Redemption creator: Rockstar Games. Recently they’ve come under flak for their supposed high hours of “crunch”, this is essentially overtime that employees put in to ensure that a game is completed on time. This is a common practice that is always bashed by a lot of those in the industry, watch any GDC talk and 9 times out of 10 they will throw in a jab at crunch.
In terms of Rockstar, there are mixed reports about specifically how much crunch many at the studio go through, some report of extraordinary amounts nowhere near the end of development whereas others report of very little, with an overarching theme of the amount decreasing over time. This is a result of an industry full of ambitious and passionate people: ambitious in the scope of their games and the deadlines they aim for, and passionate from the fact they could earn much more with the same skills in many other under-staffed industries, but they continue to choose games.
Especially towards the end of development on a game I don’t see crunch as unwarranted, you’ve put years of work into creating a product you want to be proud of and it takes that extra push to get it over the line. This is an example of your actions matching your value; if there is something you can do to make sure that those years weren’t for nought then you should. If you’re unable to because of other commitments but complain because you feel obliged to: get over yourself, others shouldn’t have to run their value judgements by you before putting them into action. Those who trade other values in exchange for the value they get from their career should not be guilt-tripped out of striving for greatness.
Lastly, the new ideal for business is put forward in the form of Dead Cells developer Motion Twin, a small indie company that supposedly has no management and no variance in pay from employee to employee. This puts the cherry on the cake of this full frontal attack on value judgements in business by putting forward the good as a company that openly rejects to show that some employees offer more value than others, a company that rejects the notion that some employees views are considered more valuable and given authority in the form of a hierarchy, and a company whose creators hold that they don’t deserve the business they created and have forfeited their power over their creation to whomever the group votes to employ.
This video I have reviewed today advocates for business owners to relinquish the values they’ve created and rightfully deserve, for hiring practices to be concerned with filling quotas of immutable characteristics rather than thinking about the values that will better the company, and for employees to think about the feelings of co-workers over their own values they wish to pursue. The key in all of this has been the attack on value. Though this has largely been an attack on the values of specific people, specifically the values of high achievers and value creators in favour of low achievers and those they think deserve the values they haven’t created.
The most confusing to me is this ideal of a workers-cooperative with a democratic decision making process. While researching this video, those who were glorifying such a business set up are the same people who promote video games as an art form. Now I see games as having artistic elements but it certainly isn’t a unique art form in any way. One thing art isn’t is a democratic process, great art is created by a man with a vision of the good that he has chosen to portray in the form of his choosing, those he collaborates with have brought into his vision so all decisions are his to make to ensure that his vision isn’t in any way compromised. Business should be viewed just the same as art.
In business, the creator has a vision of how things can and should be, whether this is how people should live, or in the example of games what and how they play. A business owner has a specific vision in mind that he wishes the values he has created to work in pursuit of, no vision can be achieved through pragmatism. A business owner shouldn’t feel guilty for working in the pursuit of his values; if he is rational and successful he creates values that everyone may enjoy, if he is irrational he will only succeed in bringing upon his own demise.
Instead of working in the pursuit of his vision that he has created such values for, these people expect a businessman to see business as impersonal, take an apathetic approach, and allow what he has created to be used against his interests. I say no: pursue your vision, live by your own judgement, and allow nobody to guilt trip you for striving for greatness.
These sort of attacks aren’t just launched at the video games industry, they’re in fact pretty common across society today. Hopefully, in this article, I’ve given you the right ammunition to fight against this nihilistic destruction of value so you may achieve the highest goals your mind may obtain.