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Devolver Digital founder says crunch is the game industry’s “dirty secret”

Mike Wilson looking scruffy and wearing a bandana at E3 in LA.

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Devolver Digital and Good Shepherd co-founder Mike Wilson called the excessive overwork of developer crunch “shameful” and the “dirty, dirty secret that the industry has failed to address for 20 years”, which he blames on the absence of unions in the games industry.

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“Since there are no unions for games developers, the industry bodies don’t want to piss off the publishers that are often their biggest sponsors,” Wilson says, arguing that a key advantage of unions would be support for developers to stand up for their rights in a legal setting: “Individuals don’t have the wherewithal to fight big legal battles, and sadly in the world of big business that means companies can do whatever they want.”

“There’s an awful lot of people [out] there being misused and abused, and their families broken by being told they’re going to work seven days a week for the next six months with no additional pay and that’s just the way it is.”

This is not just an issue with triple-A gaming, but with indies too, who face pressure from users online who sometimes forget that game developers are people. Wilson points out, “it doesn’t matter if you read a thousand great comments, it’s that one or two that say you’re an absolute worthless piece of shit that sticks in your heart when you least need it”.

Hotline Miami 2

Wilson personally knows at least four developers who have been hospitalised due to work-related stress, including Hotline Miami creators Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin. That was when he came to the conclusion that “this has to be a conversation”, noting that “there has to be 40 more [developers] at least that were very nearly there and couldn’t push that panic button, often because they had to make their game”.

The Game Developers Conference last month held a panel discussion about unionisation in the gaming industry, with one attendee referring to developer crunch as “insane” and “mandatory”. Grassroots organisation Game Workers Unite sprung up at the conference, who are hoping to facilitate discussions between pro-union game industry workers.

Developers NeoCore caused a stir last week when their upcoming game Warhammer 40,000: Inquisitor – Martyr got delayed to June 5 and they promised they would do “90+ hours per week” to make up for it. They later stated that it was meant as a joke.

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