Amid the announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Bloomberg raised the issue of working conditions for contractors in the gaming industry. Journalist Jason Schreier partially touched on his back in 2019 while at Kotaku, and now he devoted a separate article.
Most of the article is devoted to the situation in Activision studios dealing with the new Call of Duty. Before Christmas 2018, Schreier writes, there was a significant situation that reflects the attitude of the publisher towards contractors.
At that time, studio staff received an invitation to the company’s annual holiday event, but some of them were told after a while that they were invited by mistake – in fact, they are not called, because they are not full-time employees, but contractors from Volt Workforce Solutions.
According to Schreier, this attitude is not uncommon in the gaming industry. While company executives receive millions of dollars and top in-house developers can expect substantial bonuses after release, others see nothing but the minimum wage.
Often, contractors’ badges are color-coded, they don’t get paid vacations, their names are sometimes not credited, and when gifts like expensive statues of characters from the game are sent to their staff members, these employees seem to be forgotten. One of the contractors in a conversation with Bloomberg noted that even their work chairs were worse.
Contractors are often told they will have a chance to prove themselves and perhaps even get a position on the state, according to Emma Kinema, who is trying to unite industry developers into unions. Most of the time, however, they get stuck in temporary roles with poor conditions, no bonuses, low salaries, and minimal chances of growth.
Contractors should not be used as a way to avoid staff costs.
Public Relations Specialists of America
As Schreier notes, citing data from the ESA, the gaming industry employs about 220,000 full-time employees. They are assisted by thousands of freelance screenwriters and art painters, and in between are contractors who often work as long as full-time employees.
Based on conversations Bloomberg has with over a dozen contractors, these workers often represent an integral part of the team, rather than support. Their contracts have a clear end date for their work, and their contracts are extended so that they do not lose their position, but they are not offered positions in the state, despite all their contribution to the project.
In a conversation with Bloomberg, several former and current employees at Volt Workforce Solutions, which works with Treyarch, said they were being paid less than $ 20 an hour, which required them to work even at night or on weekends to make ends meet.
At the same time, the Volt contract implies that contractors do not have the right to receive bonuses and benefits that are provided for the employees of the studio with which they work. This includes insurance.
The very Activision says that it handles complaints about unfair treatment of employees. The company noted that out of all 10,000 Activision employees, less than 10% are contractors.
According to Bloomberg, freelancers were invited to at least the annual event at the end of 2019, but the problem of poor working conditions, including low salaries, remains relevant.
Some companies in the industry have previously taken steps to reduce the role of contractors in development, but this has led to its own problems. Back in 2014, Microsoft introduced a rule that freelancers can only work under contract for 18 months.
Then Microsoft explained this with a desire to protect their IP and classified information. However, given the timing of game development, this led to the fact that many projects began to lose employees even before the end of the process.
In particular, this affected Halo Infinite, which has been engaged in 343 Industries and freelance studios for more than four years. At one point, the game lost some of the developers due to the expiration of their 18-month contract, and they can be hired back according to the rules only after 6 months.
Microsoft had problems with contractors back in the early 2000s when a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company for lack of bonuses, but this situation did not set a precedent for the industry.
Some regions have their own problems. For example, in Japan, agencies deliberately do not include the names of contractors in the credits so that other companies cannot lure them. According to the anonymous freelancer, he was even forced to use different pseudonyms in the credits.
Either way, the structure of the gaming industry complicates the situation. It does not allow getting rid of temporary positions, but some companies are taking such a step, for example, the indie studio Stray Bombay. According to the head of Chet Falishek, he refused the services of agencies, although he understood that they would help save both time and money.