Alex St. John, co-creator of DirectX for Microsoft and founder of game company WildTangent, has sparked a heated debate among the development community over his controversial views, arguing that game development employees are "wage-slaves" who have "embraced a cultural of victimology".
In an opinion piece on VentureBeat on 16 April, St. John wrote developers should quit complaining about fair wages and long hours since making games "is not a job, it's an art". "Many modern game developers have embraced a culture of victimology and a bad attitude toward their chosen vocations," he wrote. "They complain that the long hours and personal sacrifices great games require are a consequence of poor management."
"They want to pretend that they can turn an inherently entrepreneurial endeavour like game development into a 9-to-5 job. Somehow, these people have managed to adopt a wage-slave attitude toward one of the most remarkable and privileged careers in the world," St. John added.
He also argued that making games is a rewarding venture in itself and isn't a "hardship" since employees are just "pushing a mouse".
"You need to get an actual job producing productivity software if you want to be paid 'fairly' and go home at 5 pm," St. John wrote. "Anybody good enough to get hired to write games can get paid more to work on something else. If working on a game for 80 hours a week for months at a time seems 'strenuous' to you... practice more until you're better at it. Making games is not a job, pushing a mouse is not a hardship, it's the most amazing opportunity you can possibly get paid to pursue... start believing it, and you'll discover that you are even better at it."
St. John's article comes on the heels of a new initiative by the International Game Developers Association to tackle the game industry's ubiquitous practice of "crunch" or mandatory unpaid overtime and long hours by rewarding companies with the best crunch time practices.
According to the 2015 Developer Satisfaction Survey by the IGDA, about 62% of developers said their jobs involve crunch time, nearly half of which report working more than 60 hours per week and 17% working more than 70 hours. About 37% of developers also reported that they did not receive any additional compensation for crunch time last year.
St. John's arguments have provoked a litany of negative feedback from developers and industry professionals.
Vlambeer co-founder Rami Ismail wrote an in-depth response to St. John's op-ed arguing that "passion and taking care of yourself aren't mutually exclusive". "Great art isn't made by burning out making it," wrote Ismail. Great art is made through passion and experience and you won't have either if you burn out."
Others took to social media to voice their opinions on the issue.
In a follow-up blog post, St. John acknowledged the widespread backlash and defended his views arguing that his article "has caused shock and outrage among lazy millennial hipster game developers who think that long hours weren't priced into their paychecks when EA hired them". He added that the stressful work conditions are "how we roll in the industry".
He also posted a presentation on his website, mocking "kids" who "enter the workforce with spoon-fed educations, prestigious degrees, an inflated sense of their own value and a disastrous work ethic". He added that employers should "churn and burn to find an 'optimal' team," and not "waste time managing the weak".
Interestingly, Christopher Redner mentioned in an earlier interview that St. John "started to burn out" at his job in Microsoft in 1997. "He would pass out at his keyboard and straggle into morning meetings with key marks on his face. Worked sucked everything out of him; his marriage disintegrated. In 1997, he succeeded in getting himself fired, as he tells it, 'and walked out of Microsoft feeling 100 lbs. lighter'."
However, St. John isn't the first game industry senior to support crunch time in the industry. In February, former Lionhead chief Peter Molyneux said "crunch is energy" and is a "wonderful thing that happens to human beings when they're faced with the impossible".