On “Too Many Games”

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EC recently made a video about the barrage of video games players find themselves buried under these days and he made the point that having this number of overwhelming choices is always better. I don’t think more is always better. In fact, having fewer games is probably a good thing.

A while ago I saw a TED talk by Barry Schwartz where he talked about the paradox of choice. In fact, he has a book by that title where he proposes that having a lot choices isn’t better. He doesn’t really doubt that in a general sense, it’s good to have options. However, having too many can cause paralysis and in the long run make us unhappy about the choices we make (because we’ll always think there were better choices).

I had a sense of this before I heard his talk but hearing him explain it really confirmed it for me. I don’t know if having more is always better, but that seems doubtful. The analogy he used during the talk was going to the store for a pair of jeans. We all know the dozens of different kinds of jeans one can buy in a store and Barry compared this experience to how it was in the past. He’d go to a store and they only had one or two kinds of jeans. H’ed pick his size and go home. Today, he has to know so much more about jeans to even know what he needs.

It feels like we miss something important when we’re bombarded with too many choices. How many things can a human reasonably consider? Surely there’s a limit to this and if there is, then that means that there’s a point at which having more choice is bad for us.

We can have too many games. I already think I do. And what its done is ensure I spend less time on any one of them as I spread what time I have across the lot of them. Consequently it’s difficult to know every development studio behind each game and therefore difficult to know as much about my games as I want to. There’s a trade of for having too many choices it seems.

Do you believe there’s such a thing as having too many games available on the market?

Tech Industry Culture Trends

There’s so many thoughts to blow into the wind. Bloggers do it everyday, even when we’re not writing. Some days I sit on the porch with my wife and dream about what a healthy economy might look like for our kids. We talk about how culture turns into economic opportunities, and how being part of the in-culture feels like being in the land of opportunity. It’s just too bad for the rest. The tech industry is one of the least diverse which, when you think about it, means it’s opportunities aren’t made available to those outside it’s culture. Lack of diversity means lack of opportunity.

WARNING: If you’re a white male, the information below may be upsetting to you. I promise this isn’t an assault on you personally or on white men as a group (which I am part of). It’s a reading of the data and an analysis of how it shapes the current games industry culture.

simcityIt’s really easy to under estimate the impact that simple social standards have on our very lives. That’s especially true when it comes to jobs. I’ve been watching Game Job Watch since last year. The number of losses published each quarter has been crazy. I stumbled upon an article from the Guardian the other day talking about World of Darkness, when it pointed out that the game industry posts twice as many job losses per year than the average. The thing is, this isn’t a new model the industry is operating under.

Unlike other parts of the economy, the games industry looks similar the construction industry for me (as someone who works in construction). Jobs are based on contracts, which expire. When a game is ready to ship, production teams aren’t needed. Stable careers are in services, not production. Unless you’re a well-established studio, your next game could be your last as a developer. As indies shuffle quarter to quarter for capital, usually from venture capitalists or publishing contracts or buyouts, they’re always under pressure to find their next mortgage and grocery income, or else consider leaving the industry for more stable careers.

How is culture shaping this picture?

Bro Camps

bootcampI’m a Californian so I’m used to hearing about Dev Camps, which are everywhere out here. These are usually touted as alternatives to going to school and getting certificates – why spend two or four years accumulating college debt when you can pay a fifth of that for a 12 week program that will gaurantee you a job? These are usually pressure-cooker programs which promise to make a developer out of you, whether for gaming or software. During that time students are expected to put in 60+ hours a week on average. There are some which require 100 hours. When you encounter that kind of detail you can’t help but wonder: who the hell do they expect to attend?

At App Academy, they expect you to put in at least 80-100 hours a week. In turn, they let you into the program for no upfront fee, promise 96% job placement, and will take 18% of your first years salary. In California, it’s easy for entry level developers to start off at $100k a year, especially with these particular programs.

Hack Reactor is similar, requiring at least 70 hours per week for a similar fee.

How these camps are structured is you either pay a fee up front for the course or they let you on board while you pay them when it’s over. Since these are usually sponsored by various companies in Silicon Valley, the job placement for many is really high – you’re probably going to work for whoever the sponsor is when it’s over. For this reason, the camps are super popular.

Still …who the hell do they expect to attend?

qol-children

IGDA 2009 Quality of Life Survey

Young, college-aged white males apparently. These are people without families to care for, have little job experience and aren’t likely to complain about conditions. They can operate on little to no sleep. They don’t mind sleeping on a friends couch while they attend courses. Whoever attends, it’s clearly not set-up for people with children, or families, or whose health can’t sustain 60 hour work weeks – and it’s especially not for people who can’t afford to stop working to attend. If you’ve got kids, a disability, or no coding background, these are not for you. Entry skews towards those with some kind of technical background, though they claim to welcome anyone who can do (only some have entry assignments). From another perspective, white males are also over-represented in computer science enrollment according to a survey conducted last year by Computer Science Education Journal. White dudes are receiving pretty much all of the opportunities to get into tech! Of course, this isn’t bad – at least not for them. But it does beg the question: Why aren’t we seeing more diverse enrollments?

Published by the Computer Science Education journal in 2013, the study revealed a stark lack of diversity among students studying computer science/game development.

Published by the Computer Science Education journal in 2013, the study revealed a stark lack of diversity among students studying computer science/game development.

According to the IGDA 2005 Game Developer Demographics Survey, the industry was over 80% white, male, and heterosexual. The 2009 QOL survey shows that this hasn’t changed. Those facts square neatly with the enrollments in dev camps and colleges. That’s the status quo and it’s being upheld by much smaller, everyday forces in culture and attitudes, such as ridiculous program requirements which exclude all but single, heterosexual, white men. These kinds of things are usually touted as “culture fit”, but it’s consequences are far from harmless.

Our Beloved Devs

Dev Boot Camps are merely a single gateway – most camps get you a start in the software industry, not games in particular. The connection here is in tech industry culture, the demographic it serves, and how that demographic is constructed.

Quality of Life Survey 2009:  See a relationship the dev training camps?

IGDA 2009 Quality of Life Survey: See a relationship with the dev training camps?

Long work days and weeks are very common the games industry and it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that students are being prepped for it with ridiculous, in humane time requirements. This gives us a good idea of why the infamous Crunch is a permanent feature of working in the industry. Game devs talk about it all the time and last year’s IGDA 2012 Quality of Life Survey revealed that not much has improved in this area since at least 2005, with as many as 10% of developers surveyed reporting 80+ hour weeks. The camps are breeding a new generation of developers too young, inexperienced and desperate for their first gig to complain. They’ll be trained to endure it quietly while being told “this is just the way it is/it’s part of the culture”. Those harmless statements do much to maintain the status quo and silencing the next generation by using culture as the justification perpetuates it. Given the long work days, they’ll likely remain single and without children.

qol1

IGDA 2009 Quality of Life Survey

Earlier I talked about the lack of diversity according to a 2005 IGDA Demographics Survey. I also pointed out a study from just last year which showed the same for students who will eventually enter the tech industry. For the 2009 Quality of Life survey, over 80% of respondents were white and 86% were male. Now this is despite there being a relatively strong belief across the industry that diversity is important. Still, most people in the industry fall back on the merit stance, as though the reason the industry is largely white and male is because white dudes are tech masters. There’s a failure to acknowledge that there’s a huge gap between aspirations and education, and an even larger chasm still between merit and opportunity. If dev camps are only a real possibility for white men, then perhaps a portion of the problem is that similar opportunities aren’t being placed in areas with non-white, non-male demographics. In other words, there’s an industry bias towards hiring white men. And it’s not something that can be improved with the apathy of white men – we are part of the solution, but too often we get bitter about this kind of data being pointed out. It’s easy to feel attacked and resign in anger and resentment, but it’s important to understand the data isn’t our enemy. Here’s what a few survey participants had to say on the IGDA 2005 on the question of diversity (see the Comments file on that page).

#7 «The industry is not diverse people the people interested in games an computers in general are not diverse. Most programmers are men – because men tend to like programming more often than women do. Its just the way it is.» – M, 24, White, Uni, Canada

#8 «Aside from ensuring enforcement of applicable equal opportunity employment laws in the industry, why does IGDA think this is worth pursuing? Do we need more games that are gender, age, race or sexual-orientation specific? We have plenty of games that are neutral on these dimensions (abstract strategy is almost tailor made for this) so why does this matter?» – M, 43, Ma, USA

#12 «Games are made by White Males, for White Males. I’m all for a diverse industry, it just isn’t there. Marketing in the entire industry is very poor. Games either make it or don’t, then copy the ones that do.» – M, 28, Uni, USA

#78 «While this is an area where it would be nice to have some statistics, it’s hard to imagine how the IGDA could actually impact this area. Let me think: women don’t play games, so why would they want to work on them? But with respect to racial diversity, I just don’t see how the IGDA could really make a difference. You can tell us that the industry is not very diverse, and we’ll feel bad for a second, but then go on shooting the Haitians in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. *shrug* » – M, 35, White, Uni, USA

There’s a group who do not believe there’s a problem, because it’s not a problem for themselves. If these responses sound familiar to you in 2014, that’s because the arguments against diversity aren’t …diverse. This is what apathy looks like. The apathy of developers towards diversity is the greatest reason the industry struggles with it. Responses also tended to frame the issue as an assault on merit and developer quality — as if the choice were between having diversity or having high quality devs. Can’t have both!

So there’s a direct relationship between developer attitudes and industry culture. There’s a direct relationship between industry culture and job opportunities. Whenever I hear statements like the ones quoted above, I flinch a little. How can we call for change if we’re unwilling to change? Maybe we believe that some of us have to change, but not all of us. But change on this scale requires everyone involved.

To end this on a more positive note, here are some quotes from that same pool of respondents which show compassion, understanding, and even expressions of fear (which allow us to empathize with one another’s situation, which is good).

#19 «Although female novelists are well represented and well regarded within fantasy literature and approximately 30%+ of our writing applicants are female, my company has yet to hire a female writer (we have had approximatelty 20-30 writers on staff over the course of my 8 years with the company). I can’t help but conclude that our complete lack of gender diversity within the design department is a clear and direct product of deliberate misogyny within our hiring process. In spite of this, we continue to be recognized as an industry leader, making various ‘best place to work’ lists, and are consistently lauded as a positive example for other developers. Sad but true.» – M, 29, White, Uni, Canada

#21 «I would like to see the IGDA do more outreach to under-represented communities.» – M, 44, White, disabled, Uni, UK

#23 «I love diversity, but sometimes this push for it can worry me as to my chances of being employed in the future considering my race is usually viewed as a majority.» – M, 21, White, Uni, USA

#35 «To have more diverse staffs in your team means that you have oppinion from broader perspective and that helps your game to reach more audience.» – M, 32, Southeast Asian, Ma, Thailand

Who would think that something as simple and benign as a dev bootcamp could help perpetuate tech industry culture? It all starts with looking for talent in more places outside of the hotspots of the in-culture. Putting opportunities in under-served and impoverished neighborhoods will send the message to those groups that there are great opportunities in IT and they are wanted. We can stop framing the issue as a choice between merit and mediocrity, which sends the message that if you’re a non-white heterosexual male, you’re not good enough. For those currently inside the industry – there’s a lot you can do, like speaking against crunching and teaming up with like-minds to create policy that protects workers, especially the most vulnerable (desperate youngsters). The little things count. The little things are all that count.

Scree Tags: #gamertalk #diversity #gameindustry