Knowing Your Rights In Game Development

Dan, a graphic designer by trade, was looking to move into game development. He uploaded some of his design concepts onto the Australian games industry website Tsumea. What followed was an unexpectedly unpleasant correspondence.

In late November, Dan received an email. The email was from the head of a Melbourne studio. He introduced himself in the email and wrote about his experience in the games industry. He listed his accolades, vaguely mentioned what his studio was working on, and requested samples of work and a CV from Dan.

Dan believes it was his work on Tsumea that caught the studio head’s attention, but he didn’t think it was worth replying to the email.

“I thought the email I got from him originally looked more like a blanket email that would have been sent to a lot of people on Tsumea, just talking up his company and asking people who were interested to submit their CV,” says Dan, who preferred to not have his full name revealed.

“It wasn’t personally written or anything, so I assumed I was just one of many recipients and ignored it.”

Over a week later, Dan received a follow-up email.

“Dan,” the email began.

“If I don’t get a response from you within 24 hours, we’re removing your CV from our system and adding you to our employee blacklist. Thanks.”

Dan was taken aback. Was this the way the games industry in Australia worked? He understood that there were few game development jobs available in Australia, but should he have responded to such a hostile message? He hadn’t contacted this studio. He hadn’t expressed interest. He hadn’t done anything -- beyond uploading samples of his work onto an industry website. He decided to not reply. He hasn’t heard back from the studio since.

In light of this incident, we spoke to the CEO of the Game Developer’s Association of Australia, Antony Reed, to find out what industry standards are in Australia and how developers—independent or otherwise – should go about handling such situations.

“It is not uncommon for a studio to send out an unsolicited letter or email to a person whose work they admire and might be interested in talking to,” says Mr. Reed.

“Street artists have been offered jobs at development studios based on pavement chalk drawings. However, to be clear, these are unsolicited communications and as such the recipient has absolutely no obligation to respond, and should never feel compelled to.”

Mr. Reed says that there is a degree of immaturity shown in both communications sent to Dan, which is a reflection of the sender and the company.

“It is the second email that is deeply concerning,” he says.

“It is unnecessarily aggressive and I can’t imagine why anyone would consider an employment opportunity with this company if this is indicative of their communication style. If, as you say, the recipient of these emails has never made of attempted to make contact with the sender, there is absolutely no justification for the hostile tone.”

Mr. Reed says that emails of that nature are far from the industry standard and that Australia has very strong laws protecting employees. Whether a developer is in the process of looking for work, collaborating with a small independent team, or working within a large studio, they need to know that they have rights and should speak up if they feel that said rights are being infringed upon.

“No one should fear reprisal for speaking up if they feel unreasonable demands are being made of them,” he says.

“The key is not to take a confrontational attitude into the discussion and address problems early. Be prepared to listen, too. Don’t let issues fester and don’t succumb to secretive complaining within a core group – both are poisonous to an individual.”

As mentioned, emails like those sent to Dan are not the industry standard, nor are they a reflection of the Australian games industry. Studios may often go through periods of crunch and game developers may constantly strive to be better, often resulting in late nights and stress, but this is an unfortunate reality of the industry and Mr. Reed believes it can be greatly reduced through good leadership and management.

[Image credit: Uptown Magazine]