Netflix's Patriot Act Puts A Spotlight On Crunch

netflix patriot act video games crunchHasan Minhaj talking about labour practices in the video game industry, with a graphic showing a list of developers who have laid off staffers in the last two years. Image: Netflix

Crunch gets a lot of attention amongst the video game industry, but it doesn't often enter the mainstream conversation about video games. That changed a little on the weekend with Netflix's Patriot Act, a comedic current affairs show from comedian Hasan Minhaj, devoting an entire episode to labour practices in video games.

The episode runs for about 24 minutes and kicks off, as you'd expect, with the Fortnite World Cup Finals. But Minhaj quickly pivots from there to the success of the industry, individual titles (like Red Dead Redemption 2 earning $US725 million in its first weekend), and the impact of livestreaming.

But you can't talk about all of that — or at least you shouldn't — without recognising the human cost involved. And that's where the latest episode of the Patriot Act spends most of its time, with the middle half of the episode explaining the idea of crunch, how contractors are often dismissed as soon as a game launches, and worker burnout.

The episode features a brief interview with former Telltale developer Emily Grace Buck, who recalls the day when the entire studio was laid off. Kotaku's previous reporting is also featured later on — partially because Buck was the only developer who was willing to be interviewed on camera for the program — with Cecilia talking about the investigation into Riot Games, how it initially came about and the push for workers to unionise.

Perhaps the scariest part of the program was a number cited by Buck: the average career in video games is five years long, and less for women or people of colour. Some video games take at least that long to ship. That's a lot of people who leave the industry before you'd really consider them experienced, and a lot of talent being lost.

We're still a long, long way away before the mainstream conversation around video games starts to mature. In Australia, that may never be the case — see recent reporting on Fortnite. But as streaming services continue to gain prominence, and they continue to fund programs that are more targeted at certain demographics and interests, there's a sliver of hope that when traditional media talks about video games, it won't just be the usual incredulation, hyperbole and fear, but an acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into them, and what the human cost is.


Comments

    Small note for everyone: I didn't know that Cecilia had been interviewed for the show until seeing the clip this morning. One of those byproducts of being in a separate team, separate country, and all that. Just so everyone knows!

      all good Alex everyone knows your trustworthy.

      would you mind taking me off this stupid censorship "awaiting moderation" list, if you guys are too busy to moderate the site then don't do it but sticking people on some list for weeks where they can still post but nothing ever gets approved is retarded.

      Either the mods can't do their job and moderate the site properly so i end up stuck in limbo for weeks or someone is deliberately trying to censor me but can't justify banning me so they leave me in limbo.

      what the hell is happening?????

      edit: never mind i have somehow magically come off the dissident list.

      Last edited 06/08/19 1:06 pm

        It's just time. It's between me and one other person to go through the comments, and we also have to curate the social pages, localise stories, write new features, etc ... so clearing out comments can take a while.

          well god damn you only have 2 people doing the whole website, my assumptions have been all wrong my apologies.

    Valve need to make game before being accused of crunch culture. Maybe they were confused with the crunching of Gaben's snacks?

      Valve's unpleasant work culture is the stuff of legends. Your pay is based on stack ranking, determined by the assessment of the rest of the company, so crunch happens through peer pressure. People will intentionally sabotage each others' projects so that theirs look better by comparison.

      Valve do, occasionally, ship games, but they're so dysfunctionally managed that a lot of games get canned before they're done. It's hard to justify spending any time working on new games compared to Steam. Sitting in the middle of the games industry and taking a 30% cut is so much more lucrative than any one game. Hell, taking a cut of the work of modders and hobbyists is more lucrative than actually making your own stuff, which is why so much of TF2 is made by "the community".

      tl:dr; Half-Life 3 is never coming out and the way Valve is run has a lot to do with it

      Yeah they haven't made a game since what, DOTA Underlords which launched way, way back in... Oh yeah, June this year.

      Just because it doesn't end in 3, doesn't mean it's not made by Valve.

        Isn't Underlords like 80% recycled assets from DOTA 2, though?

    i really want to know now which company Cecilia was looking into when she got the tip off about riot. it kinda feels like they may have been put on the backburner after how big riot blew up

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