Tonight I wantto talk about video games.
All right? Video games were a huge partof my life growing up.
My console was N64.
Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, and my personal favorite GoldenEye.
You guys know the rules, right? License to kill, slappers only, no Oddjob.
You guys remember Oddjob? You couldn't kill himbecause he was shorter than R2-D2.
But now, video games are so much bigger, and there's no better sign than what went downin New York City last weekend.
A huge tournament at Arthur Ashe Stadiumin Queens, and we ain't talking tennis.
“This is the Fortnite World Cup Finals.
” “Sixteen-year-old Kyle ‘Bugha’Giersdorf is waking up $3 million richer.
The first everFortnite World Cup Champion.
” “There's his family looking on.
And there's the dance.
I don't know what that is.
” That is the dance of someone who no longer has to stay marriedfor the kids.
You know five seconds after thathe downloaded Hinge.
Now, gaming culture is popular culture.
It's the new social currency.
Right? You can't be a kidand not play Minecraft, which is why in just a few years, gaming has exploded in a wayit never has before.
Gamers have sent the video gaming industryto record levels.
Netflix says thatFortnite is a bigger threat than HBO.
Red Dead Redemption 2 made $725 millionin its opening weekend.
This is a bigger new industry -than marijuana.
He's like, “Marijuana, it's a medicine that comes in a biscuit.
Brilliant!” Now, the gaming industry has grown fasterthan anyone could have ever imagined.
It is now a $139 billion a year business.
In terms of revenue, that's bigger thanworldwide box office, music streaming and album sales, the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and the NHL combined.
Yeah, every sports league right nowis terrified, except for the NHL.
They're like, “Yay, we made the chart!” Think about this, this is insane.
Add up Kanye, Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Mike Trout and they are still no matchfor a Swedish dude named Felix, who loves the n-word.
One of the biggest reasons video gameshave blown-up is live streaming, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Gamers stream themselves playing gamesin real time.
even during natural disasters.
Bro, it's an earthquake, 100% it's an earthquake.
Holy shit! That's actually strong.
Oh, fucking wiggling! Whoa! Oh, this motherfucker moving, moving.
Oh, shit! Muffin! Okay, Muffin is his dog, but I like to thinkthat it's his safe word.
He's like, “Muffin! Brioche! Why isn't it working?” Millions of people watch gamerslive stream on Twitch, the world's biggest streaming platform, and it gets 15 million visitors a day, which has transformed games like Fortnite, PUBG, and League of Legends into enormous sporting events.
Activision's Overwatch Leaguehas kicked off its new season.
“Take-Two's NBA 2K Leaguelaunched its second annual draft.
” “A $74, 000 prize.
Their game of choice? Counter-Strike.
” “Call of Duty World League Tournament.
” “The final of this tournament drewmore viewers last year than game six of the 2015 NBA Finals.
” This is where things are going.
Next year, you're gonnasee Jay-Z and Beyoncé sitting courtside watching a pasty 16-year-old kidplay Fortnite.
They're like, “Jay, who are you here to see?” And he's just like, “My man, Buttsoup98.
” It's the Rock.
Video games have become a cultural force unlike anythingsince the creation of television.
Two and a half billion peopleplay video games.
Business is booming.
Gamers are treated like athletes, and yet, the gaming industry is filledwith stories like these.
Video game maker Electronic Arts saysit is laying off 350 employees.
The studio behind BioShock, closing its doors and laying off most of its employees.
Zynga announced that it will be cutting 5%of its workforce.
Activision Blizzard slashingabout 800 jobs.
That's 8%of the video game maker's workforce.
Jeez, game companies treat their workerslike pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto.
They're like, “There's just gonna besome collateral damage.
” Many of the most profitableAmerican game companies routinely lay off huge chunksof their staff.
And it's part of a larger patternof labor exploitation in the gaming industry.
Because it turns out the gamesthat we play to relax are built on ruthless worker burnout.
That's what I want to focus on tonight, video games and labor.
In the past two years alone, we found over 20 companiesthat have laid off thousands of workers.
Sometimes with no warningand no severance.
Like in the case of Telltale Games, best known for The Walking Dead, which is based on a TV seriesthat just won't die.
I don't know if you watch -I mean we're on season nine, you guys.
Just shoot it in the head and end it.
They're zombies not the Simpsons.
Now, you may not have heard very muchabout this, and that's not an accident.
When we were researching this story, very few people were willingto talk to us on camera.
A lot of game workers sign NDAs, and they're afraid of getting blacklisted, but one worker agreed to talk to me.
Emily Grace Buck, a game developerwho used to work at Telltale.
She was therethe morning they fired everyone.
Tell me about the horrific dayat Telltale.
We get to the conference room, everybody's standing around, we walk in and the CEO is making jokes.
He's got a microphonestanding in front of everybody.
He's trying to make us laugh.
So he opened up the meetingto fire you guys by doing a set? Yes, and then he sat down and just said, “Our journey has ended.
” We were getting no severance.
Our health insurance was only lastinguntil the end of the week.
They told us that we only had 30 minutesto leave the building.
We were expected to leave very quickly.
To me, Telltale sounds likea really bad boyfriend who was like, “I'm telling you, like, this is great.
We're going the distance.
” And then two weeks later was like, “This is the end of our journey.
” One of the things that's scaryabout games though is they're all kind of bad boyfriends, and you just need to pick which kind of bad you can live with.
Working in the gaming industry shouldn't be worsethan using Tinder in Boston.
Think about it.
Imagine being ghostedby some dude named Parker who's also in chargeof your health insurance.
That's what every gaming company is.
Cyclical layoffs are just the start, though.
One of the worst issues in gamingis the hours.
I worked about seven days a weekbetween 14 and 16 hour days.
“And when would you go home?” I would go homewhen I was ready to collapse.
Other people refused to do overtime, and all of a sudden, their reviews were negative, and they were fired.
I lived away from homefor almost three months, uh, helping get the game done.
I didn't see my friends, my familyfor a while.
Although, I was allowed some conjugal visits.
I'm sure your wife lovesbeing referred to as a prison luxury.
He's like, “Hey, babe.
Can you come to the office? The warden says we can smash.
” Now, leading up to the release of a game, companies often work their employeesfor months nonstop with no overtime pay justto hit deadlines.
Almost every major gaming companydoes this: EA, Rockstar, Epic, Activision, BioWare.
There's actually a term for it.
It's called “crunch, ” and it's practically mandatoryif you want to work at a major studio.
95% of game developers say thatthey've crunched or worked overtime, and over 80% of them say that they weren't paid for the extra hours.
And it's not like your typical video gameworkers are getting stock options.
At best, they're getting carpal tunnel and their nephew's respect, which doesn't pay shit.
Crunch wrecks people mentallyand physically.
Workers say months of crunchhave caused PTSD, memory loss, and ulcersthat make them cough up blood.
Yeah, it sounds like video gamesare being made in a Civil War hospital.
By the way, it gets worse, and that's becauseof one game in particular.
“And there's the dance.
I don't know what that is.
” It's Fortnite, the second biggest reason Drake is friendswith 14-year-olds.
Why are you texting them?In what scenario do you text them? This isn't a Big Brother, Big Sister thing.
It's just fucking weird.
If you don't know the joke, he texts Millie Bobby Brown about boys.
It's fucking bizarre.
Now, Fortnite was createdby Epic Games in 2017, and now has 250 million players worldwide and has made over $3.
9 billion, making Epic's founder Tim Sweeneya multi-billionaire, which is frustrating when you find outhow terribly he spends his money.
Why does it feel like a combinationof MTV Cribs and Making a Murderer? He has to be the only tree huggerwho makes trees feel uncomfortable.
Now look, games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and League of Legends are making crunch even worse because they've built their businesses on something called“The Microtransaction Model.
” Now look at Fortnite, they let everybody download the gamefor free, but then they charge you for additional features, like dance moves for your characters, “skins, ” and tools, like axes and hang gliders.
Fortnite is using the same business modelas drug dealers.
They give you the shit for free.
They get you hooked, and then before you know it, you're sucking someone's dickfor a candy axe.
We've all been there.
Now this business model, it's great for players and Tim Sweeney'sweird-ass rock collection, but it is a nightmare for workers.
To keep players happy Fortnite has to roll out new featuresall the time, which means for developers, crunch never ends.
And guess what? Epic workers saythat their managers expect them to crunch without complaining, otherwise they might get fired.
On top of all of this, players expect graphics to get betterand better every year.
Just look at GTA.
It went froma Chuck E.
Cheese arcade game to a deepfake of murder.
Here's the thing people don't realize.
graphics and animationstake a lot of work.
I mean, making high quality visualscan be really time intensive.
And I know this becausesometimes our graphics team has to work really long hours.
I mean, look at this, you guys.
Look at this design.
This doesn't just happen overnight, okay? And I'll be honest, I haven't been greatabout giving our team enough time.
But you know what? At the end of the day, I can go to sleep at night knowingthat I've made a lot of progress.
But the thing is crunch and layoffsaren't two separate issues.
Games have hard release dates.
They can't just fall behind schedule.
So companies staff up, crunch their employees, then they lay people offwhen the game comes out.
They're given so much workand then none at all.
They basically treat people the way allof us treated Freddie Prinze Jr.
It was just everything and then nothing.
I'm looking for him, too.
What?Where is he? Freddie, come back.
And they can do thatbecause there's an endless supply of people willing to work in gaming.
That passion is something thatprestigious colleges are happy to take advantage of.
Heard about what happenedwith your job.
Maybe now you should do somethingyou enjoy.
-Like what, something with video games?-Yeah.
Finished testing that game yet? We just finished level three and need to tighten upthe graphics a little bit.
I can't believe we got jobs doing this.
I know, and my mom said I would neverget anywhere with these games.
That is the whitest video of all time.
You have a blonde dude in a pink polo, playing video games, yelling at his momfor not believing in him.
By the way, that last adcouldn't be further from reality.
First of all, I'm pretty sure“tightening up graphics” isn't a thing.
But the most unrealistic part of this ad was the fact that these two Chadshad a female supervisor, and they treated her with respect.
Look, gender discrimination is another huge labor issue in gaming, which is probably the least surprisingthing you've learned tonight.
It's like finding out Mike Pencepulls his underwear down to his ankles when he pees.
New information? Yes.
Even though women now make uphalf of all gamers, the industry is almost 75% male, which is obviouswhen you look at any female character.
I mean take a closer look.
As you can see, all of these womenhave one thing in common.
It's their attitude.
So much attitude.
It's just bursting through the screens.
Developer surveys consistently findthat discrimination and sexism are endemicto the gaming industry.
But to understand how bad it's gotten, we have to look at one companyin particular that is crushing iton the sexism leaderboard.
Riot Games just can't escape controversy.
This week the League of Legends developerwas slammed with a class action lawsuit, claiming that the company fostersa sexist work environment.
This lawsuit, filed by two women at Riot, lists specific examples of how “bro culture” negatively impactedfemale employees.
That's so disappointing.
Remember back when brosand gamers were enemies? Now they're unitedover their mutual fear of women.
Riot Games is a huge playerin the gaming industry.
This lawsuit plus three morefiled since then claimed that womenwere routinely passed up for promotions and sexually harassed.
Some were also givensome very strange pep talks.
One plaintiff said her supervisortold her, “Diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games' productsbecause gaming culture is the last remaining safe havenfor white teen boys.
” Safe haven.
Why is Riot talking about teenage boyslike they're endangered sea turtles? “They're migrating.
Where will they go?” But my favorite part of that clip is the guy's facewhen she read that quote.
“Gaming culture is the last remainingsafe haven for white teen boys.
” That is alarming that this kind of thingcan even be said inside a company in 2018.
That right there is the same face you make when someone says they're excitedfor the next Woody Allen movie.
You're like, “Oof.
” These lawsuits were the resultof a bombshell investigation from Kotaku, a gaming news site that exposedwidespread sexism at the company and because of Kotaku's reporting, the state of Californiais now investigating Riot for gender discrimination.
So I sat down with the womanwho broke the Riot story.
She's an investigative reporter namedCecilia D'Anastasio.
So, how did you hear aboutwhat was going on at Riot? Did you just drive by the offices andhear a bunch of mouth breathing and you were like, “Something isn't right?” I first heard what was happening at Riot when I was investigatinganother gaming company for alleged endemic sexism, actually.
That's really, really dark.
I heard stories ranging from.
women not being able to hire other womeninto positions of leadership.
I was also hearing stories aboutother women being on the list of, like, sexy employees that higher-upsat the company wanted to sleep with.
A lot of men told me about the COO, like, going behind them and humping them at meetings where women weren't present.
You know, I've always wonderedwhat a COO does.
Now I know.
The culture at Riot was nuts, okay? People said they saw not just dick pics, but their boss's dick pics.
Now, look, if you see your boss's dick, at the very least, you should get to host Fox and Friends.
Even men complainedabout Riot's bro culture.
Cecilia, in your report you said thatif there were no women in a meeting, one of the managers would farton someone's face.
-And that is fucked up.
-Yeah, it is.
-I mean, this is sexism at its worst.
-How?-Women should be in the room.
-We only live in an equal society, when both genders can rip it equallyin front of each other.
No one should be farting on anyonein, like, a work environment.
Where's he at now? Please tell me likethe dude cannot work anymore.
No, he's still at the company.
-He's still at the same company?-He's there, and he's the COO.
He's still the COO.
He was just suspended for two monthswithout pay.
Riot punished him the waycorporate America punishes women who give birth.
They're like, “Think about what you've done and come back in two months.
” So when you consider all of this.
crunch, burnout, sexism, no safety net, no job security.
You're probably thinking, “Okay, if it's so bad, why don't they just quit?” Well, that's the problem.
They do, which sucks.
This is their livelihood.
But it's also bad for games.
Video games are amazing because they're made by peoplewho love making them, which is why the workersthat haven't quit yet are finally considering somethingthat has never happened before.
It is time, more than time that we as an industryleft behind the idea that our work is made better by our pain.
A lot of people are saying.
that it's time that the games industrywas unionized.
“At industry events unionizationis increasingly on the agenda.
In Canada, the InternationalGame Workers Unite movement is attracting new members as crunch culture forces people outof the industry.
” Game workers have talked about unionizingfor a long time.
But the last few years, it is becoming a rallying cry, especially for Game Workers Unite, a grassroots organizing group that has actually unionized game workersin the UK, and now, they have nineteen chaptersin North America.
This is part of an even bigger wave.
America is going through a historic swellin collective labor action.
In 2017, 25, 000 Americans went on strike.
In 2018, it was almost half a million.
And this year, it could be even bigger, and the gaming industryis riding that wave.
After Cecilia reported on the sexismat Riot, employees at the company were furiousand finally did something about it.
They staged a walkout.
Why was there a walkout at Riot? What was the fartthat broke the camel's back? It wasn't a fart.
Lawsuits were filedagainst Riot after Kotaku's report.
And a couple of them were forcedinto arbitration with Riot.
What is forced arbitration? It's like, “You can't take me to court, you have to negotiate with me.
” So hundreds of Riot employees walked outin what was the first walkout in game development history.
And I think organizing around that wouldbe a really good idea for game workers.
Do you realize how impressive that is? An army of gamers.
This is why unionization is so criticalfor game workers.
Just look at the issues they're facing: insane hours, no severance, unfair contracts, sexist work environments.
These are all issuesthat unions were built to solve.
They also make sureyou don't get humped from behind.
Now look, I get there are peoplethat might be seeing all of this thinking, “Aww, boo-hoo, you want me to careabout video game workers? Look, I work all the time, man.
I don't get overtime.
I've been fired, and my boss fartsin my face all the time.
So what?” Well, congratulations.
You're probably getting screwed, too.
We all have to rethinkwhat a union job looks like.
It's no longer just coal minersand steel workers lifting up heavy shit.
Yes, those people need protection, but so do people who work at desks.
Right? This is the future.
If you work in front of a computer, what's happening in video gamesright now affects you.
Other industries are figuring this out.
While overall union membership is down, white collar professionalshave been unionizing in record numbers.
Journalists, digital media, grad students, presidential campaigns, and nonprofits.
But so far, nothing in tech.
That's why this pushto organize game workers is coming at such a critical time.
Do you think if one of thesevideo game companies unionizes, there will be a ripple effectacross the entire industry? I absolutely think sobecause the same thing happened in my industry, media.
Gawker unionized and then maybe a dozenother digital media publications unionized in its wake.
And I don't see any reason whythat wouldn't happen in the games industry where workers are fueled by passionand are often exploited because of that.
Gaming companies don't want thisto happen.
And a lot of people outside the industryeither “A”– don't care or “B”– have no ideawhat workers are going through.
We actually refer to peoplein the game industry as veterans once they've reached five years workingbecause the average career in video games is only five years long, and it's lower than thatif you're a woman or a person of color.
Do gamers realize there areall these problems within the industry? Some of them do, and some of them don't.
But I think that if gamersstart caring about working conditions in the industry, companies are gonna change.
The only way the industry will change.
is if players know how their gamesreally get made.
So to get the word out, I had to go where the gamers are.
Hey, it's Hasan.
I just want to talk aboutlabor abuses in the video game industry.
So I thought I'd come right in the gameand talk to you guys.
-Let's do this, douchebag.
-Yeah, sure, okay, I'll just follow you.
But reaI quick, I just wanted to chat with youabout labor rights in video games.
-What?-Oh, shit, you're dead.
-God damn it.
-Damn it, I'm dead.
“This is brutal over here.
” Not as brutal as the lackof job security designers have.
“Dude, you're ruining the game.
” Hi, friend.
Do you have a momentto just chat about labor rights -in video games?-Move! Fuck.
How come I only last ten seconds? You suck.
Well, that's why I hired you to coach me.
Okay, so stop lecturing themand get a weapon.
Hey, just real quick.
Do you guys realize that programmersdon't even receive residuals -on the video games they make?-Pick up your controller and shoot! I'm holding it.
You don't have to talk to me like that.
And here's the crazy part, if the workers complain, they'll just get replaced.
Yeah, they will straight up fire them and– Weeee! Oh, shit.
Lava! These companies don't wanttheir programmers to– I was just gonna say unionize.
No one wants to hear this.
You don't know that.
“C'mon, revive me, man.
” You know, PyssPapa69, I would do that.
-Are you gonna be a good listener?-Are you fucking serious? -That's what happens.
-Hey, labor rights guy, over here.
Yeah, just go in there.
This is great.
Finally, someone wants to just talk in private -about worker protection.
Hey!-Suck it! -Alright, I think it's time to stop.
-No, ten more minutes! -No, let's—Please! Oh, my God.
Hey guys, can we just have a conversation about the benefits of unionizing? Come on! It's the only way to guarantee fair wages.
Come on! Fucking hell.
Shoot me in the headif you think they deserve basic benefits.
I don't want to brag.
but I think I changed some minds.
I'll see you guys next week.