Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Art, hobby and "cool" ... nope, its corruption

Yesterday I wrote that the game devs working for low salaries, long hours and in bad conditions are having a very lucrative side business of RMT and other exploiting. The comments were either social or at best calling them "dumb socials": they are doing art or hobby practically for food or they suffer for the high social status of being a game dev. In there eyes, the game dev is like the doctor who chooses to treat malaria with Doctors Without Borders for free, between horrible conditions, fueled by either internal goodness or the belief that after his year of suffering is over, he can collect fame, respect and girls with his awesome hero story.

Can a video game be art? Sure can:

Are there indie games out there, made as self-expression? Of course there are! Would it be cool to tell on a school reunion "do you know that awesome game X? I made it"!

The problem is that everyone knows Last Guardian (even those who never played it, like myself) because it's an unmatched gem in the sea of filth. What would be "X" in the sentence? Name one game you would be proud to announce as yours to your mother or a prospective girlfirend!

If games were prestigious, they would attract workers-for-food. If they would be awesome, they would attract artists. If they would be passionate, they would attract true believers. But they are not, this is why the blogs are dying, this is why we are bouncing between games, this is why there is doom and gloom in the game scene! Do you think anyone is proud to code lockboxes? Or nerfing his game to the point where even braindead monkeys can play it? Or putting in microtransactions? Can you imagine anyone bragging about working for Daybreak, EA or CCP?

Sure, someone can love an ideal and join with bright eyes, but he should make a passionate speech when the manager says "and we now implement lockboxes" and get himself fired. But they don't. They just sit in their cubicles and code lockboxes for crappy salaries, 80 hours a week.

I can imagine that indie developers are coding their dream game for just enough to buy food, from donations and whatever they can make on Steam. Some succeed (Minecraft), most don't, but either way, they are living the dream. But it's not them I was talking about. I'm talking about those who are working for big studios, for a formal salary, with a boss. They aren't living any dream. They aren't doing anything resembling art. They aren't getting anything from their peers but hate and abuse for the garbage they make.

I can imagine being a game dev was a source of pride and a hobby a decade ago. I remember how outspoken the original Wow devs were when the corporate execs ordered them to give out welfare epix. They bitched about it for some time and then quit, because it was no longer "fun". Those who enter the industry now probably didn't play a single good game since early childhood, because they aren't made anymore. Everything is about "accessibility" and monetization now. A decade is more than enough time for even the most stubborn idealist to wake up.

Yet devs are still working 80+ hours for crappy salaries. Why? Only one explanation remains: corruption. They are doing this for the money, just not their formal salaries. They make a lot by implementing bugs and exploiting them with their RMT-ing friends. They make a lot by turning a blind eye on botting. Some very socials may not even doing it for the money, but for "being powerful" front of friends: "hey dude, since we are pals, I give you 10 zillion gold and a Sword of Uberness". That's the only "coolness" that remained: the ability to appear as an e-thug, someone who holds criminal power over the game.

I repeat what I wrote: show me someone who is not paid, abused and overworked and not quitting when there are much better opportunities for him and I show you someone who is on the take! Show me a dev who can't catch a literal 24/7 bot and I show you a botter. Show me a dev who can't fix "Ghost training" in 15 weeks and I show you someone running a ghost farm - or at least getting money from those who do.


maxim said...

"Those who enter the industry now probably didn't play a single good game since early childhood, because they aren't made anymore."
Is your bias. This is, plain and simple, not true.

Plenty of great games are being made. More than ever
Sure, the accompanying filth is also more than ever, that's just price of admission. The true stuff still finds its way to the top

Gevlon said...

@maxim: care to name a single one from big studios?

Cathfaern said...

"Name one game you would be proud to announce as yours to your mother or a prospective girlfirend!"
I would be proud for any of the Blizzard games. Even for the worst WoW expansions (Cata / MoP).

Anonymous said...

First, game devs don't hunt bots - this is what GMs are for, who are vastly cheaper. Further i am really interested how people working on the website, mail-system, load balancing, animations, persistence technology, xa etc would use that to make heaps of money. You did show during eve times that you think every dev gets production access to the db (which is just surreal if you would know certification req for working with credit cards) and that in any subgroup for the project everyone is on board with corruption (otherwise -> reddit) given code review/test-driven-dev/qa - unreal.

But most importantly i would have to prove a negative, celestial tea pot style, while its your job to present proof.

Anonymous said...

I would be happy to tell someone that I worked on WoW, LoL, WoT. Multi-billion dollar brands that define and dominate their genre and were played by over a hundred million people each. I would include Hearthstone in that: billion dollar brand created by a team that was by MMO standards tiny; an impressive achievement.

After all the banking scandals the public approval rating of banks is low. Insurance, oil/gas/coal, healthcare, legal, advertising, pharmaceutical or government employee are also industries with low public approval; I would prefer to tell a blind date I worked for a gaming company than any of those.

People work for well below market wages for Greenpeace, Trump Real Estate, Planned Parenthood, and Catholic Charities. Few would consider all of those positively, but a lot of people consider some prestigious. It really only matters how the employee feels, not society in general.

We can certainly agree that all game devs - or at least programmers, idk about artists - are significantly underpaid relative to the "real", non-gaming world. So your thesis is that every one of them is corrupt? Was your looking for a new project doomed before starting since you were just going to disqualify all games as being corrupt by definition?

Gevlon said...

@Cathfaern: and what would you tell her when she asks "but you'd make 2x more at a bank. What made you choose Blizzard?"

@Anon: Devs don't hunt bots. They just design the client-server communication in a way that a bot dev can easily access it and design a much better bot than those ridiculous screengrab-reading crap. Good bots are practically client replacements that communicate directly with the server. I'm also sure that the major bot devs have full access to the client source code so they can make modifications easier and recompile a rigged client. They also design the game in a way that is easily exploitable (like "the more anoms you grind, the more anoms respawn in your system")

@Anon: If you work for Greenpeace you can believe that you save the planet. If you work for PP, you can believe that you liberate oppressed women. If you work for a Catholic church, you can believe that you are doing God's literal will. But game companies are selling video games for fun. This isn't something one can be more proud of than any other entertainment product. There isn't any majestic idea behind them even by their own statements.

I believe that some day a CEO or top designer comes with the idea of keeping proper auditing and stopping this rigging. In the early 20. century boxing was a totally rigged and scripted scam of the mafia. Now it's a clean sport. Things change.

Antze said...

Art/hobby reasons and corruption reasons coexist.

"I'm proud that I implemented smooth pathfinding algorithm and a patcher/launcher which patches the game fast and does not crash. Yes, managers ruined the game "a bit", but you can still enjoy it as an interactive video without paying to win, so I'm relatively fine".

That's what a programmer thinks, the one who doesn't quit. But many quit. Actually it's even a bit surprising how many do quit, which sheds some hope onto the situation - but for now, those are quickly replaced by enthusiastic students, who see this "underpaid" as "pretty enough money, plus a chance to do something decent" (the chance is a lie, but that becomes clear much later).

Game monetization designers, community managers and some other folks who stay in the industry (maybe that lead programmer who makes the decision "to fix or not to fix" while having a beer with the lead community manager?) might be indeed staying because of corruption.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

In most creative endeavours the top 1% takes ALL the money. The other 99% work for pennies trying to get to the top. But they can't quit cause they are creative - working in a bank would be much worse for them.

You are spending your valuable time writing a blog and interacting with your readers. Are you getting handsomely enumerated doing this? I doubt it. Yet you do it anyway cause that's the way you are.

Poor devs are no different.

Soge said...

Your theory might have been true, if those job conditions only happened for games where RMT is possible. However, plenty of people work in those same conditions, often for decades, developing single player games, where RMT is impossible. If you can't explain why that is true within your "people stay in game dev under bad conditions because they are corrupt" framework, then you must admit that your hypothesis is, at best, incomplete.

Gevlon said...

@Antze, Slawomir: probably these two are interacting. The money goes to the top and those guys are without doubt corrupt (I never met anyone who even tried to defend CCP Falcon). The lower guys can be enthusiasts who believe that if they rise to the top, they can make things right, except they never rise to the top, because the top guys only let fellow corrupts in. That doesn't mean that low-ranked devs don't give out code parts to bot makers or GMs don't hand out gold to buddies or simply their own alts to sell on Playerauctions.

@Soge: spillover effect. If the big hotels pay $7 per hour, the small hotels will pay the same, because their employees can't go to the big one for better salary. Single player game devs at least can have some self-respect as their games are usually not microtransaction driven crap.

Anonymous said...


As far as the list of games i would be proud of goes:

Darkest Dungeon, Bastion, Braid, PoE, CK2, Rust, Rimworld, Endless Legend, Civ, Factorio, Stellaris, Terraria, XCOM, HS, Anno..

How many do you want?

Gevlon said...

@Anon: I recognize only a few names on this list. All of them from my childhood (Civ, XCOM). So you say that only obscure indie games and decade old games worth of praise? We agree I guess.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about artists, but for programmers some of your reasoning is a bit wrong.
Many programmers are quite a-social, so their goals are nowhere near "save the world" from a Catholic church worker. They just like to work on complex technical tasks (like someone already said), not aiming to gain respect from their mother/girlfriend/anyone else. This is why they prefer to work in gamedev.

Programmer's work in a bank involves documenting and negotiating every tiny change, reading tons of whitepapers or even dealing with bank's internal bureaucracy. This is what feels like "meat grinder" for him, while every 3D network game involves serious technical challenge (unlike bank's accounting software).

Jim L said...

Do you want to know why developers work 80 hours for terrible pay? Go to any middle school and get a group of 10 - 13 year old males together and ask them what they want to do when they get older. A large percentage of them will say "I want to play [insert their favorite sport]". An equally large number will say they want to work making video games.

Working in video games is considered an exciting and alluring job for many young people. So game companies can pay their developers horribly and work them like slaves because they know that if the developers quit they can be easily replaced by the millions of other people fighting to get into the industry.

There is another entertainment industry that abuses the people who work there: Hollywood. Every studio movie made has hundreds of people working long hours for little pay. Why do they do it? So they can tell their friends and family that they work in Hollywood.

You don't think that there is any social prestige to working in the video game industry? You have become a burned out, cynical, bitter, asocial video game veteran. Not everyone else is like you and shares your values. There is a decent size demographic that considers working in the video game industry to be a glamorous job.

Anonymous said...

Your argument does not makes sense, because I think most games don't have botting or RMT that developers can use for personal gain. Only MMOs can be botted but majority of games are either single player or multiplayer without trading, and as far as I can developers work for many game studios, not just on the WoW team at blizzard.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gevlon,
I'm working in the videogame industry in France so I think I can add my 2cents to that post.

I had a colleague, good programmer, which was hired after receiving his diploma from a recognised software engineering school. Fresh out of school, he'd make about 2.5k€ per month (net) in the videogame studio while some of his friends from school working in banks were making 4k€.
Working hours in my studio are okay, maybe 40h/week, we're in France and that's how its done here.
That guy was absolutely not corrupted, and we were making a solo game, so why was he working for such low wage compared to what he could get? Well:

-Making games was always what he wanted to do.
-Being an indie game dev wouldn't allow him to work on such big projects and he liked big projects
-Banks are too formal for him, he likes the laid back attitude of a videogame studio.
- He felt more challenged in coding AIs and behaviors than coding banks software.
-IT service company (being sent to a different place every 1-3 months) was not something he likes.
-2.5k€/month is already sufficient for a pretty decent life in France (remember, this amount is what you get after health care and retirement fees!)

Anonymous said...

People work hours per week in underpaid jobs because they love it. I know to you this is a strange concept, but, given the choice of working on a game they love, and being a cog in a machine for $$, people quite often choose the former.

Soge said...


1-) That still don't explain why developers would go for those jobs.

2-) Single player and online games without trading or a persistent world (So, where RMT is impossible) correspond to the vast majority of the gaming market. You can't consider that the spillover effect will work from the smaller market to the larger one.

Also, non-indie games released on the last 10 or so years I would be proud to show my family, non-gamer friends, or even a prospective girlfriend, just off the top of my head, I could cite the Witcher series, the Bioshock series, the Metro series, Portal, PREY, Deus Ex: Human revolution, DotA, The 2 recent Xcom reboots, Spec Ops: The Line, and Fallout New Vegas. I am sure there are dozens more, and that is before I even go into some of the incredible recent indie games, such as Bastion, Braid, or Undertale.

Anonymous said...

Roger Ebert addressed "video games as art" and concluded that games are not art, which I agree with. They need win/loss conditions, even if just against yourself. "Losing" at art makes no sense. Games are much closer to the gambling and sports industries which also rely on win/loss to survive, and also become massively corrupt when not regulated.

maxim said...

Given your highly restricted definition of what a game is, i don't expect you to be interested in any of these. However, i'll still give a list of stuff that impressed me personally and would have easily caused my 12-year old self to dream of career in gaming.

Things that immediately come to mind:

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Dark Souls series
Nier: Automata

That's just AAA stuff i myself have played.

For more - check this Steam curation list
Plenty of indies, sure, but many AAA titles, too. Among them: Deus Ex, Borderlands

Also, there is life outside PC gaming :D
I personally have clocked many hours with Nintendo Switch (old franchises, like Zelda, but also new franchises, like Splatoon / Arms).

Yakuza Zero looks effin' amazing and makes me want to buy a PS4 just to play it. Considering that the same console features Bloodbourne, i just might go through with it

Also i hear Final Fantasies are doing well again (including the MMO FF XIV), some good things about Let It Die etc.

And that's just stuff that's on my immediate radar. If you dig deeper, there are niche hits, cult classics and forgotten gems all over the place. It is entirely safe to say that across all systems we get dozens of worthwhile AAA titles every year. So, even if you just consider AAA, the situation is definitely not worse than it was in, say, 90s.

Indies make it 10x better, but you choose to ignore them for some bs reason. Well, your loss.

Tithian said...

Working in video games is considered an exciting and alluring job for many young people. So game companies can pay their developers horribly and work them like slaves because they know that if the developers quit they can be easily replaced by the millions of other people fighting to get into the industry.

There is another entertainment industry that abuses the people who work there: Hollywood. Every studio movie made has hundreds of people working long hours for little pay. Why do they do it? So they can tell their friends and family that they work in Hollywood.

Jim L gets it. People line up to be game devs for pennies, because it is a prestigious (to them) job, just like how people will literally whore themselves out at the prospect of being an extra in a big budget Hollywood film. Go visit LA; it's full of waitresses 'working on her acting/modelling career', or part-timers working on their 'script that will be a ticket to fame'.

There was a TV show recently on local TV, featuring an actor that did the big move to LA and is now working 2 day jobs while hunting down roles in Hollywood. He celebrated the fact that he played a Ukranian mobster in a TV show as a "huge success" and something "very fulfilling". He was inspired by the fact that he was finally in the 'big pond', swimming along the 'big fish'.

This is not limited to the entertainment industry. Where I live a couple of decades back being a Civil Engineer was a hugely prestigious profession, right beside Medical Doctors and Lawyers. Young people to this very day strive to become professionals to those fields, even though they are completely flooded by the huge influx of younger people that are working literally for peanuts, and you are lucky if you find an unpaid internship.

Gevlon said...

@Soge: market size is determined by dollars. So Star Citizen is 15x bigger than Albion Online.
The game-as-a-service bunch which run over decades with either monthly fee (Blizzard make half BILLION dollars a year just from WoW) is likely bigger than the whole single player market with its once-pay-for-box method. Especially since players can and should wait a few months until a Steam Sale, since you lose nothing by starting the same single player later.

@Maxim: you'd be proud for working on LootCrateWatch? I haven't even heard of the rest of the games, which can be my fault, but then they are also the fault of "everyone else" who failed to make them viral.

The reason I ignore the obscure titles is that they are obscure for a reason: players won't read blogs about them, because there is no competitive scene or cultural impact. Hell, even "games" that has cultural impact like Last Guardian are better watched on youtube than played.

@Tithian: you forget that some people DO become superstars in Hollywood with $20M per film and "everyone" knowing their name. On the other hand nobody ever became a "developer superstar". The video game companies offer you back-office obscure jobs: sit in your cubicle and code ork walk animation. That's like being a make-up-artist or costume maker for a movie. Guess what: no one lines up to become those for pennies, you have to hire them and pay them industry level money.

Now "past glory" is a real thing, like with Civil Engineer. I can believe that these guys made their dreams a decade ago as kids and still pursue it when it's no longer there.

Caldazar said...

@ Gevlon: Are you seriously calling games like overwatch (30mil sold), Dark souls series (15mil sold), Doom(decades old franchise with last release in 2016) obscure?

The last guardian hits 1.1m and is incredibly obscure compared to most of the games listed in comments. Many indie games massively outsell and perform the last guardian, with as biggest example terraria, as an indie with 15+m sold.

You cant define obscure as 'a game I dont know', thats m&s thinking.

Gevlon said...

@Caldazar: I didn't call Overwatch obscure, I called it "LootCrateWatch" and another great example how low the industry sank. I doubt anyone is proud of that crap.

Dark Souls I've never played, but 15M sold is nice. Compare it with the 1 year income of WoW though. Doom 3 flopped bad.

maxim said...

Overwatch is already on par with some minor comic universes. Working on it now is pretty much equivalent to working on, say, Superman comics in the 90s. Nobody really cares as much about Overwatch loot crates as you do, especially given that these don't sell power at all. Everybody cares about the new Ironfist hero and how awesome he is both to play and to fan over

As for you not knowing the rest, that's just shameful. Seriously.

For example, nobody here is talking about Doom 3. The Doom in question is a 2016 reboot that achieved wide critical and popular success, sold for something to the tune of 50mill, has pulled ID Software out of the rut and back on the map and was widely resonant outside of basic FPS circles, due to its innovation in FPS protagonist portrayal. The only way you could miss it is if you were too busy tunnel-visioning on your personal agenda to pay attention

I am not sure why you think the worth and potential of game industry should be judged by just 1 game that just happened to earn the most money. It's like judging all movies by Marvel Cinematic Universe. Only MCU is not losing viewership at the rate at which WoW is losing subs

The only thing i can recommend at this point is maybe add some actual game media to your regular news consumption. Something like Gamasutra for analytics and Gamnesia for general game news should work alright. As for youtube channels, TotalBiscuit, Extra Credits and Zero Punctuation combined can give you a decent enough basic grasp on things

I mean, you can continue to embarass yourself, obviously. Your audience seems to dig this sort of stuff. But why not get some more tricks up your sleeve for when this (inevitably) stops working?

maxim said...

The yearly market for single-player games FAR outstrips half a billion a year.
We are looking at 25bill for downloaded/boxed games in 2017
WoW being 2% of that alone is obviously impressive, but that's just 2%

Incidentally, mobile games are 40bill. So if you want the biggest target money-wise, maybe you should start looking for corruption in Supercell games or something :D

Caldazar said...

Doom 4(the 2016 release) did really good though.

Also, you can very correctly debate the validity of the lootcrate system. But I am very certain there are a shitload of coders and gamedesigners and art designers who are proud to have worked on Overwatch.

Jean-Mira said...

There are no "developer superstars"? Want to try a poll among game developers who of them knows of John Carmack? Sid Meier? Greg Street? And there are many more.

Just because you are no fanboy, doesn't mean there are no idols in the gaming industry.

S Riojas said...

Decent 1-3 would be, if I had anything to do with them, proud feathers in my cap.

Course, with your low paid and abused developers theory, you just described most of the Developers and programmers at Electronic Arts.

Anonymous said...

"nobody ever became a "developer superstar" ??? Richard Garriott is doing a book tour, discussing amongst other things, how he used some of his Game dev money to buy his way on as an astronaut. Mark Jacobs is able to use his fame and some of his millions to develop Camelot Unchained. Lord knows people are not donating to Star Citizen because of Chris Roberts project management skills. There are many game dev millionaires, but not from non-major studios and not at the same % as in Silicon Valley.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me; In Diablo 3 there was a "bugged" item. A single white item(normally you would never buy white trash items from vendor) you could buy from a vendor that had a very special property unlike ALL OTHER ITEMS IN THE GAME the item couldn't be stepped on it blocked way. Friend of mine involved in RMT(quite casual tho) told me about it and we used the bug for a while to do some quite heavy farming. I always wondered how come this kind of bug was even possible? How could a single item have a property that it couldn't be walked over when thrown in ground? Also it seemed to take quite a while for them to fix it. Corrupted devs would explain such an anomaly.