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Pachter: Games Studios Shouldn't Have Unions

Alleged labor malpractices by L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi hit the headlines earlier this month, with a number of staffers coming forward to accuse the studio and its boss Brendan McNamara of unfair treatment -- particularly when it came to overtime compensation. But Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities doesn't believe these employees have any right to complain about crunch time.

"I've never heard a developer say 'I don't work overtime and I don't work weekends,'" he said on his weekly Pach Attack show on GameTrailers. "If you're getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours. If your complaint is you worked overtime and didn't get paid for it, find another profession."

All right, Mr. Pachter, whoa there. Just because it happens doesn't make it all right. Some people want to make games but don't want to endanger their health and sanity in the process. And there's a noticeable divide between commercial and indie development here -- independent developer Dan Marshall brought this up on Twitter earlier, pointing out that as an indie developer, he doesn't work overtime or weekends -- and barely some weekdays. "If you lot in The Games Industry just pulled your fingers out and worked a bit harder ALL games could be 9/10," he joked.

"I think there's a legitimate complaint if crunch time is never-ending," Pachter continued. "Crunch should be the last three to six months of game development. I do get that it is a bad and unfair business practice to work 18 months non-stop overtime, [but] I don't think anybody was entitled to overtime pay."

Pachter goes on to explain that game developers tend to be salaried, not hourly, staff who are "masters of [their] own domain" and don't get overtime -- but that they do tend to get hefty bonuses, particularly when working on successful AAA titles. But does that make it OK to work 70-hour weeks for no extra compensation -- a widespread practice in the industry, as we've seen on several occasions recently? Apparently so. And being "master of your own domain" doesn't allow you to fend off difficult bosses such as the way McNamara is alleged to be.

As Jason said in this piece on the L.A. Noire debate, it's up to the worker to stand up to this sort of treatment rather than consumers -- because consumers just want their games and are largely unconcerned with the ethical implications of the end product, just like in many other successful industries. Until workers organize -- and possibly unionize -- this kind of thing will likely continue. But Pachter doesn't seem to think this is a problem.

"If you want to be an hourly employee, go build automobiles," he continued. "And what will happen is they'll close down your plant some day and you'll be out of work. The cool thing about this industry is, if you're good, you'll make a ton of money. I think [the point] everyone is missing is that if a game is good -- and L.A. Noire was good -- there will be a profit pool, and there will be bonuses."

So apparently it's fine to work unreasonable hours so long as the game ends up being commercially successful. Unfortunately, as Pachter should well know, being an analyst, the commercial success of a game is something that is not easy to predict. As a result, developers end up working long hours for no guarantee of a cut of the publisher's profits come bonus time. Some studios taken under the wing of huge publishers even end up shut down completely -- just ask Bizarre Creations, THQ's UK studio or Homefront's developer Kaos.

"Sweatshops should have unions but games studios, which tend to pay people a lot of money, shouldn't," was the astonishing conclusion which Pachter reached.

There you are, then, folks -- according to Pachter, working your fingers to the bone is OK, so long as you're a salaried employee.

This article originally appeared on GamePro.com as Pachter: 'Sweatshops Should Have Unions But Games Studios Shouldn't'


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