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IATSE survey: Developers feel their jobs are unsustainable

Game developers air out their worries about where the industry is headed and the parts of the business that frustrate them.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

September 1, 2023

2 Min Read
Logo for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).
Image taken from the IATSE website.

As revealed by IGN, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) conducted a survey for game developers. Workers within the industry, from triple-A to indie and mobile, used it to reveal their uncertainty about the future.

"Most game workers reported that their game career is either unsustainable or they’re unsure whether it is sustainable," begins the survey, "and less than half make it to their seventh year working in the industry."

According to the survey, nearly 38 percent of those asked find that the industry isn't sustainable, while 19.2 percent were uncertain. Those with multiple decades in the industry had a more positive outlook, at least in regards to their own careers.

Of those asked, 57 percent recently worked on a triple-A titles. Those type of games tend to have extremely large budgets, and those working on them have implied in the past that the games in question can be daunting to work on.

Further, the stated average industry experience is 6.9 years. Retention and building up a legacy of developers has been a sizable problem within games for years, as the industry is prone to layoffs (if not outright studio closures) on a fairly consistent basis.

Developers feel things falling apart, and IATSE wants to help fix it

Many developers got candid with the IATSE survey. One noted it was "frustrating to work a 14-hour day. I know that with California overtime laws, I should be getting paid for 18 hours of my time when I'm only getting paid eight."

45 percent admitted their current pay doesn't keep up with the rising cost of living (especially in large cities like LA, San Francisco or Seattle), 54.3 percent said they weren't able to negotiate for a raise. And two of every three responders "[don't] believe they were in a position to negotiate viable solutions to these problems on their own."

Because of those issues, and others such as pay disparity and crunch, IATSE believes that the game industry has been "suspended in a parallel reality compared to other sectors of entertainment where union representation is more common."

It's been a surprisingly union-heavy summer: SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have been striking for better working conditions. And VFX employees at Marvel and Disney are also unionizing after stories of being crunched for the studio's tentpole blockbusters. 

While unions have emerged within the game industry over the last several years at various studios (some with IATSE's help), there still isn't a widespread union for video games at large. It's even more noticeable since, as the survey points out, video games have become "five times more profitable for these employers than [movies]."

Per IGN, the end goal from IATSE is to spark a larger unionization effort amongst game developers. But first, it'll hold a town hall with those surveyed to determine its next course of action.

IATSE is still taking responses for its game developer survey, which can be filled out here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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