The video game industry generates billions of dollars a year annually, and it is only expected to grow over the next few years. So the landscape is ripe for any fledgling entrepreneur who wants to sell video games or create the next great gaming company. However, as with any capitalist enterprise there are ways to do this ethically, and ways to do it no so ethically. Here are some key characteristics of game businesses built on an ethical foundation.
Do away with “crunch time”
In 2004, a beleaguered spouse of an EA employee wrote an online journal post that eviscerated the company’s culture of overwork and unpaid overtime. The industry sat up and took notice, and since then things have slowly been changing for the better. So whether you’re a small operator selling video games online for cash, or you’re trying to become the next EA, reject the exploitative labor practices we’ve seen in the past in favor of offering your employees a working life more equitable and ethically sound.
Possess a “big tent” mentality
The world is changing rapidly all around us, but some sectors are still stubbornly refusing to evolve. People criticize the tech world for its lack of diversity, but that’s nothing compared to the video game industry. In gaming, women make up a paltry 11% of designers and 3% of programmers, according to the Boston Globe. There are two solutions to this: start a hostile and regressive movement like #GamerGate, or address the problem head on.
Those who want to buy video games for a living, be it developing titles or selling games online, should accept that we live in pluralistic society. That means bringing women and minorities into the tent—or at least acknowledging that there are in fact women gamers out there. It even makes sense from a marketing perspective, because it’s simply bad business to ignore entire demographics.
Respect proprietary material
This may seem like a no-brainer, but make no mistake: the temptation is there to bend the rules where it concerns cashing in on other people’s work. That’s because copyright law gets a little murky once you start applying it to video games. While you can copyright the entire computer code of a game, you can’t protect things like plot or any other story idea. Ditto for certain game mechanics like smashing rocks or jumping over obstacles.
That’s why it’s easy for giant game developers to exploit smaller operations without big budgets or much pull in the industry. An indie can have their game idea brazenly cloned and sold by a big developer and they often have little recourse to sue. Proprietors of video game companies should bear this in mind and avoid dealing with any game title that is the product of questionable ethical development.
Avoid sponsored content
Game companies and game retailers often engage in dubious marketing practices in order to boost brand awareness. Often this involves passing off press releases as gaming news or presenting promotional stills as in-game screenshots. Another issue is “sponsored reviews,” which involve developers paying game vendors and bloggers for positive notices. While this can be a welcome revenue stream for smaller businesses trying to stay afloat, once word gets out the operation will lose all credibility, and its customer base will search elsewhere for their gaming needs.
Above all, think globally, and shift any and all practices away from the mining of conflict minerals for component parts, as is the case in the Congo. After all, you don’t want the ethically ignominious reputation that befell Nintendo to apply to your operation.