A reader who has worked in video game design for more than a decade but who has asked to remain anonymous writes in with some more context on profit pools and how they fit into video game salaries overall:
I am well compensated, but I think Mr. Pachter is way off in describing future earnings from profit pools. For starters, in all the places I’ve worked, there’s rarely anything in writing about them, and, if there is, it can be amended as often as the wind blows. If the company has profits to share from a game and it’s feeling benevolent, it shares them with those that produced it. We have no contracts to guarantee such profit sharing. Additionally, while the market is crowded by huge hits, I don’t believe the majority of titles are exceptionally profitable, though I don’t have data to back this up. I don’t think “You may get a carrot if you work hard” is an excuse for extended crunch time.
There’s a major lawsuit under way against the company Activision, which the plaintiffs allege withheld $54 million in promised bonuses from the designers who did Modern Warfare 2 to keep them working on Modern Warfare 3. That suit is moving forward, and it’ll be interesting to see, if the plaintiffs win, how that affects profit pools in the future — whether they’ll get formalized, or disappear altogether to be replaced by somewhat — though probably not equivalently — higher salaries.
The same reader who sent along those observations about profit pools was also kind enough to point me in the direction of the seminal post by EA Spouse, now unmasked as Erin Hoffman, about the impact of extended crunch time. Since that post came out in 2004, lots of folks have argued that crunch time is unproductive (I’d be interested to see industry-specific, quality studies on the impact of crunch time on productivity and error rates). Edge is running a week-long conversation on whether crunch is necessary — the consensus, unsurprisingly, is that some is inevitable, but much could be avoided. So as I’m thinking about this, I’d be curious to learn if there are companies that have successfully managed to cut down on crunch by implementing protocols or planning strategies that are portable from project to project, and if they’ve seen employee retention and productivity improve and error rates fall? I’d like to believe doing the right thing pays off for companies, but I want to know if it’s actually true.
Mr. Pachter and I are going to talk all about this further — he emailed that he thinks game developers have every right to try to form unions, but that it’s likely, given the structure of the industry and the availability of labor, that they’ll be unsuccessful. So if you’ve got questions for him, toss ’em in comments and I’ll use them to inform my own thinking.