The past two days I've been in San Rafael holding new member lunches for employees at IM Digital. Lively groups. Lively questions.
But for me, one of the more interesting conversations took place right before the second noontime session, when a c.g. artist arrived early and said:
"This is like, a big change for me. I mean, getting overtime. I was working at a games company before this job, and everybody working there was salaried ... and working like, 100 or 120 hours a week. It was really abusive. The company said that 'this is the model for games' and just paid flats. People were told they'd be let go if they didn't do it."
This is a song I've heard before.
For the past dozen years, I've smacked up against the reality that many game companies use a 19th century beusiness model:
"Work them until they drop, then move on to the next group."
The reason that companies use the 100-hour a week format is because it doesn't cost them anything. (Well, it costs them employee morale, but that's another matter). I explained to the artist that Federal labor regulations classify "animator" as a non-exempt category (meaning that animators are required to be hourly employees who receive overtime after forty hours in a week):
This requirement generally is not met by a person who is employed as a copyist, as an “animator” of motion-picture cartoons, or as a retoucher of photographs ...
In spite of lawsuits and court settlements, a clear majority of video game employers continue to toss animators into the "salaried" category, and said employees thereby have the privilege of working an infinite number of hours for a very finite amount of pay.
When I brought some of these things up, the former games artist remarked:
"What can a game artist do? The company demands the hours, and the threat is that you'll be blacklisted at other companies if you don't do what the company wants ..."
I brought up the fact that there are laws on the books that protect employees who are organizing a company, but that's small comfort when employees believe that their careers will be smashed to small bits if they don't knuckle under and do the 100-hour workweek that Fire Breather Games, Inc. wants. (Forget the fact that people who work endless 100-hour weeks end up doing a lot of unproductive seat time starting at their LCD monitor).
Let's face it: today a wide swath of the game industry is like the movie industry in 1928: "Work them until they drop, then move on to the next group ..."