Glenn Watson, former Head Studio Programmer for Gameloft Auckland, has spoken out against the working conditions he experienced while working at the studio, which is one of the many divisions of Gameloft, a mobile game developer that has gained ground in the past few years with some slight infamy surrounding it.
Speaking to games.on.net, Watson claims that some weeks he was working 100 to 120 hours a week. In one example he gave, he would start work at 9:30am, leave the office the following day at 2:30am and then be expected to be back in work for 8:30am. After working four 7 day weeks of 14 hours a day, he decided to resign.
His claims have been supported by other former employees who unlike Watson, wished to remain anonymous. He goes on to accuse the higher ups at Gameloft’s French Headquarters of fabricating deadlines to mislead staff into working long overtime to reach deadlines that didn’t exist. Staff would later find out that they actually had a few more weeks to finish projects than the senior figures had led them to believe. Watson also thinks that this process, known as “golding” according to unpublished emails seen by games.on.net, was actually having a detrimental effect on staff, causing them to make slip ups and mistakes when programming due to mental fatigue. There is even a claim that one junior programmer once worked a 24 hour stint.
One of the problems lies with the contracts staff agree to when they work at a Gameloft studio. The obligations may be in violation of New Zealand’s health and safety legislation but nevertheless, the studio can request that staff work “reasonable hours” without pay, with the definition of reasonable coming from Gameloft.
Watson has tried to persuade Gameloft to bring in a New Zealand Department Of Labour mediator so that a 12 hour work cap can be enforced, but that hasn’t been put into place yet, which he blames the developer for. These mediators are independents who can come into a work place in New Zealand where a problem has arisen and work with both parties to find a solution.
The twist in this is that Gameloft Auckland actually amended contracts to include paid overtime while Watson was still working at the company, which makes other employees who contacted games.on.net think that these dangerous working conditions may be due to pressure on the studio to deliver. With more development studios being shut down without a second thought, the Auckland branch may be trying to prove to Gameloft’s French HQ that it’s a viable studio, being able to deliver products quickly at the expense of the staff working there. Despite that, staff claim that deadlines have been missed, projects scrapped and some are even preparing their resumes in the event that the studio is closed down.
Watson refused to remain anonymous and says he was inspired to speak out after revelations about the working conditions at Team Bondi during the development of LA Noire. Gameloft have currently completely declined to respond to these allegations.
With a career as work intensive as game development, I think it can be safe to assume that staff may have to work overtime at some points to finish a project on time. However, the line has to be drawn when this overtime for one is unpaid, or where it gets to the point where the overtime might as well be part of a normal workday. No one should be expected to work constant 14 hour days or 100-120 hours a week for the sake of a video game being finished a little earlier than it needs to be. It’s brave of Watson to not go anonymous with this, and it’s important that him and other staff from any developer can speak out if they feel they are being mistreated. The only problem is that at least in its infancy, these just remain allegations for now. Until we see some hard evidence that proves his claims, there doesn’t seem to be anything him or other former employees can do. Still, this story is bound to develop over the next few days if the Team Bondi complaints are any indication, and we will keep you updated.