Tonight I want
to talk about video games. All right? Video games were a huge part
of my life growing up. My console was N64. Mario Kart, Smash Brothers,
and my personal favorite GoldenEye. You guys know the rules, right? License to kill, slappers only, no Oddjob. You guys remember Oddjob? You couldn’t kill him
because he was shorter than R2-D2. But now, video games are so much bigger,
and there’s no better sign than what went down
in New York City last weekend. A huge tournament at Arthur Ashe Stadium
in Queens, and we ain’t talking tennis. “This is the Fortnite World Cup Finals.” “Sixteen-year-old Kyle ‘Bugha’
Giersdorf is waking up $3 million richer. The first ever
Fortnite World Cup Champion.” “There’s his family looking on. And there’s the dance. I don’t know what that is.” That is the dance of someone who no longer has to stay married
for the kids. You know five seconds after that
he downloaded Hinge. Now, gaming culture is popular culture. It’s the new social currency. Right? You can’t be a kid
and not play Minecraft, which is why in just a few years, gaming has exploded in a way
it never has before. Gamers have sent the video gaming industry
to record levels. Netflix says that
Fortnite is a bigger threat than HBO. Red Dead Redemption 2 made $725 million
in its opening weekend. This is a bigger new industry -than marijuana.
-Absolutely. He’s like, “Marijuana, it’s a medicine that comes in a biscuit. Brilliant!” Now, the gaming industry has grown faster
than anyone could have ever imagined. It is now a $139 billion a year business. In terms of revenue, that’s bigger than
worldwide box office, music streaming and album sales,
the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and the NHL combined. Yeah, every sports league right now
is terrified, except for the NHL. They’re like, “Yay, we made the chart!” Think about this, this is insane.
Add up Kanye, Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Mike Trout and they are still no match
for a Swedish dude named Felix, who loves the n-word. One of the biggest reasons video games
have blown-up is live streaming, which is exactly what it sounds like. Gamers stream themselves playing games
in real time… even during natural disasters. Bro, it’s an earthquake,
100% it’s an earthquake. Holy shit! That’s actually strong. Oh, fucking wiggling! Whoa! Oh, this motherfucker moving, moving. Oh, shit! Muffin! Okay, Muffin is his dog, but I like to think
that it’s his safe word. He’s like, “Muffin! Brioche! Why isn’t it working?” Millions of people watch gamers
live stream on Twitch, the world’s biggest streaming platform,
and it gets 15 million visitors a day, which has transformed games like Fortnite,
PUBG, and League of Legends into enormous sporting events. Activision’s Overwatch League
has kicked off its new season. “Take-Two’s NBA 2K League
launched its second annual draft.” “A $74,000 prize.
Their game of choice? Counter-Strike.” “Call of Duty World League Tournament.” “The final of this tournament drew
more viewers last year than game six of the 2015 NBA Finals.” This is where things are going. I swear. Next year, you’re gonna
see Jay-Z and Beyoncé sitting courtside watching a pasty 16-year-old kid
play Fortnite. They’re like,
“Jay, who are you here to see?” And he’s just like, “My man, Buttsoup98.” It’s the Rock. Video games have become a cultural force unlike anything
since the creation of television. Two and a half billion people
play video games. Business is booming.
Gamers are treated like athletes, and yet, the gaming industry is filled
with stories like these. Video game maker Electronic Arts says
it is laying off 350 employees. The studio behind BioShock,
closing its doors and laying off most of its employees. Zynga announced that it will be cutting 5%
of its workforce. Activision Blizzard slashing
about 800 jobs. That’s 8%
of the video game maker’s workforce. Jeez, game companies treat their workers
like pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto. They’re like, “There’s just gonna be
some collateral damage.” Many of the most profitable
American game companies routinely lay off huge chunks
of their staff. And it’s part of a larger pattern
of labor exploitation in the gaming industry. Because it turns out the games
that we play to relax are built on ruthless worker burnout. That’s what I want to focus on tonight,
video games and labor. In the past two years alone, we found over 20 companies
that have laid off thousands of workers. Sometimes with no warning
and no severance. Like in the case of Telltale Games,
best known for The Walking Dead, which is based on a TV series
that just won’t die. I don’t know if you watch –
I mean we’re on season nine, you guys. Just shoot it in the head and end it. They’re zombies not the Simpsons. Now, you may not have heard very much
about this, and that’s not an accident. When we were researching this story, very few people were willing
to talk to us on camera. A lot of game workers sign NDAs, and they’re afraid of getting blacklisted,
but one worker agreed to talk to me. Emily Grace Buck, a game developer
who used to work at Telltale. She was there
the morning they fired everyone. Tell me about the horrific day
at Telltale. We get to the conference room,
everybody’s standing around, we walk in and the CEO is making jokes. He’s got a microphone
standing in front of everybody. He’s trying to make us laugh. So he opened up the meeting
to fire you guys by doing a set? Yes, and then he sat down and just said,
“Our journey has ended.” We were getting no severance. Our health insurance was only lasting
until the end of the week. They told us that we only had 30 minutes
to leave the building. We were expected to leave very quickly. To me, Telltale sounds like
a really bad boyfriend who was like,
“I’m telling you, like, this is great. We’re going the distance.” And then two weeks later was like,
“This is the end of our journey.” One of the things that’s scary
about games though is they’re all kind of bad boyfriends,
and you just need to pick which kind of bad you can live with. Working in the gaming industry shouldn’t be worse
than using Tinder in Boston. Think about it. Imagine being ghosted
by some dude named Parker who’s also in charge
of your health insurance. That’s what every gaming company is. Cyclical layoffs are just the start,
though. One of the worst issues in gaming
is the hours. I worked about seven days a week
between 14 and 16 hour days. “And when would you go home?” I would go home
when I was ready to collapse. Other people refused to do overtime,
and all of a sudden, their reviews were negative,
and they were fired. I lived away from home
for almost three months, uh, helping get the game done. I didn’t see my friends, my family
for a while. Although,
I was allowed some conjugal visits. Cool. I’m sure your wife loves
being referred to as a prison luxury. He’s like, “Hey, babe.
Can you come to the office? The warden says we can smash.” Now, leading up to the release of a game, companies often work their employees
for months nonstop with no overtime pay just
to hit deadlines. Almost every major gaming company
does this: EA, Rockstar, Epic, Activision, BioWare.
There’s actually a term for it. It’s called “crunch,” and it’s practically mandatory
if you want to work at a major studio. 95% of game developers say that
they’ve crunched or worked overtime, and over 80% of them say that they
weren’t paid for the extra hours. And it’s not like your typical video game
workers are getting stock options. At best, they’re getting carpal tunnel and their nephew’s respect,
which doesn’t pay shit. Crunch wrecks people mentally
and physically. Workers say months of crunch
have caused PTSD, memory loss, and ulcers
that make them cough up blood. Yeah, it sounds like video games
are being made in a Civil War hospital. By the way, it gets worse, and that’s because
of one game in particular. “And there’s the dance.
I don’t know what that is.” It’s Fortnite, the second biggest reason Drake is friends
with 14-year-olds. Now, Fortnite… Why are you texting them?
In what scenario do you text them? This isn’t a Big Brother,
Big Sister thing. It’s just fucking weird. If you don’t know the joke,
he texts Millie Bobby Brown about boys. It’s fucking bizarre. Now, Fortnite was created
by Epic Games in 2017, and now has 250 million players worldwide and has made over $3.9 billion, making Epic’s founder Tim Sweeney
a multi-billionaire, which is frustrating when you find out
how terribly he spends his money. Why does it feel like a combination
of MTV Cribs and Making a Murderer? He has to be the only tree hugger
who makes trees feel uncomfortable. Now look, games like Fortnite,
Apex Legends, and League of Legends are making crunch even worse because they’ve built their businesses on something called
“The Microtransaction Model.” Now look at Fortnite, they let everybody download the game
for free, but then they charge you for additional features,
like dance moves for your characters, “skins,” and tools,
like axes and hang gliders. Fortnite is using the same business model
as drug dealers. They give you the shit for free. They get you hooked,
and then before you know it, you’re sucking someone’s dick
for a candy axe. We’ve all been there. Don’t judge. Now this business model, it’s great for players and Tim Sweeney’s
weird-ass rock collection, but it is a nightmare for workers.
To keep players happy Fortnite has to roll out new features
all the time, which means for developers,
crunch never ends. And guess what? Epic workers say
that their managers expect them to crunch without complaining,
otherwise they might get fired. On top of all of this, players expect graphics to get better
and better every year. Just look at GTA. It went from
a Chuck E. Cheese arcade game to a deepfake of murder. Here’s the thing people don’t realize… graphics and animations
take a lot of work. I mean, making high quality visuals
can be really time intensive. And I know this because
sometimes our graphics team has to work really long hours. I mean, look at this, you guys.
Look at this design. This doesn’t just happen overnight, okay? And I’ll be honest, I haven’t been great
about giving our team enough time. But you know what? At the end of the day, I can go to sleep at night knowing
that I’ve made a lot of progress. But the thing is crunch and layoffs
aren’t two separate issues. Games have hard release dates.
They can’t just fall behind schedule. So companies staff up,
crunch their employees, then they lay people off
when the game comes out. They’re given so much work
and then none at all. They basically treat people the way all
of us treated Freddie Prinze Jr. It was just everything and then nothing. I’m looking for him, too. What?
Where is he? Freddie, come back. And they can do that
because there’s an endless supply of people willing to work in gaming. That passion is something that
prestigious colleges are happy to take advantage of. Hi, Mark. Heard about what happened
with your job. Maybe now you should do something
you enjoy. -Like what, something with video games?
-Yeah. Hey, guys. Finished testing that game yet? We just finished level three and need to tighten up
the graphics a little bit. Great. I can’t believe we got jobs doing this. I know, and my mom said I would never
get anywhere with these games. That is the whitest video of all time. You have a blonde dude in a pink polo, playing video games, yelling at his mom
for not believing in him. By the way, that last ad
couldn’t be further from reality. First of all, I’m pretty sure
“tightening up graphics” isn’t a thing. But the most unrealistic part of this ad was the fact that these two Chads
had a female supervisor, and they treated her with respect. Look, gender discrimination is another huge labor issue in gaming, which is probably the least surprising
thing you’ve learned tonight. It’s like finding out Mike Pence
pulls his underwear down to his ankles when he pees. New information? Yes. Surprising? No. Even though women now make up
half of all gamers, the industry is almost 75% male, which is obvious
when you look at any female character. I mean take a closer look. As you can see, all of these women
have one thing in common. Look closely. It’s their attitude. So much attitude. It’s just bursting through the screens. Developer surveys consistently find
that discrimination and sexism are endemic
to the gaming industry. But to understand how bad it’s gotten, we have to look at one company
in particular that is crushing it
on the sexism leaderboard. Riot Games just can’t escape controversy. This week the League of Legends developer
was slammed with a class action lawsuit, claiming that the company fosters
a sexist work environment. This lawsuit, filed by two women at Riot,
lists specific examples of how “bro culture” negatively impacted
female employees. That’s so disappointing. Remember back when bros
and gamers were enemies? Now they’re united
over their mutual fear of women. Riot Games is a huge player
in the gaming industry. This lawsuit plus three more
filed since then claimed that women
were routinely passed up for promotions and sexually harassed. Some were also given
some very strange pep talks. One plaintiff said her supervisor
told her, “Diversity should not be a focal point of the design of Riot Games’ products
because gaming culture is the last remaining safe haven
for white teen boys.” Safe haven. Why is Riot talking about teenage boys
like they’re endangered sea turtles? “They’re migrating. Where will they go?” But my favorite part of that clip is the guy’s face
when she read that quote. “Gaming culture is the last remaining
safe haven for white teen boys.” That is alarming that this kind of thing
can even be said inside a company in 2018. That right there is the same face you make when someone says they’re excited
for the next Woody Allen movie. You’re like, “Oof.” These lawsuits were the result
of a bombshell investigation from Kotaku, a gaming news site that exposed
widespread sexism at the company and because of Kotaku’s reporting, the state of California
is now investigating Riot for gender discrimination. So I sat down with the woman
who broke the Riot story. She’s an investigative reporter named
Cecilia D’Anastasio. So, how did you hear about
what was going on at Riot? Did you just drive by the offices and
hear a bunch of mouth breathing and you were like,
“Something isn’t right?” I first heard what was happening at Riot when I was investigating
another gaming company for alleged endemic sexism, actually. That’s really, really dark. Yeah. I heard stories ranging from… women not being able to hire other women
into positions of leadership. I was also hearing stories about
other women being on the list of, like, sexy employees that higher-ups
at the company wanted to sleep with. A lot of men told me about the COO,
like, going behind them and humping them at meetings where women weren’t present. You know, I’ve always wondered
what a COO does. Now I know. The culture at Riot was nuts, okay? People said they saw not just dick pics, but their boss’s dick pics. Now, look, if you see your boss’s dick, at the very least,
you should get to host Fox and Friends. Even men complained
about Riot’s bro culture. Cecilia, in your report you said that
if there were no women in a meeting, one of the managers would fart
on someone’s face. -Yeah.
-And that is fucked up. -Yeah, it is.
-I mean, this is sexism at its worst. -How?
-Women should be in the room. No. -No, no.
-We only live in an equal society, when both genders can rip it equally
in front of each other. No one should be farting on anyone
in, like, a work environment. That’s fair. Where’s he at now? Please tell me like
the dude cannot work anymore. No, he’s still at the company. -He’s still at the same company?
-He’s there, and he’s the COO. He’s still the COO. He was just suspended for two months
without pay. That’s it. Riot punished him the way
corporate America punishes women who give birth. They’re like,
“Think about what you’ve done and come back in two months.” So when you consider all of this… crunch, burnout, sexism,
no safety net, no job security. You’re probably thinking,
“Okay, if it’s so bad, why don’t they just quit?” Well, that’s the problem.
They do, which sucks. This is their livelihood. But it’s also bad for games.
Video games are amazing because they’re made by people
who love making them, which is why the workers
that haven’t quit yet are finally considering something
that has never happened before. It is time, more than time that we as an industry
left behind the idea that our work is made better by our pain. A lot of people are saying… that it’s time that the games industry
was unionized. “At industry events unionization
is increasingly on the agenda. In Canada, the International
Game Workers Unite movement is attracting new members as crunch culture forces people out
of the industry.” Game workers have talked about unionizing
for a long time. But the last few years, it is becoming a rallying cry,
especially for Game Workers Unite, a grassroots organizing group that has actually unionized game workers
in the UK, and now, they have nineteen chapters
in North America. This is part of an even bigger wave. America is going through a historic swell
in collective labor action. In 2017,
25,000 Americans went on strike. In 2018, it was almost half a million. And this year, it could be even bigger, and the gaming industry
is riding that wave. After Cecilia reported on the sexism
at Riot, employees at the company were furious
and finally did something about it. They staged a walkout. Why was there a walkout at Riot? What was the fart
that broke the camel’s back? It wasn’t a fart. Lawsuits were filed
against Riot after Kotaku’s report. And a couple of them were forced
into arbitration with Riot. What is forced arbitration? It’s like, “You can’t take me to court,
you have to negotiate with me.” So hundreds of Riot employees walked out
in what was the first walkout in game development history. And I think organizing around that would
be a really good idea for game workers. Do you realize how impressive that is? An army of gamers… walking. This is why unionization is so critical
for game workers. Just look at the issues they’re facing: insane hours, no severance, unfair contracts,
sexist work environments. These are all issues
that unions were built to solve. They also make sure
you don’t get humped from behind. Now look, I get there are people
that might be seeing all of this thinking, “Aww, boo-hoo, you want me to care
about video game workers? Look, I work all the time, man.
I don’t get overtime. I’ve been fired, and my boss farts
in my face all the time. So what?”
Well, congratulations. You’re probably getting screwed, too. We all have to rethink
what a union job looks like. It’s no longer just coal miners
and steel workers lifting up heavy shit. Yes, those people need protection,
but so do people who work at desks. Right? This is the future.
If you work in front of a computer, what’s happening in video games
right now affects you. Other industries are figuring this out. While overall union membership is down, white collar professionals
have been unionizing in record numbers. Journalists, digital media, grad students,
presidential campaigns, and nonprofits. But so far, nothing in tech. That’s why this push
to organize game workers is coming at such a critical time. Do you think if one of these
video game companies unionizes, there will be a ripple effect
across the entire industry? I absolutely think so
because the same thing happened in my industry, media. Gawker unionized and then maybe a dozen
other digital media publications unionized in its wake. And I don’t see any reason why
that wouldn’t happen in the games industry where workers are fueled by passion
and are often exploited because of that. Gaming companies don’t want this
to happen. And a lot of people outside the industry
either “A”– don’t care or “B”– have no idea
what workers are going through. We actually refer to people
in the game industry as veterans once they’ve reached five years working
because the average career in video games is only five years long, and it’s lower than that
if you’re a woman or a person of color. Do gamers realize there are
all these problems within the industry? Some of them do,
and some of them don’t. But I think that if gamers
start caring about working conditions in the industry,
companies are gonna change. She’s right.
The only way the industry will change… is if players know how their games
really get made. So to get the word out,
I had to go where the gamers are. Hey, it’s Hasan. I just want to talk about
labor abuses in the video game industry. So I thought I’d come right in the game
and talk to you guys. -Let’s do this, douchebag.
-Yeah, sure, okay, I’ll just follow you. But reaI quick, I just wanted to chat with you
about labor rights in video games. -What?
-Oh, shit, you’re dead. -God damn it.
-Damn it, I’m dead. “This is brutal over here.” Not as brutal as the lack
of job security designers have. “Dude, you’re ruining the game.” Hi, friend. Do you have a moment
to just chat about labor rights -in video games?
-Move! Fuck. How come I only last ten seconds? You suck. Well, that’s why I hired you to coach me. Okay, so stop lecturing them
and get a weapon. Hey, just real quick. Do you guys realize that programmers
don’t even receive residuals -on the video games they make?
-Pick up your controller and shoot! I’m holding it.
You don’t have to talk to me like that. And here’s the crazy part,
if the workers complain, they’ll just get replaced. Yeah, they will straight up
fire them and– Weeee! Oh, shit. Lava! These companies don’t want
their programmers to– I was just gonna say unionize. No one wants to hear this. You don’t know that. “C’mon, revive me, man.” You know, PyssPapa69, I would do that. -Are you gonna be a good listener?
-Are you fucking serious? -That’s what happens.
-Hey, labor rights guy, over here. -Awesome.
-Uh-huh. Yeah, just go in there. This is great. Finally,
someone wants to just talk in private -about worker protection. Hey!
-Suck it! -Alright, I think it’s time to stop.
-No, ten more minutes! -No, let’s–
-Please! Oh, my God. Hey guys, can we just have a conversation about the benefits of unionizing? Come on! It’s the only way to guarantee fair wages.
Come on! Fucking hell. Shit. Fuck it. Shoot me in the head
if you think they deserve basic benefits. Thank you. I don’t want to brag… but I think I changed some minds. I’ll see you guys next week.