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Nerds Without Pants   

Nerds Without Pants Episode 29: Ethical Nerds

What do you get when you have two college graduates and a product of the Texas public school system? A pretty intelligent conversation, actually.

It's Friday, which means it's time to take your pants off and listen to another wonderful episode of NWP! The guys run the gamut of geekdom this week, with talk about anime, art books, Shin Megami Tensei IV, and the greatest Jason Statham move ever made: Saints Row IV.

After that, Patrick takes over to discuss ethics in the video game industry. How underhanded is it to lay off people right after a project is done? What about the unfortunately necessary evil that is the PR and game writer relationship? All of these topics and more are discussed at length in a rather thoughtful episode of Nerds Without Pants!


blur- Song 2

The Romantics- Talking in Your Sleep

Paula Abdul- Opposites Attract

Haddaway- What is Love

                                                  "Oy! I've got a Statham Sighting for ya!"




08/23/2013 at 04:37 PM

I like how tagging Jason Statham is a thing. You can beckon for him in the site's seachbar and it comes up with epidsodes of NWP and other features graced enough to involve him.

I like that Patrick brought these points up, and I agreed with the assessments of contract work and budget management Angelo and Julian gave in response. The industry is always in flux in terms of employment, it seems that only a few people here and there actually stay in one place for a very long time. Sometimes it can be under nasty cirsumstances with horrible stories behind them, but many times people just come and go. People see how long Shiggy has been with Nintendo, saw how long Cliff was with Epic, and look at how many of the popular faces in the industry have had tenures at certain companies for a long time and assume that it must be that way for all people, and it's not. People leave when their contract work is done, sometimes they get hired on as Angelo said, sometimes people with tenure leave because they need a new environment, there's tons of coming and going with most companies.

Irrational Games and Ken Levine run a couple podcasts at their website and in one episode they were talking about how one of the level designers or artists, a great talent and good friend of Kens I guess, worked with his team for months on a certain level only to have Ken tell them they needed to scrap the whole thing because the aesthetic didn't fit what Bioshock Infinite needed. The guy blew up on Ken and eventually left to a different company to get some fresh air, but inevitably came back to Irrational when he was ready. Levine says people come and go all the time and sometimes it can be quite healthy, after being away for a while and recharging their brains people often come back to Irrational because Ken tells them the door is always open if they want to return.

That's a pretty specific case and doesn't speak perfectly well to the topic of layoffs, but it's one of the things that made me realize people are always on the move in gaming. Just a few weeks ago Marcus Lehto, one of the big designers who's been with Bungie for a long time, was on Twitter pretty openly discussing how he was considering uprooting his family and moving to find a job at some new company with a special project he wanted to work on, but after some deliberation with his wife and kids decided to stay in Washington with Bungie and with his wife and girls. For people who are young and new to the industry, people who aren't like these big named veterans, they probably tend to be doing more of the contract work and move around the country/world switching studios much more often. It's a young industry that's changed a lot in the last couple decades, many of the people who were green youngsters in the 80s and 90s are now veterans with families, starting their own companies with the wisdom they've gained over the decades and mistakes they've seen or made. Despite all that it's still quite young, wild, and things are always changing, and in all that fast paced flux there's some gross and unethical things that can happen. Like people crunching and not getting overtime, or people working in bad conditions like the makers of Metro Last Light endured, or having bonuses depend on Metacritic scores.

I hate studying law and business, so I'm in no place or interest to suggest solutions, I just like to keep my eyes open to observe the industry I'll eventually be a part of. For the early years of my journey into game design I just want to work on games, build skills and resume, get paid enough to live a simple life, and if I have to move around often to new places I'll just deal with it, and hopefully not get abused or cheated illegally in the process. The whole dream for many people is to find that one special place, become part of a tightknit family of designers you can work with and make groundbreaking games, but most of the people who actually attain that game design career goal seem to have to slog through lots of shit before they get there.

You guys covered a lot of ground on ethics, but I think you forgot to go into detail on what you all think about DLC and the methods developers use to keep people employed. Some gamers who are outside the industry or don't know quite how the business side works sometimes see DLC as inherently evil, anti-consumer, and think it's a scheme to nickle and dime people in every case. Gamers only see it from their POV and don't actually know what's happening at the studio behind it all. Many developers seem to handle DLCs by sending their larger team to focus on the new game while a small (sometimes maybe only a couple or few people) detachment goes to work on DLC. It seems like a low risk way to make a little extra money, but it also keeps those employees working. If they weren't doing something they'd be looking for new work at a different studio, or they'd be getting laid off, etc. It's seems to kinda work for some companies out there. I think it's silly for people to call DLC evil or greedy. You can call a certain company or a certain CEO evil or greedy, or even a certain piece of nefarious DLC shady. But DLC in itself isn't bad, sometimes it might be one of the few things keeping a company from dying and keeping a group of people on board with a job.

Gamers don't know how to aim their fire most of the time, they just spray shotgun-blast vitriol at the industry and generalize things because gamers are often ignorant to how games actually get made, how businesses operate, and all the whos and whys of the industry. And some of that might not always be the gamer's fault, some of that blame should fall on the enthusiast press. In the gaming world we very rarely get exposes and investigative journalism digging into the grittier topics. Some gamers might be gross and ignorant, but it's hard to blame some their stupidity if there isn't a fierce press out there reaching into the uncomfortable topics that developers and publishers don't want anybody to ever see. If the press makes developers and publishers uncomfortable that should be a good sign that the press is doing its job right, and some press & industry folks seem to be aiming to acquire more cushy relationships and friendships, future job opportunities, and letting too many opportunities for investigation and criticism slip by.

This industry is the biggest entertainment avenue out there, but it's still so young. Nobody is really guiding it, people are making their predictions and everybody is flying by the seat of their pants. It's like you're building a downhill gokart and it starts to slide down a slope while there's still no steering wheel or seatbelt built into it, but you grab onto the side as it slides down the hill. Then suddenly the slope gets way steeper and you shoot down the hill at full speed, just like how to gaming industry blew up into the biggest avenue of entertainment in the last several years without anybody really expecting it to happen. There's no seatbelt or steering wheel, no driver, but it's flying down that hill as fast as it can and you're holding on for the ride without a clue as to how this will turn out.

That's what I observe, and I have no solutions. I'm just hoping I don't hit a tree as I hold onto that gokart flying down that hill.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

08/23/2013 at 08:48 PM

The return of the Wall of Text! Huzzah!

You bring up a great point with DLC. I've honestly never really thought of it as a way to keep people working. For the record, I'm generally pro-DLC, but I rarely buy any of it, because I move on to the next game so quickly. I have yet to play any of the Mass Effect 3 DLC besides the new ending, and you know how much I love that game.

I'd love to see DLC used as a chance for designers to get crazy, like the Far Cry 3 guys did with Blood Dragon.

Also, you've now given me the idea to make an RPG where all of the summon spells are different film incarnations of Jason Statham.


08/24/2013 at 09:29 PM

Great podcast gentlemen!

One point that was not brought up but also touches the ethics side of videogaming is the work conditions of developers. I am reminded of the relatively recent Lucasarts Eulogy, which outlined the cost of making games: families delayed because of projects, divorces, insane work hours, etc. Years ago, the "EA Wife" thing brought the whole thing to the forefront, but I don't think it's something that has been discussed since, and I suspect it hasn't really changed either.

As someone who is still trying to find the right balance between life and work (and avoid being fired in the process), this is one side of the gaming industry that needs to change. It took unions for workers of the manufacturing industry to get decent working hours and conditions, and while I'm not a fan of unions in general, I do think they can be useful.

Personaly, I hate working overtime, and I would not want to have to do it for months and years, especially if the end result of it is something that is going to be consumed as nothing more than mere entertainment. Sure developers might get nice bonuses and stuff like that, but personaly, if I had to choose between having a life or having more money, I would choose the former. I have no idea, however, if this is a popular opinion or not. And also, though I am not rich by any means, I still do pretty OK in terms of income, which probably colors my opinion somewhat.


08/27/2013 at 10:09 AM

I have been wonder the same thing about Kickstarter as Julian.  Hasn't the majority of the audience for the Double Fine Adventure game, Wasteland 2, Project Eternity, and Torment already gotten a copy of the game coming to them?  How are they going to make much more money after the game ships?  Since Shadowrun Returns has shipped, I am curious as to how their sales look now.

What about the ethics behind the Double Fine Adventure game?  They made over 8 times their goal, and that was not enough to finish the game that was initially proposed.  So now they have to go to the fans again for more funding by breaking up the game into two parts...  unless I am mistaken about the problems that they have been having.  

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

08/28/2013 at 11:03 AM

These are valid points, but I think the free market will sort all this out in time. I also think the kickstarter thing is mostly a fad. Once reality kicks in, I don't think we'll see multi-million dollar projects get funded on it anymore.

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