Survey of UK gaming industry reveals long hours culture and bullying claims

9 August 2019

Long hours culture and bullying in UK gaming industry attracts attention of MPs and unions.

Entertainment trade union BECTU has vowed to help tackle a toxic culture of exploitation and bullying within the gaming industry as a cross-party group of MPs prepare to hold an inquiry into working conditions.

There has long been anecdotal evidence of a long-hours culture and poor working conditions in parts of the industry, however there has been a lack of data to back up these claims. Results of a new workforce survey by BECTU, which is the media sector of Prospect union, reveals a picture of the working culture in the games industry, which employs around 50,000 people in the UK. To our knowledge, this is the largest grassroots survey of the industry, comprehensive data from this industry is difficult to gather, with the industry itself having struggled to collect census type data.305 games workers from across the UK responded to the survey which included descriptions of so-called crunch working – undertaking up to 80 hours per week for 6-week periods, with regular demands to work 12-16 hour days and through weekends.

Bullying and harassment was also widely reported, with more than half (57%) of respondents claiming to have experienced being bullied or harassed at work. The findings also revealed that  the majority of workers who had experienced bullying and harassment (70%) felt that if they reported the bullying and harassment it would not be dealt with appropriately.

The survey found that 8 in 10 (81%) of workers, who  are regularly undertaking overtime, do this work for free. Three-fifths (57%) of respondents said they regularly worked beyond their contractual hours and more than a quarter of workers (27%) said they were forced to opt out of the Working Time Directive when they accepted their role to make themselves available beyond the 48-hour maximum working week.

The pressure faced by workers as the industry continues its stellar growth is being felt when workers are at home, with 1-in-2 (53%) feeling long hours culture has a negative effect on their personal or home life.

Head of BECTU, Philippa Childs said: “While the gaming industry is being hailed as a success for the UK economy, the cracks are very visible and it is clear this success is coming at a great cost to the workers who have built it from the ground up.”

“This success has not been without the sacrifice of a dedicated workforce who are yet to reap the benefits, being forced to work under stressful and oppressive circumstances to get games to market.”

“We urge employers to take action if they want to sustain their economic success as productivity, employee morale and retention can only occur when you treat your workers fairly.”

With more than 2000 games companies in the UK comprised of start-ups, independent studies and international publishers, its success at generating nearly £3bn[1] towards the UK economy and providing nearly 50,000 jobs has seen one of the fastest growing global industries generate three quarters[2] of revenue coming from international sales.

Workers are the victim of increasing pressure in the wake of this success, with more than half (54%) of respondents claiming they simply have to work until the job is done.

When it comes to personal development, two thirds of workers (63%) said they had never been offered any training opportunities while working, with a further 1 in 3 (32%) saying they had no opportunity for promotion in their role.

The survey is being sent to MPs and BECTU will be presenting the results to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Video Games to express concerns about working conditions in the industry.

Alex Sobel MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for video games’ said: “The UK Video Games industry is undeniably dynamic, highly creative and an extremely profitable sector of our economy. But behind scenes, there are workers, many of them highly skilled, who feel undervalued, under-compensated and exploited. It’s time that Parliamentarians start applying the same level of scrutiny to employment practices in the video games sector as they would any other.”

One worker, who did not wish to be named, said: “There is no time for personal growth under long hours; you get home from work and you have time to feed yourself and clean the house and then if you want to get enough sleep to do your job right, it’s straight to bed. Your weekend is spent doing nothing to recover. And that’s me as a single person, no dependents. Work has to get all of me, then chores, then what’s left of that has to be diced up between friends and family. How do people with children do it?”

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