Stop the schadenfreude over Bloated Tech Layoffs


Video games are increasingly part of the Big Tech business cycle. Profit warnings are mounting after the outbreak, from Assassin’s Creed developer Ubisoft Entertainment SA to Frontier Developments Plc and industry cutbacks are on the rise.

But as seen online, like the expressions of shock and schadenfreude of Alphabet Inc. employees facing their first layoffs — complete with footage of Gen-Xers losing access to the corporate tiki bar — what’s happening in the game reveals a more dystopian view of the virtual workplace. This week’s threatened strike against Ubisoft in France hints at the battles to come.

Game developers are in a very precarious business, and that means they’re long exposed to job insecurity and volatility as game projects stop and start. And unlike apps that rely on user-generated content, in-game paid workers generate immersive, detailed worlds under increasingly tight deadlines — meaning brutal 60- to 100-hour workweeks known as “crashes.”

The shift to remote work during the pandemic kept people employed, but it also caused production delays and, in some cases, exacerbated work-life balance concerns. While the increase in gaming has resulted in pay raises or bonuses for most of those surveyed by the Game Developers Association International, one-third reported working overtime without any additional pay. In an industry where 79% are under 40, the push for unionization has gathered momentum with experiments such as the four-day work week.

Now that push is feeding into the harsh reality of waning demand, Ubisoft described it as “amazing” growth for new games it expected to fly off the shelves – like Mario + Rabbids 2 and Just Dance 2023. The company recently announced the cancellation of several titles, predicting operating losses for the current fiscal year. It tells the employees to meet new deadlines while cutting costs. “The ball is in your court,” CEO Yves Guillemot said at the all-hands conference.

This message fell on deaf ears – for which Guillemot later apologized – effectively absolving the administration of some bad decisions. Strategically, the company has been chasing all sorts of dubious trends, from battle-royal games — of which it reportedly had a dozen in development at one point — to useless tokens, from the emerging market. Pinning one’s hopes on Mario + Rabbids 2 is a perplexing move for a company whose riches include franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.

Whatever the reason, Ubisoft looks bloated with results: Sales per employee were 103,000 euros ($112,000) in its latest full-year results, down 21% from 2016. It is also assumed that the management will get the most out of the main population. But no. A former Ubisoft developer reportedly said that repeated delays to the game Skull and Bones seemed like common mismanagement, even with the Singaporean government subsidizing it.

Contrary to the vision of the future of the Fordist website, perhaps the reality is that video games cannot completely escape the shadow of the assembly line: As Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier pointed out, a video game worker has a long line of connected workers. You simply cannot work at different speeds. That’s why the four-day week – one of the demands put forward by workers calling for a strike at Ubisoft – is an idea worth exploring. Some companies have reported success with the experiment, with increased productivity and lower burnout rates, though not all.

And at a time when longer life spans and stretched government budgets have increased the demand for future generations to work longer, it’s important to bring more positive change to the daily routine. In a world where work and leisure have blurred and creativity needs to be more widespread, work ethics don’t need pep talks.

But as gaming became more and more part of the conglomerates’ stables, Microsoft Corp. through Activision Blizzard Inc. By tilting, the struggle for equitable distribution of the corrupt is unstoppable.

More from Bloomberg Commentary:

• Microsoft deal for trust buyers: Chris Hughes is a tough target.

• Is Big Tech Safe From Activist Shareholders?: Olsen and Hughes

• Sony earnings will be interesting again: Culpan and Reidy

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Lionel Lauren is a Bloomberg opinion columnist covering digital currencies, the European Union and France. He was previously a reporter for Reuters and Forbes.

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