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Amy Hennig: Atomised development, not crunch, will lead to games industry unions

The outspoken critic of crunch culture says it's driven by passion, and it's up the management to protect developers

Unionising isn't the solution to crunch, according to Uncharted series director Amy Hennig.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at Gamelab Barcelona this week, Henning -- an outspoken critic of crunch culture in the industry -- said although she doesn't think the issue has improved over the last decade, unionising doesn't fit the problem, and developers need to be protected by management.

"I don't think unionising is actually the answer because most people do it out of a passion for what they're doing," she said. "They need to be protected by the people that are running the studios and the projects to make sure that crunch is discouraged."

However, that's not to say that Hennig is anti-union; she suggests instead that the shifting and increasingly atomised nature of work in the industry will be what forces it to unionise.

"I believe that the key creatives that make up the hub of [a project] are going to become more like free agents as they are in the film business," she said. "And I think that will force the change sooner than some sort of unionisation around crunch is going to.

"It's going to be our working practices and our finances around it that provoke a much more contractor[-focused] economy. It's going to take a while, but it feels like that the way things are going to be."

Work is being outsourced to specialised houses in cheaper locations around the world, much like how the visual effects business moved out of Los Angeles and the Bay Area she says. South East Asia and Eastern Europe are becoming increasingly attractive options to bring down the cost of development.

"It used to be that we did the entire game under one roof and your team was modest in size," she said. "Now, we do most things with distributed development with external partners.

"If you look at something like The Last of Us or the more recent Uncharted, I don't even know how many outsourcing companies must have been working on it... Nothing is done under one roof anymore."

Visual effects, environment art, props and similar elements are "just treated all over the place" leaving the studio with room to work on the core design, programming, art, and other iterative game aspects.

"But everything else can be done out of house, and even a lot of indies are doing games that way these days, they're not all sitting under one roof either," she said.

"Being able to do remote work has made it possible and I think all of those things are going to motivate big structural changes that then may require some sort of unionisation because then we're going to be independent contractors without health insurance or any sort of safety net."

GamesIndustry.biz is a media partners of the Gamelab conference. We have attended the show with the assistance of the organiser.

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Ivy Taylor

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Ivy joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2017 having previously worked as a regional journalist, and a political campaigns manager before that. They are also one of the UK's foremost Sonic the Hedgehog apologists.

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