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It’s a dream shared by many students, from elementary to graduate level. To work in the video games industry is a grueling goal many spend years pursuing. In their quest to land employment at a video game company, many college and recent college graduates are hoping internships offer a chance to put their foot in the door and to eventually bust it wide open for an invitation to be fully employed.
However, because of competition, the weak global economy and not knowing the law, employers may be illegally using internships to not pay for work that is benefiting the company. The New York Times(1) reported on April 2nd, 2010 that this trend has been accelerating in recent years and that there is a crackdown, particularly in California and Oregon to put a stop to this.
In November, 2009 The Employment Tribunals in the UK ruled that an intern, Nicola Vette was due back-pay for her work on a film with London Dreams Motion Pictures Ltd(2). The ruling sets a precedent that “workers engaged on an expenses-only basis are entitled to payment at least in line with the national minimum wage, in addition to payment for the holiday they accrue.”
Dana John, a senior at N.Y.U., had this to say about her unpaid internship, “If you want to be in the music industry that’s the way it works. If you want to get your foot in the door somehow, this is the easiest way to do it. You suck it up.”
That sounds exactly like the kind of thing people say about the video games industry. That you do whatever you can get in. I hear the phrase “suck it up” often during discussions about the games industry’s frequent exploitative unpaid overtime.
An important point from the New York Times article is that even if the company offers college credit, it doesn’t free companies from paying for the intern’s work, especially when it benefits the company.
Unfortunately, with how competitive the video games industry is, I believe this illegal practice of unpaid internships may be common, especially in the smaller, lesser known development studios. I’ve already contacted one developer in the US to let them know their unpaid internship may be illegal. A quick search of internships from Activision, EA and Ubisoft found that on some Activision internships, particularly at Raven were listed as being paid. Some others had no mention either way. At EA, it appears all internships are paid. Information on pay for Ubisoft internships could not be found.
Even though you may be willing sacrifice a lot in order to get a job in the games industry, you need to stick up for your rights and make it clear that if your work is going to benefit the company in anyway, you have a right to be paid fairly.
(3) http://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/TEGL/TEGL12-09acc.pdf (Page 8 is especially relevant)
Also posted at my personal blog, Reiding...