[How have 'quality of life' issues in the game industry progressed since the EA_Spouse controversy in late 2004? Gamasutra talks to the IGDA's Jason Della Rocca and the Spouse (Erin Hoffman) herself to find improvements - and the news that we still have a long way to go.]
It's been exactly 3-1/2 years since EA_Spouse -- née Erin Hoffman -- wrote her open letter to the games industry and focused a laser-like light on the oppressive working conditions that her fiancé and, by extension, the rest of the development community endured. "Quality of life" (QoL) became the buzzword du jour and unionization the hottest topic around studio water coolers.
But 3-1/2 years later, is QoL still an issue? Does anyone still care?
Yes -- to a degree. QoL is no longer on everyone's lips, says Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), but that's because awareness of the issue has become so widespread.
"Prior to EA_Spouse, quality of life was kind of like the elephant in the room," he says. "Developers were stuck in their studios and had no idea whether the same problems existed in other studios. So they kept quiet and bit the bullet. The EA_Spouse letter, together with the IGDA's QoL survey blew the doors wide open."
Now, says Della Rocca, "every studio head, every producer, every HR person is keenly aware of this quality of life issue, of this working conditions issue and, believe me, none of them want an EA_Spouse to surface in their company."
As a result, he says, the number of companies being proactive and deliberate about QoL has increased substantially. "But the issue hasn't disappeared, that's for sure," he says. "The average developer at the average company is still overworked, underpaid, and doesn't have the right tools or training."
That may be because the crusade to right those wrongs seems to have lost a certain amount of momentum.
For instance, at Seattle's WashTech/CWA -- which describes itself as "the nation's leading union for high-tech workers" -- union heads admit that while reaching out to the video game workers is still high on its agenda, they've gotten little to no response.
And, at the IGDA, a project known as Employment Contract Quality Of Life Certification (ECQC) seeks to gather up those elements that make for the best employment practices at a studio and then translate them into a set of employment contract provisions.
But, a year after the ECQC committee predicted it would take as long as 12 months before the certification program would be ready for primetime, not a lot of progress has been made, admits Della Rocca. The survey that needs to be sent out to studios is still being refined and hasn't been mailed yet. No studios can be certified until that task is completed.
Another initiative still not underway -- but one that is on the IGDA's "to do" list -- is a continuation of its 2004 QoL Survey.
"Ideally, we'd like to do that annually so we can create a year-to-year index and see a trend line showing whether QoL is getting better or worse," explains Della Rocca. "If we had that index, we could correlate it to the introduction of the ECQC and -- boom! -- we'd be able to see a huge spike in QoL or not."