How European game developers view unpaid ‘crunch,’ diversity, and VR

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The Quo Vadis game development conference in Berlin has been good for judging the sentiment and state of the European game industry. That’s been helpful for me at GamesBeat, where we often get a U.S.-centric view of how gaming works. As an example, the European developers I talked with have a very different view of “unpaid crunch time,” or forcing developers to work long hours to finish games on time.

Hundreds of developers are attending the event, which runs through the end of Wednesday this week.

The subject of “unpaid crunch time,” a topic raised by industry veteran Alex St. John in an op-ed piece in VentureBeat — which acclaimed indie developer Rami Ismail responded to as well — came up during numerous conversations at Quo Vadis. Chris Kassulke, chief executive of Hamburg-based Handy Games, noted that such practices are considered illegal in Germany, and that his company has avoided crunch in recent years through better, more realistic planning of game development schedules.

“Crunch is definitely avoidable,” Kassulke said in an interview with GamesBeat.

But on some topics, the Europeans and Americans see things the same way. I saw a lot of enthusiasm for virtual reality (which is a separate track at the event) at Quo Vadis, but speakers are also wary of the hype surrounding the sector.

Marc Erich Latoschik, a professor of human-computer interaction at Universität Würzburg in Germany, said in a talk, “The Game Developers Conference was just about VR over and over again. I felt sorry for those outside of VR.”

Then he proceeded to exacerbate that problem by talking about the past, present, and future of VR. He traced VR’s roots from the beginning when Morton Heilig created the first heads-up display in 1960, and then Ivan Sutherland popularized it in 1968. And he went on to predict the route to the Star Trek Holodeck and VR as embodied in The Matrix film series. He even predicted that we might modify our brains so they could become more adept at receiving VR signals.

I interviewed David Helgason, founder of Unity Technologies, onstage about game engines and how they are being used to create VR. Unity now has demos where artists can go inside VR to assess how good their creations are. Over time, VR may become a tool to create games. But Helgason thinks we may always see a barrier between simple-to-use game development tools and those that the professionals use to get optimal results.

He noted that many developers are losing their enthusiasm for mobile games in part because of high user acquisition costs and the dominance of top developers such as Supercell, King, and MZ (formerly known as Machine Zone). Those developers are headed into VR as a kind of haven, but he noted it will likely be some time before the investments in VR pay off.

Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, gave a talk on the need for diversity and diverse thinking at game companies. She noted that roughly 20 percent of U.S. game developers are female. And that holds true in places such as Finland (20 percent based on Develop survey) and the United Kingdom (15 percent) which are hotbeds for the game business.

“I think we could do more to raise awareness of diversity issues in Europe,” Edwards said.

Disclosure: The organizers of Quo Vadis paid my way to Berlin. Our coverage remains objective.

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