Wargame & Steel Division devs Eugen go on strike

Heavily armored picket lines square up.

It was only just last week that I was remarking at how pleasantly consistent Eugen Systems’ support of Steel Division and their Wargame series has been over the past few years. Sadly, it seems that constant stream of fresh new content may have come at great human cost.

Immediately after the release of the Back to Hell expansion for Steel Division, nearly half of the studio went on strike to protest sub-minimum wages, excessive crunch-time hours not fully compensated for and a failure to adhere to contractual agreements, according to this (French language) post on an industry union site.

Eugen were quick to fire back, releasing a statement (also in French) that they have been operating fully within the law, and only inadvertently dipping below the minimum wage due to payslips requiring corrections, leading to them going out late – a problem which they lay squarely at the feet of the government’s recent legislative reforms.  While I don’t mean to imply anything, this doesn’t really sound like something that 21 veteran game developers would ordinarily walk out on to protest.

The striking developers (also also in French) dismiss Eugen’s dismissal, and claim that their complaints against the company date back as much as 15 months. At present, the union site links to a crowdfunding page to provide support for the team on strike until the situation is resolved. It seems only reasonable to assume that the developer’s extensive strategic knowledge had led to a tidy, organised and colour-coordinated protest march at the very least.

We’ll be keeping up with the situation as best we can, within the limits of my limited and patchy French, and through the assistance of automated translation software. Either way, I wish the developers at Eugen luck and hope that there’s a stable studio to come back to at the end of this, whichever side of the picket line they stand on.

46 Comments

  1. Nevard says:

    To be honest we as a whole don’t think about the human cost of the games industry nearly often enough. For everyone but the famous auteur’s it’s a stressful, uncertain, and often pretty low-paying career, and if you let people know you worked on a game you’d better be prepared to make your twitter private.

    • Shuck says:

      The glamorous and highly paid life of game development!

      Seriously though, I think things aren’t much better for the “auteurs” in the industry, either. At least it isn’t for people I know who got famous for working on some beloved, highly profitable games – they’re better paid (but only relative to other game developers, not to someone in another industry with equivalent skills), but the stress and uncertainty are just as bad if not worse.

    • Werthead says:

      Blood, Sweat and Pixels is a very interesting book for this. It shows how even the most happy-seeming studios go through the wringer for release. At different times during the making of Pillars of Eternity, Josh Sawyer both threatened to walk out (if management didn’t let them do a Kickstarter) and was threatened with the sack (to be fair, only since the fate of the entire company was hanging on the line when he asked for a three-month extension to the deadline), and Obsidian seem to be one of the fairer-minded companies out there.

      It’s account of the making of Destiny is a particularly mind-numbing trip through the insane, digital Hieronymus Bosch painting that is modern video game development.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Man,*I* think about that every time I see someone gripe about a longer development cycle than whatever they arbitrarily believe is appropriate, or gabbing on about “why couldn’t they just _____,” or how this polished, next-gen labor of love is “garbage” because they don’t have xyz display options in the main menu. Like, my only experience with making games is primarily just *modding,* and even that gives me a huge appreciation for just how much time and effort and debugging goes into every little goddamn detail. These shits are complicated! They take legitimate man hours! Every stupid little cup and bowl has to be modeled in fuckin GIMP or something and then textured to your squinting, scrutinizing satisfaction! I don’t have any specific counterpoint, I just damn well *sympathize* with developers for facing such a rabid, unforgiving audience. There’s a lot of things I like about “gamers,” as a community, but when it comes to their beloved devs they can judge their idols swiftly and harshly. Just look at poor, addled, overenthusiastix Peter Molyneux! His only sin was to love too much and want so badly to promise us the moon! And we burned him at the No Man’s Sky shaped stake! For *our* belief in his fantasies! He went into the black forest and returned to us bearing Black & White, bearing Populous, bearing Fable! And we took those gifts and et of them, then cruelly vomited them aside, smeared him in our regurgitated shame, and had him strewn with pigeon feathers as he dried, to be paraded thru town bearing the cross of his many unfulfilled promises, which we called lies, til he reached the hill where he would meet his sacrifice! I mean it, gamers are one tough crowd!

      Molyneux aside, so many folks seem to have unrealistic ideas of just how much work goes into these things. It’s like they envision a movie, where you’ve just got to stage the action and get it on camera. But in games, you have to create every item and every law of physics from basically scratch. You can’t just tell the actor his motivation and watch him go – you have to physically create him, then write every word he will ever potentially speak and put them all in his head. Then you have to teach him how to interact with every object in the world, which you also had to make from scratch. I just feel like devs don’t always get the credit for that, least of all when folks are crowing about delays or things they want in the game ten years later in hindsight. Yknow what I mean?

      • stiffkittin says:

        I had a great time with this comment… I mean, I disagree almost entirely with the point you torture from some totally blameless metaphor – but it was a rollercoaster ride!

        • poliovaccine says:

          Blameless?? That metaphor was an enemy of the state!

          • stiffkittin says:

            Haha, nice one! Also happy to see you didn’t take my cheekiness personally.

      • Vacuity729 says:

        I’ve plenty of experience making mods and agree with everything you say except for one thing: Molyneux. That man dug himself grave after grave and was never put in any of them for years. Seriously. The man deserved some kind of comeuppance eventually for everything he presented as fact that was only ever fantasy.
        I’ve enormous sympathy for the many devs and studios that have been roasted alive for failing to cater to the whims of vocally petulant customers, but I’ve got no sympathy for Mr. Moly at this point.

        • poliovaccine says:

          See, I do get that angle, but that’s what I mean about gamers being especially tough (…in their judgments, I mean). Roman Polanski is still celebrated, Woody Allen is still working and getting nominated. The world of movie lovers forgave and forgot so much faster – whether you think any sort of forgiveness is appropriate or not.

          Personally, I don’t believe Molyneux deserves the memeified hate he receives. I think he deserves to be accountable, sure, but at the same time, what happened with him is the same as what happened with NMS, as far as I can see: he was the overexcited creative, with overambitious ideas, and I completely understand that position on a personal level. You may know an idea of yours is radical, maybe never before attempted or never before done with success, but it’s your enthusiasm which works those miracles the very first time, so you have to at least believe it can work. The first men on the moon didn’t rely on precedent. That’s the mentality, anyway, and it’s easy to exaggerate plans, not just to others, but to yourself.

          When No Man’s Sky was hyping up, I heard people talking like it would be the last game anyone would ever play – like they expected to just move into this world as soon as it became available, as if they were on the waiting list for some co-op in the glamorous offworld colonies. People allowed their imaginations to be captured. Disappointment was fucking inevitable, even without the deceptive ads. If it had launched in its current, heavily patched state, I think the result would have been almost exactly the same. Because it wasn’t really about any of the missing features – it was about everyone being angry that their own internal childlike wonder had just tugged their sleeve so hard they actually bought into this dream. It was like the angry dissolution of a cult, where all its onetime adherents come out hating the thing with every ounce of their guts. It was *hate* – it wasn’t truly rational.

          I actually admired NMS from afar, didn’t read much press at all, and my expectations from that vantage turned out to be much more realistic – when it launched, it was about as I had envisioned it. Part of that was that I didn’t watch interviews with Sean Murray’s barefooted, girlish giggle spinning sweet dreams for me, and so I didn’t hear every stray feature he haphazardly mentioned. But part of it was also that I wasn’t hanging onto his every word, fantasizing about the final game in my head, investing myself in it before it could even exist. No game will ever be as good as the perfect one you dream up! This is no big surprise to me!

          As for Molyneux, again, he wanted to bring us the moon, and when he couldn’t, we all crucified him for making us believe he could. He fucked up and failed consistently moreso as his career went on, but wouldn’t you, if you were constsntly subject to the broad, public hate of strangers? Strangers who were once your beloved acolytes and fans? These people are human beings, you know, and I kinda think being financially accountable is plenty of accountability, without all the tar and feathers. The guy’s name is already radioactive, he’s out there crowdfunding mobile games. I think he knows better than anybody how far he’s fallen. I also think gamers can be far too casual with their vitriol. I knoww, we are all, more typically than not, disempowered fantacists in our daily lives, which is surely why we leap at the chance to pay forward any of the malignment and mockery we may have ourselves faced, and for far too long “angry” was considered a comedy style in and of itself (I barely watch YouTube and I can think of two streamers in my limited viewership whose nicknames are just their name with the prefix, “Angry”), but none of that, to me anyway, devalues the lasting good a guy like Molyneux did for the industry. I don’t see his gaffes as being more severe than his triumphs, though I realize I’m the outlier on that.

          Ultimately, I don’t really feel like any one of us has the right to so completely dress the guy down, or to do that to anybody, really. I mean, unless he personally wronged you, I don’t see that as fair – you have his name, he doesn’t have yours. And none of us have given enough to the world of games to even be capable of disappointing it. Like, if I were to be judged as harshly as Molyneux?? Christ, I’d kill myself before I’d plug on with debugging The Trail..!

          • poliovaccine says:

            Like, here’s an example from my own life. I’m writing a book. I got the idea for it when I was 19 – I’m 28 now. If the first few people I told about my idea had been personally, financially invested in reading the complete version of that book in 18 months’ time, I would be a pariah – but at age 19, I was so excited with my book idea that, had anyone asked, I probably would have told them it would be done in a couple months. Instead, a lot of other shit happened, and it was quite likely my enthusiasm for the book idea, as well as the idea itself, were connected with the mounting manic psychosis I hadn’t yet realized I was experiencing – that became disruptive and I had to make my way through several jails and psych hospitals before I was even in a position to hold a sharp pen again. I could have made a lot of bum promises in that period, and in fact, I forgot about the book for years. I only say I’m “writing” it now because, years later, I finally started.

            I think Molyneux and many other big name creatives (and probably far more nobodies like me) could place somewhere on the bipolar spectrum at least, if not the schizoaffective. I think real creativity relies on instability to allow it to exist, to momentarily flash from the future out into our present, and I think the greatest creatives of any field and any time have always been a bit inconsistent, unreliable, or even pervy, all because those things exist necessarily alongside creativity in a confluence of sympathetic energies – the same way the profane condition of lust eventually yields to the sacrosanct condition of motherhood. The people we love best will always be the most capable of disappointing us, and I think that’s innate to humanity. I find it really hard to blame guys like Molyneux for shooting too high – not when the actual results were so good for so long, even as they fell short of the dream. Overshooting is how you get farther than anyone else, at least, even if you never do quite snipe out the moon.

          • Vacuity729 says:

            I’m not sufficiently familiar enough with Roman Polanski or Woody Allen’s work to comment on any parallels with Molyneux’s career of ‘overstatement’, but I’m familiar enough with the NMS debacle.
            The marketing videos were set up and not representative of what was in the shipped game. That’s a poor show, and deserved criticism. The rest of it was pretty much the community winding itself up into a collective frenzy. Even that infamous reply of “yes” to whether there would be multiplayer, if one watches the longer video (as in, one sees the context behind the question and answer), was clearly one that Sean Murray (was that his name?) was deeply uncomfortable responding to. The community stuck its flag on that hill and decided to martyr Sean Murray on it.
            The NMS team could reasonably be said to have expected the game to mostly live up to its marketing and then underdelivered on the product. Molyneux has repeatedly stated as fact features that were never designed into the games he was talking about. This is not the same thing. If he did it once, then we might assume good faith that turned out to be impossible to realise. In the case of Hello Games, that’s my position; they believed they could, they honestly tried to, but they were unable to within the time and budget they had. Molyneux has done this repeatedly. Time and again, and there’s large quantities of credible evidence and testimony that he was making promises that were never more than castles in the sky. They were never designed, they were never coded; he just wanted to sound amazing. The reasons why he did this persistently don’t much interest me, but he has made a tidy bit of money from this: making promises of game features in the full knowledge that they’ve not been designed.
            No. I have no sympathy for Molyneux; in fact I’d say he’s got a fair bit of the blame in poisoning the well for other developers who are honestly trying to make good on their designed features and not quite delivering. The gaming community finally ‘got wise’, and has swung into bitter vitriol as a result.

  2. Bomarty says:

    Since they are a French studio, it won’t take them long to surrender (ah har har ha)

      • Bomarty says:

        Dude, as with any jokes playing on nationality it will be widely inaccurate and not expected to be taken seriously.

        • Grizzly says:

          Yeah but interesting historyyyyyY :p

        • Rich says:

          Yeah well, it’s a bit overused as jokes go.

          • Bomarty says:

            You know what else is an overused joke: your mother

          • Wednesday says:

            Ah Ha!

          • Rich says:

            Touche.

          • Captain Narol says:

            @ bomarty
            You obviously think that you are a smart ass, but you ain’t really that smart…

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            The French as being supposedly apt to surrender because they refused to go along with Bush’s invasion of Iraq is one of the least funny and most contrived ‘jokes’ in recent times.

          • Universal Quitter says:

            If only the joke actually originated with the Iraq invasion. It’s rooted in (an admittedly oversimplified understanding of) their surrender in World War II, their near-defeat in World War I, their humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, etc.

            Hell, even the Simpsons referenced it in 1995, with “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” and it wasn’t new then. You’re probably thinking of the “Freedom Fries” thing, which is something even most Americans find embarrassing.

            What’s really funny to me is seeing this kind of nonsense on a UK-based site, since Brits have been consistently making fun of the French for military incompetence since Napoleon III, while keeping the dream of imperialism alive well into the 20th century.

    • Killy_V says:

      Are xenophobia and racism accepted on RPS ?Please ban immediately

  3. biggergun says:

    I wish them luck. Work environment in this industry is usually horrendous, but proper strikes don’t happen that often (never? is this the first one?). Maybe if we treat developers like people the games will improve too.

    • Werthead says:

      This is because a lot of developers work in countries where there are very little legal safeguards (the USA, most notably) and in countries where there technically are but it’s very hard for various reasons to enforce them (like the UK). France is a country with both strong legal protections (French as well as EU) and a much greater willingness to take collective action.

      It’s odd on one level because video game developers do have some significant leverage. If you’re 6 months from shipping a game that’s taken 3 years to make and has already cost tens of millions, it’d be very difficult for the company to fire everyone and almost impossible to bring in replacement workers unfamiliar with the code, the engine, the toolsets etc. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more people in the game industry saying no to weeks of living in the office and subsisting on pizza alone during crunch.

      • Archonsod says:

        Without legal protection it would constitute breach of contract, so the company could sue for damages. So it’s not really leverage – not only do you end up out of a job, you’re probably going to be forced into bankruptcy to boot.

      • Shuck says:

        Thinking about it, I’m not that surprised this doesn’t happen all the time, despite globally poor working conditions in the game industry, due to the traditional publisher/developer separation. The studio may be the one engaging in abusive labor practices and demanding absurd overtime, but the publisher holds the purse strings, and enforces deadlines. So the studio management can usually say, “We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, we have to hurry up or the studio will get shut down!” and they’re right. The dire situation may be because the studio heads negotiated an unrealistic schedule for too little money (which is the norm, really) and have mismanaged the time and money they did have, but there’s a sense of being in the same boat. In that situation, walking out doesn’t help, either – only studio management renegotiating the contract with the publisher will change the situation. Publishers are more willing to let a studio they’re working with fold than you’d think, even when it’s 90% done. They own the rights and most of the cost of a game is at the end – not just final payments but the marketing (which normally exceeds dev costs). I’ve seen a lot of cases where the publisher destroyed a studio by withholding funds, only to take the game to another studio to be finished (at greater expense); I suspect they saw the original relationship as too problematic to continue, and were willing to take the hit to maintain control.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Well, here’s one thing that might occur to me if I were a developer… basically, you can find an abusive workplace anywhere, they’re a dime a dozen. You can get abused for minimum wage, or you can get abused for better pay, doing work you actually love. It’s a totally false dichotomy, but it’s one that might cross my mind in that position. God knows I’ve lingered in toxic jobs, living arrangements and relationships before, all because a familiar problem feels safer than a brand new, unknown one. I mean I think that’s a lot of why human beings put up with abuse in general, not just game devs.

  4. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    having once been in the industry for over 15 years in a range if roles from most junior (junior qa) to most senior (Chairman) I’m sure their complaints are legitimate. The videogames industry is really terrible to staff. Literally and figuratively almost killed me. Good luck to them.

  5. mmandthetat says:

    I just quit my job because I even thought about trying to figure out how to PLAY a Wargame game, so I can only imagine the toll of development.

  6. NepenthesXD says:

    If the company I work for ever tried to tamper with my executive status (this is one of the issues mentioned in the first post), I’d instantly quit my job.

    In France, the executive status is much broader than in most countries, and you don’t even need to manage a team to get it: in most cases a university education is enough. Most people working in tech enjoy this, because it allows you some contractually recognised freedom when it comes to organising your own time, better benefits and pensions, and some level of safety from unemployment…

    According to the first post, at least one person at Eugen Systems was just stripped from this status without notice, which doesn’t even sound legal.

  7. napoleonic says:

    Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!

  8. DarkFenix says:

    Well… they’re French, of course they’re on strike. Pretty sure most French workers don’t actually get annual leave, they just go on strike for a mandated number of days every year.

    • KingFunk says:

      I appreciate that you were consciously just aiming for cheap lolz, but this comment was neither funny nor useful (in my personal opinion).

  9. Arthochtonien says:

    The first statement on the Union site is now translated in english (scroll down or searh ” Act of Strike “)
    link to stjv.fr

    Here’s the direct link to the crowfunding for the workers at Eugen Systems. A couple bucks or even some kind words will really help. No one goes on strike without a heavy heart indeed, even more so in a small world like the Game Dev community.
    link to lepotcommun.fr

  10. KingFunk says:

    They have my sympathy – I’d love to put my skills to use in the games industry, but there’s shit-all decent jobs in northwest England, general industry job security is poor and salaries in traditional IT are better. Not to mention crunch.

    Somehow there needs to be a change – as usual, some people are making lots of money out of this system, but most people are being screwed to one degree or another. Hopefully this is the start of bigger things.

  11. The Sombrero Kid says:

    This is an important step but only an international union can resist a multinational corporation.
    It stands for all people in the modern age but game developers are uniquely placed to do this. They are highly educated and important to their employers and work almost exclusively with multinationals that have been very successful at playing them against each other.
    Now is the time to form an international union. Not a exclusionary guild like SAG, not a corporate mouthpiece like the igda, a union to work with and for all employees in the games industry in all countries to bring some standards back to the profession.

  12. pookie101 says:

    Even companies with great reputations among consumers like CD Projekt Red isn’t exactly the best place to work with almost half the staff quitting after the Witcher 3.

    For once I’m glad I didn’t follow the dream of going into game development back in the day

  13. DThor says:

    It’s a difficult thing to have an opinion on – not a native speaker of the language and relying on Google translate to capture both sides of an obviously emotional issue. There’s an instinct to immediately side with the downtrodden employees, but working in the VFX industry as I do, I’ve seen both sides of these sorts of conflict, and while it might be clear that the company should be paying the staff what they’re owed, I’ve seen a *lot* of dubious behaviour on behalf of self-entitled staff who tend to walk into employ with an “us vs them” mentality, just itching for a fight (and they’re usually the first ones to blame others or an amorphous pipeline for their own lack of giving a shit).
    Maybe not here, but…maybe. Quite honestly, if you get into a job where there’s an indication they aren’t following labour laws, then quietly start looking for another job. Don’t trust them to suddenly start following the law.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      Your post is generic anti-union rhetoric. If only a few ‘self-entitled’ workers are complaining, then there won’t be a strike. A strike requires a functioning union, which means a large portion of workers were upset and voted for a strike, probably due to not earning a living wage and unfair work practices.

  14. Ethalis says:

    To get the full implications of that story, you should also know that two major french newspapers (Le Monde and Médiapart) and one France’s leading videogame magazine (Canard PC) are currently co-conducting an investigation on working conditions in the videogame industry, and that the first french union for videogame workers was launched last summer.

    Last month, it was Quantic Dreams that was accused of exploiting its employees and of having a toxic managerial policy (offensive jokes, insulting photomontages …).

  15. JoeD2nd says:

    It’s called a market. There is no such thing as a sub-minimum wage, unless you’re talking about government forced wages. Wages are based on the lowest wage an employee will work for, nothing more. Employers do not get to pick and choose what they pay people. If their offer is too low they’ll have to raise it to attract employees. The dirty little secret of wages is that they are driven by the workers bidding them down, not the employer. THe employer is more than happy to pay the least possible, of course, but no one is forcing employees to work for them. This isn’t the same world it was 100, 200 or 300 years ago. We don’t live in a world with a handful of government licensed merchants who can easily exploit workers because there’s little to no option for them! Strikes? Really? Hit the road. If you don’t want to work for the wages they offer then go elsewhere, someone will fill your shoes, and if they don’t they’ll have to raise their wages.

    • MrEvilGuy says:

      Your comment is really probably the least intelligent thing I’ve read in days (nothing you said is even remotely correct). In any case, you clearly have no idea what this strike is about or have anything useful to add, so I don’t know why your post exists (other than to spew conservativism).

      • Neutrino says:

        It’s called having an opinion. Opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one.