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Game Industry Group May Help Rein in Abuses

March 10, 2006
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A new trade association for recruiters in the video game world didn’t form to save game developers from brutal hours. But the group, Professional Electronic Entertainment Recruiters, could improve working conditions in the industry along the way, president David Musgrove says.

An association of highly ethical recruiters can help those working in the burgeoning, hard-driving game industry get solid information about the best employers, Musgrove says, which should prod any abusive employers to clean up their acts.

"Recruiters know best how companies are treating employees," says Musgrove, a partner in the firm International Search Partners. "If employees are not happy where they’re at and they hear about an opportunity from a recruiter, they can vote with their feet."

Helping game makers get happier may be a noble end, but it wasn’t one of the two main factors behind PEER’s launch January 1. The first reason, Musgrove says, was to set the more scrupulous recruiters in electronic entertainment apart from ones with questionable practices, such as misrepresenting candidates or companies to each other. The second was to respond to efforts by game publishers to increase internal recruiting efforts, Musgrove says. Collaboration is possible between internal and third-party recruiters in a market that tilts toward candidates, he says: "There’s a role for all of us."

PEER has eight member companies so far, and all members are expected to abide by a code of conduct. Jamie Ottilie, COO at game maker Abandon Mobile, hopes the code makes a difference. Contingent recruiters in the game field often engage in frustrating tactics, he says, such as spamming employers with résumés, even when they haven’t gotten the candidate’s authorization. "There’s a distinct lack of professionalism," he says.

Games for computers and consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox have emerged as a major industry, with U.S. sales hitting $7.3 billion in 2004. But the growing field has felt pains on the labor front. As games have grown more complex and expensive to produce, workers in the industry have chafed against long hours. Last year, industry titan Electronic Arts agreed to pay $15.6 million to settle an overtime lawsuit brought by graphic artists.

But other, similar litigation is pending in the industry. The labor situation at game companies is "still pretty broken," says Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association professional group. Della Rocca’s group is working on a project to certify that employment contracts at game companies meet a certain standard, which theoretically could identify top employers and raise the bar generally.

PEER’s arrival could dovetail with the association’s certification project, Della Rocca suggests. For example, members of PEER could favor game makers that have earned certification. "They could be complementary efforts," he says.

Tom Buscaglia, an attorney who is spearheading the game developer association’s certification program, says well-established recruiters are members of PEER. The entire industry could benefit from the recruiter group, notes Buscaglia, who also represents game development firms. "It’ll have some value to individuals and probably companies as well," he says.

Ed Frauenheim

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