‘PRESS RESET’ Shines A Light On The Struggles Workers Face In The Video Game Industry

Plenty of folks have wanted to work in the video game industry at some point in their lives. As with any career path with a limited number of opportunities, it’s extremely difficult to break through, but the reward of finally making it is incredible. Passion meets art in a way that is really indescribable, and it’s that passion that keeps members of the workforce going despite an industry that grinds you to dust.

The reality is a career in video games is one full of intense hours, stress, strained relationships, hatred from gamers with sometimes unreasonably high expectations, and a lack of real job security. The book PRESS RESET by Jason Schreier, which hit bookshelves earlier this week, does an incredible job of capturing the struggle that workers in the video game industry go through.

“The goal of anything I write is always to inform and entertain people and to shed some light on what’s going on,” Schreier tells UPROXX. “I think that in some ways the book is a call to action for people to pick it up and say, hey, something really needs to change here and and I am hoping that people who are actually in decision-making capacities in the video game industry pick it up and decide to make some changes as a result of what they see.”

PRESS RESET is Schreier’s second book about the industry. His first, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, is a story about how difficult making a game is, highlighting the hours of crunch and dedication that go into making a game. In many ways, PRESS RESET is a follow-up to that, because while the majority of the stories in Blood, Sweat, and Pixels end with a released game, PRESS RESET is about the other side of the industry: failed titles, studios that ran out of money, or sudden changes in leadership structure that result in a studio closure.

The biggest difference between the two books is how the reader feels at the end of each chapter. While Blood, Sweat, and Pixels usually ended with a triumphant moment where the team against all odds succeeded, PRESS RESET is about the dominoes that fall and lead to failure.

For many of us, the story of a closed studio ends there. Everyone spends some time mourning their favorite games and then moves on with their lives, but the workers at these studios aren’t as lucky. When a studio is closed, it leads to a developer coming to a crossroad: Do they choose to continue work in video games? If so, they’re probably going to have to move their lives to another place, even if there’s a chance of getting laid off once again and repeating the cycle. This is the life of a development team. There are scant few protections for these developers. If they’re laid off, they might get lucky and get a severance.

“Crunch is an epidemic in the industry and needs to be talked about,” Schreier says. “But actually, one of the things I wanted to explore in this book is the problem with volatility, because I actually think that’s worse for most people who work in games, and crunch is bad, but the thought that you might lose your job or your studio may shut down and you may be moving across the country or across the world every couple of years that is way worse, and affects people in way worse ways and really drives a lot of the burnout, that volatility.”

The people who work on those games may be working dream jobs, but they’re doing so in an incredibly unstable industry that challenges their love for their passion. Multiple passages in PRESS RESET talk about employees who left the industry to go work normal 9-to-5’s because it was a healthier life for them and their family. It’s unfortunate, but the more people know about the realities of the industry, the more likely it becomes that individuals on the outside stand up for these employees in a very public way.

“It’s more important to me that people come away from it feeling like they learned something, that it was worth their time to get through this,” Schreier says. “Like, they can connect with some human stories and really understand more about how all this works. That is my number one goal, to trigger that kind of understanding and empathy and curiosity from people.”

PRESS RESET can, in some ways, be hard to get through. For people that work in the industry, or want to work in it, it raises questions as to whether it’s worth it — does the good really outweigh the bad that much? If someone is willing to deal with everything that is hard about making games and being in the industry, then they’ll stay in it and fight to make it better. The video game industry is still growing and has plenty of room to continue to blossom, although there are other hurdles that need to be cleared. For example, despite making more money than the film industry, major cultural issues both inside and outside of the industry need to be addressed.

“It’s definitely professionalized,” Schreier says. “That’s the biggest difference between now and, like, the ’80s. Nobody’s working out of a frat house making major games anymore the way that they might have back then, but some of those old habits just stuck around and some of those issues, I don’t think it really got away (from them). I mean, there’s still a lot of sexism and misconduct. There’s crunch, obviously. And the volatility thing, it’s such a prominent issue in the industry that it’s hard to really say that. I mean, things have definitely gotten better, but how much better have they gotten?”

As the industry continues to grow, it’s going to need people to learn about it and understand how it works. The video game industry can’t continue to be a place that churns through workers once they become too burned out to handle the stress. It can’t continue to exist as a place that demeans entire swaths of people. It needs to be better. And while PRESS RESET may not be the most uplifting book ever, it’s an educational experience that pulls back the curtain on all of these issues.