The video game industry is incredibly lucrative, being worth more today than both the film and music industry combined. Add to that the growing popularity of e-sports, the future of the industry looks bright. However, the industry is also known for some of the worst working conditions among all industries. Fortunately, the situation of these developers are improving, albeit slowly.
South Korean video game companies have a particularly notorious reputation for being bad even by the industry standards. Workers painstakingly work long hours in unfavourable conditions to meet a strict deadline. Thankfully, companies are making a 180-degree turn in recent years, offering workplace benefits that stretch beyond conventional areas.
In-house day care for children, various classes to help employees develop their skills, gyms, libraries and lavish cafeteria meals are no longer unusual at these companies, according to industry sources. Many of these companies are even approaching Google’s standards of employee work-life balance. However, some Korean video game companies, such as Kakao Games and Pearl Abyss have more unusual benefits.
Kakao Games offers, among other things, a day off on the last Friday of every month. The entirety of the company gets a rest day; no exceptions. According to Kakao employees, this benefit does indeed improve their quality of rest and is a much bigger upside than most might think. In addition, Kakao employees are not penalised for leaving work 30 minutes in advance on a Friday and for coming in late by 30 minutes on a Monday. Other interesting benefits include employees being granted a month of paid leave after three years with the company.
Pearl Abyss, another video game developer and publisher, has its own unique spin on employee benefits. As of September 2019, the company has implemented a pilot project of giving selected employees up to 3 million won (US$2,518) toward matchmaking service membership fees.
“Most of our company welfare programs so far have targeted married people,” said a Pearl Abyss representative, who explained that support for matchmaking services was a way of expanding welfare benefits to singles.
“Of course, this is a very personal arena and the process is kept strictly confidential. For now we are selecting five out of the applicants to test out the program and get feedback, but there’s no way for anyone not directly involved to know who these five are,” the representative continued.
Welfare programs like these, should they prove successful, could be a great boon for all industries, as South Korea, as well as many other developed nations, are suffering from an aging workforce and a concerning lack of workers in the employment market.
Pearl Abyss also gives its employees a monthly livelihood subsidy of 500,000 won (US$418) per child, and another 500,000 won if the employee lives close to the company in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province. It also offers medical support for infertile couples and provides an extra allowance for elder care for employees’ parents.
Game companies are increasingly migrating away from the previous practice of instituting a blanket wage system with a fixed amount of overtime pay.
Within a South Korean context, it was Pearl Horizon that spearheaded the movement to improve video game developers’ welfare programs in 2017. This was later joined by other big name developers in the industry such as WeMade and Nexon subsidiary, Neople. The movement started to gain immense traction after Nexon, , Korea’s biggest game company, announced it would start paying staff by the hour for overtime as of August 2019.
NCSoft and Netmarble, who round out the top three game companies in terms of revenue alongside Nexon, said they will follow suit this month. Smilegate, Webzen, EA Korea are also part of the trend.