Micromanaging now part of game

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Micromanaging now part of game


Memo to game company employees: Goofing off is so, like, 2017.

Say hello to micromanaging.

If you work for Nexon, you might want to think twice before leaving your desk for more than 15 minutes: you may have to make that time up at the end of the day.

At Netmarble, a pop-up notice reading, “The seat is empty” will be waiting for you if your computer stays inactive for more than 15 minutes.

NCSoft now times employees from the moment they step outside working spaces, including to smoking areas or the company gym.

The fuzzy line between downtime and working time is getting a lot sharper.

The three giants of the Korean gaming industry - Nexon, Netmarble and NCSoft - are all tightening their monitoring of employees and their working habits, largely to comply with new government restrictions.

After companies with 300 or more workers were forced to implement a 52-hour maximum workweek in 2018, game developers in Korea were in a bind. Their workers, like those in start-ups in Silicon Valley, were famous for irregular - and long - hours at work.

In fact, Korea’s gaming industry had something called an inclusive wage system, otherwise known as a blanket or comprehensive wage system, in which employees agreed to work overtime for no extra pay when signing their annual contract.

Game developers often worked long hours before launching a new game to fix bugs. That type of work is dubbed “crunch mode.”

Those systems, which were originally intended to acknowledge the fact that some workers kept irregular shifts, were exploited by employers - and the long hours just kept getting longer.

Unions sprung up at Naver, Nexon and Smilegate to fight the long hours. Two employees of Netmarble, a top game developer, died in 2016 due to the heavy pressure of crunch mode, prompting the company to improve working conditions.

All game companies are now trying to find more efficient ways to manage employees’ working hours. With Nexon adopting a new management system last month, Netmarble and NCSoft are following suit this month.

Reactions from staff are not bad. Stricter working hours means getting off work at predictable times - no matter what the boss says. Overtime pay is more regular. For example, if a developer with a salary of 50 million won ($41,722) works six extra hours a week, an extra 700,000 won is paid.

Even the 15-minute rules and smoking break restrictions have loopholes. As long as employees can come up with proper reasons for why they were away from their desks, all three companies say they will understand and not deduct any working hours.

The atmosphere is changing drastically in some workplaces. “Employees who are always late are now coming in early, and the number of those with lunch boxes has increased significantly,” wrote one employee for NCSoft on an online community.

“While many employees just came in late because they had to work extra hours anyway, now they’re incentivized to get their work done and go home,” said an anonymous source from the gaming industry.

However, not everyone welcomes the news. Smokers need more than 15-minute breaks to smoke. Many smokers discuss work during their smoking breaks, which they say should not be considered time off.

Some are raising questions about the efficiency of sitting in front of the desk all day long considering the gaming industry’s unique characteristics, which require a lot of creativity.

Some are doubting that overpay will continue - and believe companies will find ways to reduce that new cost.

Pearl Abyss, a leading developer in the gaming industry and the first company to repeal the inclusive wage system in 2017, does not check working hours - but does, of course, keep count of overtime hours.

“Checking and managing working hours minute by minute might undermine creativity and concentration levels,” said an official from the company.

“Enhancing developer productivity by improving welfare systems or working environments better fits the original purpose of abolishing the inclusive wage system.”

Some predict that reduced working hours will naturally lead to more outsourcing, as seen in the U.S. gaming industry.

“I try to work a 40-hour standard workweek, but unfinished work inevitably remains,” said one worker in the gaming industry. “As outsourcing low-level work is cheaper, outsourcing will become more frequent just like in the United States.”

BY LEE SOO-KI, KIM JUNG-MIN and KIM BYUNG-WOOK [kim.byungwook@joongang.co.kr]
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