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Game developers brace for new industry safety law

Feb. 6, 2022 - 15:03 By Kan Hyeong-woo
Logos of NCSoft, Netmarble and Nexon (Provided by each company)
Korea’s major game developers are taking preemptive measures to cope with the new industrial safety law and prevent another “crunch mode” controversy.

Under the Serious Accident Punishment Act, which took effect from Jan. 27, business owners can face a minimum prison term of one year or a fine of up to 1 billion won ($835,000) if a fatal accident at the workplace causes a death or more than one injured person. The punishment depends on whether the owners are found guilty of not having sufficient safety measures.

NCSoft has set up a system and committee required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, according to the company. It said the game maker is in consultation with outside institutions to fulfill the industrial duty to secure safety and health at workplace, adding that it will continue to put efforts to a safe and healthy work environment and protect its employees.

Netmarble also said it is carrying out various activities to prevent accidents, including setting up a safety and health organization in charge of ensuring that no accidents occur in regard to the new industrial safety law and operating a joint committee of laborers and managers to discuss necessary measures.

Nexon said it plans to avoid any industrial accidents by forming a team responsible for safety and health issues and establishing a management system that includes preventing industrial accidents of partner companies.

The country’s game makers previously came under fire for creating a culture that forced engineers and developers to work extreme hours ahead of the launch of a new game or software, a period referred to as “crunch mode.”

In August 2017, the Korean Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service under the Labor Ministry ruled that the death of a worker at Netmarble Neo in November 2016 was an industrial accident due to overwork.

The ruling statement said that the worker experienced irregular late-night work and overtime in the 12 weeks leading up to the heart attack that caused the death, pointing out that the employee had worked 89 hours in the week prior. It explained that the extreme workhours had a sufficient causal relationship with the death as the worker was in his 20s with no underlying conditions identified in medical checkups.

The crunch mode phenomenon seems to have toned down since the installation of the 52-hour workweek rule in 2018. According to the Korea Creative Content Agency’s survey on working conditions of game industry workers released in December, 15.4 percent of the respondents said they experienced a period of the crunch mode throughout last year. In 2019, 60.6 percent said they went under the crunch mode.