Speaking to Develop (and giving a speech at GDC this week), Miguel Sicart, associate professor of Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen, laid out guidelines for ethics in game development. Issues such as crunch time, digital rights management, and data-mining are ethical issues that need to be explored and addressed ‘on a moral basis.’ Sicart points out that data mining is an issue that is "extremely interesting from an ethical perspective."
"We agree to let companies take data from us and profile us, and I think that’s a fantastic tool for developers," says Sicart. "But data mining raises moral concerns. The main problematic question is what happens to our data."
"I don’t know what Steam is doing with my data, I, like millions of others, haven’t spent time reading through all the licence agreements," he adds. "The duty is on the developer to be clear and transparent about what they are doing with such information."
He also said the treatment of gamers was another serious ethical issue, as it relates to tools such as DRM-locks:
"Any game is not only an entertainment product, but an implicit contract between the developer and player. Every future game developer should know how they are going to relate to these people, these human beings, and not just see them as customers."
He also mentions briefly that some games force players to engage in acts that would be deemed unlawful or wrong in the real world:
"Players thus create values in games," he said. "Developers should think about what the good values can be transmitted to players. The defining moral principal of life is to be the nicest, best person you can be."
But one of the most important things that could come out of having a code of ethics is a change in crunch time policies:
"The key moral issues in game development are workplace ethics; crunch and team management. Those are very problematic issues in game development that affects a lot of people. A lot of game developers eventually get married and work in other, less demanding industries."
"If you look at most software development practices, the issue of overtime is considered either in a professional code, or day-to-day workplace ethics," he said. "I’m not saying the conclusion to this issue is no crunch at all, but crunch has ethical implications. It harms people and therefore it harms the profession. Crunch may or may not have a negative impact on the quality of a game, but it affects developers’ mental health, family life and social relations. You have a burn rate in game development, and that’s a long-term issue."