A game tester who worked for a Sony Computer Entertainment Europe studio in the United Kingdom has been paid £4,600 for helping to test Killzone: Mercenary for three months in 2012. The payout is the result of a settlement between SCEE and tester Chris Jarvis, who claimed that he had to work nine-hour-days at Guerrilla Cambridge as an intern.
Jarvis claims that he was initially supposed to "shadow" a developer at the studio so he could get "first-hand experience," but that never happened. Instead he claims that the company put him to work as a tester for the game's 3D artwork.
"I was basically clicking buttons to make sure the pictures that had come in from China were working," he said. "It's normally part of the Environment Artist's job. It's time-consuming and boring work. I was at the end of my overdraft and I didn't know what to do, so I looked into my rights and found that I was legally doing the work of an employee."
After this happened, Jarvis claims that he politely informed the company that the change in why he was at the studio meant that he was entitled to some compensation (the national minimum wage). Jarvis claims that Sony did not respond very well to that demand:
"They were very dismissive and told me I was a volunteer and that's how I could work for free," he said. "I thought they would say they had made an honest mistake. If they got someone in to do the job it would have cost £100 a day. But they said that I was a volunteer so not entitled to any pay."
Finding no recourse within the company, Jarvis went to HM Revenue and Customs and sued Guerrilla Cambridge for unpaid wages. Jarvis sought about £3,600, but before the matter went before a scheduled tribunal, Sony paid him the full amount plus an additional £1,000. The company also asked him to sign a "gag order," which he declined to do.
In the UK voluntary workers can only be employed unpaid by a charity, a voluntary organization, an associated fund-raising body or a statutory body. Volunteers at private companies are entitled to at least minimum wage.
If anything, Sony and its studios in the UK have probably learned a valuable lesson: there's no such thing as an unpaid intern.