Game industry exec celebrates 60+ hour work-weeks

Just in case you thought working in the games industry was OK now that Electronic Arts has (supposedly) cleaned up its act, Greg Costikyan has a scorching post about top game execs who celebrate "corporate culture" in which people are expected to work 60 hours a week:
Mike Capps, head of Epic, and a former member of the board of directors of the International Game Developers Association, during the IGDA Leadership Forum in late 08, spoke at a panel entitled Studio Heads on the Hot Seat, in which, among other things, he claimed that working 60+ hours was expected at Epic, that they purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours, that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of "corporate culture," and implied that the idea that people would work a mere 40 hours was kind of absurd.

Now, of course, the idea that a studio head, which Capps is, would have such notions is highly plausible; but he was, at the time, a board member of the IGDA, an organization the ostensible purpose of which is to support game developers. Not, you know, to support management dickheads.

Morever, the IGDA has for some years had a Quality of Life Committee, which strives to demonstrate that long hours are an unproductive use of employees, and that superior alternative to the exploitative conditions at many development studios exist. The simple fact (as demonstrated in its research, available at the link above) is that most game developers burn out within 5 years of entering the industry, because of the absurd hours (for, incidentally, lower pay than programmers, artists, producers, and Q/A people can command in other software and media ventures). (And for the youth reading this post, this is why you are an IDIOT to attend Digipen or Full Sail -- get a generalized CS or art degree, so you can get a job somewhere else when you get burned out on the industry. Do NOT get a degree that ties you to the medium for all time to come.)

Mothers, Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Game Developers (Thanks, Greg!)

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  1. Yeah, but there are lasting immaterial rewards for all of that work, like going to Target and seeing the game you slaved on last year priced at $9.95 on the Bargain Software rack.

  2. This would be a great illustration for the Marx thread of the industrialization of intellectual labour.

  3. 60 hour work weeks? When I was working quality assurance on Command and Conquer my checks had DOUBLE time on them because I was working more than 80 hours a week.

    Of course, what people don’t know is that during “downtime” at some of these companies you get paid for 40 hours a week to simply show up and hang out.

  4. Having worked for many years in the game industry (and still tangentially close to it), I can attest that I would not wish a career at a game company on my worst enemy. It is a soul crushing business — and that’s at the best of times.

  5. I’m glad to see somebody call out the industry on this. It could be argued that IT in general is not much better.

  6. You mean the industry isn’t really just a bunch of lazy guys hanging out and playing Xbox all the time a-la “Grandma’s Boy?” Hollywood, you deceitful bastard!

  7. Ceronomus makes a good point: “Of course, what people don’t know is that during “downtime” at some of these companies you get paid for 40 hours a week to simply show up and hang out.”

    I work for a small indie developer and sure there are times when people are working 60+, but really people pick and choose how their schedules will be. I think QA gets the brunt of things because they are required to be there until a certain build is completed; other employees are more 9-5 and only have to work long hours when we didn’t complete something for a milestone. If you and your team are paying attention to milestones and pushing to get things done without staying excess hours it is usually manageable. Though, there are the times when a publisher decides to move the milestone up, but that is just a reality of working for a developer.
    This is the reason QA is hourly, and most others are salaried.

  8. “[T]hey purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours […]”

    “Anticipated,” huh? Sounds like code for “we systematically avoid hiring women.”

  9. Would that they’d spend more time, and that there were a Gamer’s Bill of Rights that prevented gamers from having to pay to beta-test crap technology that needed more time in the lab. Boo hoo, back to work, digiproles!

  10. Would that they’d spend more time, and that there were a Gamer’s Bill of Rights that prevented gamers from having to pay to beta-test crap technology that needed more time in the lab. Boo hoo, back to work, digiproles!

  11. I don’t know shine from shinola about the gaming industry, but I do want to say something about people who work self-destructively long hours to produce useless stuff, exploit their workers ragged to do the same, then act smug and self-approving as if they didn’t just waste the the best years of their lives for a paycheck to produce Sonic the Hedgehog 12: Noone plays Sonic Games Anymore.

    You sirs, ‘will miss out on everything cool and die angry.’

    That’s all I wanted to say.

  12. “…but really people pick and choose how their schedules will be…”

    Things may be different at your company, Casual, but at every company I’ve been at the management practices a not-so-subtle form of passive-aggressiveness:

    “Well, yes, I understand your wife’s birthday is this weekend, and of course here at Entertainment Conglomerate we believe that family comes first. Now the rest of the team will be in over the weekend, and it’s possible the CTO might be in as well. Sometimes he likes to come downstairs, just see who might be around, but really not a problem. And as long as you’ve got that code branch complete ahead of schedule, I’m sure taking the weekend off won’t affect your eventual bonus [after having already worked a thousand hours] in the slightest, compared to one of the other programmers who is less diligent but never goes home.”

    More than one manager has point blank told me that they measure a worker’s performance by the number of empty pizza boxes scattered around their cube, as more pizza boxes is apparently somehow directly related to more time in the cube, and hence more productivity(?).

    The whole thing is juvenile in the extreme. In the real world, sure, you’ve got to put in some overtime occasionally to deal with unforseen circumstances, but when the _entire_ game industry operates on a 60-80 work week, that’s not just bad management, that’s pure cynical exploitation.

  13. IT in general isn’t any better. I had an interview a couple weeks ago where they expected 60+ hours a week for their admins.

    THe hiring manager actually apologized during the interview because he had “family obligations” that required him to leave at 4:30 during the summer. He said his day started at 6:30, and he worked nights from home to make up for it. The culture gets driven by the director or VP, they tend to be the type that work constantly so push down those expectations.

    They couldn’t understand why in this job market they couldn’t find anyone.

  14. Well, if that added 20 hours involve playing the games you develop or playing your competition’s games, then it will surely not feel like work anymore. Not to mention that you get paid for it too.

    I guess it will get to you after a while, but if someone is in this line of work and he is really passionate about it, the 60 hours might not be a hassle. It is sad, though, how the gaming companies expect their developers to not have a social life too.

  15. @8

    I think the key phrase in your post is small indie developer. There are a whole different set of pressures and expectations when you’re working for a big triple-A developer, than a small indie developer.

    I’m one of the industry wash-outs. I lasted almost exactly five years to the day at what was then one of the last great independents, but the truth be told, I was done long before I quit.

    Crunch-time goes far beyond developers dropping the ball on milestones and the occasional week of 10-12 hour days. In trying to keep things general enough to not point fingers anywhere, the project that destroyed me involved a 10 month death march working 60-90 hour work weeks (no overtime paid out, no banked time in lieu).

    Admittedly some of this was due to having out-sized ambition for the project, some minor direction changes, and feature creep pushed from above, but ultimately it was the financial collapse and implosion of one publisher, and the need to meet the financial reporting quarter of the next that resulted in the soul-destroying crunch.

    The personal cost to me:
    * 60+ pound weight gain over 10 months (took 3 years to lose)
    * serious chronic back pain that stuck around for 6 months after the project ended.
    * loss of friendships and relationships because I essentially vanished for a year
    * burning out on a career that I honestly loved

    The cost to the company:
    * They awarded me one week of paid vacation when the game shipped.

    Granted, this wasn’t a typical crunch episode, but of the titles I worked on (and the ones that were in development while I was at the company), I don’t think I saw a single one go out the door with at least 4-6 months of hard crunch at the end, and probably another 6 months of crunch over the dev cycle for demos and trade shows, etc. (Although there are still exceptions… one recently shipped project went through another 10 month finishing crunch)

    The ridiculous thing is that all the research out there on productivity related to working extra hours shows that you only receive a temporary boost in productivity for the first two weeks after going to a 60 hour work week. Anything after that is an exercise in diminishing returns. For a task that requires high logical reasoning ability, after 4 weeks of crunch you are getting into negative productivity because the bugs introduced by overworked programmers result in more work than you gain.

    I’d have to dig up the study, but it worked out that after crunching for something like 6 weeks you were in exactly the same position you would have been if you’d stuck to 40 hour weeks for the same time.

    The “crunch” culture is something that needs to be eliminated before the games industry can ever grow up. The off-the-books costs to a company (employee turnover, loss of expertise, retraining, etc) ultimately cost far more than limiting crunch time ever would. It’s a good thing there is an ever-growing line of fresh young idealists looking to fill those entry-level positions.

    Fortunately I’ve been hearing some good things about some of the new generation of companies that are being started up by former wash-outs. We can hope it’s a trend.

  16. are they paid a decent salary and benefits? can they negotiate for more?

    in NYC and SF, people working in digital media and startups routinely work 60+ hours a week. It’s not just expected, you simply can’t get enough work done in 8hr shifts. you need 12+ stretches to actually accomplish stuff.

    when a shop doesn’t pay, people walk out and find a better place. that better place gives them more compensation / benefits — rarely do you get fewer hours.

    I think the concept of a 40hr work week is absurd. it’s defined by the concept of daylaborers and their ‘rights’; not professionals. i don’t know any lawyers or doctors who work 40, nor do i know of any C-level executives, accountants, or anyone else that has a profession.

    1. I think the concept of a 40hr work week is absurd.

      Agreed. Working more than 30 hours per week is insane. 20’s even better.

  17. depends on how much they pay me. If Fuzz is right, in that you don’t get overtime, and you aren’t paid properly, then that’s a deal breaker. I’ll work 60 hours a week if the pay is right, if not, forget it.

  18. “Of course, what people don’t know is that during “downtime” at some of these companies you get paid for 40 hours a week to simply show up and hang out.”

    So, working 80 hours just so you don’t get laid off during those interludes when your company can’t keep you productively busy is an enviable status quo?

    That world sounds terrible.

  19. I don’t agree with the sentiment you’re making here: this is why you are an IDIOT to attend Digipen or Full Sail .

    You’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, there are companies out there behaving poorly, and treating their employees like crap. That sucks.

    There are decent companies out there treating their employees well, burdened with employees who happen to love what they’re doing. Such a burden.

    If your passion is game design, sure go to FullSail or Digipen. Just do your due diligence before accepting a job. The group employers you’re looking at will probably include some duds, and some places you’d love to work. I’ve taken office tours as part of interviews, noted the names of a couple people while walking around, then called back after the interview and asked for them. Easy, honest(-ish) opinions from people not vetted by the hiring manager.

    Just remember that you’d be an idiot to belittle people seeking additional education over the practices of several employers.

  20. People think that working long hours is worth the paycheck never seem to do the actual math and see what their time is actually worth. Maybe you make a few hundred thousand, but divide that by the actual hours you work, add in the other costs to a high stress, low activity lifestyle and you got a wonderful cocktail of health problems that need to be paid for, as well as the possible mental health factor of having no social life outside of work and being married to a job that considers you an expensive cog in the machine.

    Professionals are just day labors with the illusion of job security.

  21. Almost all professionals I talk with feel pressured to work at least 60 hours a week. I don’t think this is right, or that it’s worth it, but it is the way it is in America now.

    Except me, I’m goofing off on BoingBoing right now.

  22. A lot of the “60+ hours isn’t so bad” crowd is missing something:

    The worst examples of 60+ hour work weeks in the game industry involve modestly-salaried employees who are not compensated for overtime.

    EA famously *required* 13 hour days, 7 days a week at one point, of employees who were being paid around $40k/year. If you do the math, that works out to under $10/hr for those weeks.

    It’s nothing short of exploitative, and in EA’s case, was found to be completely illegal. This is why other industries have unions.

  23. Just to make a few points clear:

    * Professionals in the game industry — and that includes almost all programmers, artists, and QA personnel employed full-time by a company — are “exempt” and not entitled to overtime by federal law. In those cases where they have been awarded overtime, it’s usually because the court considers them to have been misclassified as exempt.

    (However, QA personnel hired on contact do get overtime, but then they generally don’t get paid all that much hourly.)

    * Generally speaking, the game industry does not pay anywhere near as well as other industries for similar positions. This has been called the “well, you get to work on games” tax.

    * Likewise, most positions in the game industry do not pay salaries comparable to a doctor or a lawyer. The idea that you might get paid “a few hundred thousand” is pretty ludicrous unless you are a major industry figure.

    * After the fact compensation is usually weak to non-existent. As was mentioned above, if pulling 80-hour weeks for six months during crunch, your “bonus” might be a week of PTO and a couple thousand — if that. I pulled exactly that schedule for a major game and my bonus was…a leather jacket!

    * It is possible to find game studios run by sane, competent, fun people, but you will need to be both persistent and a little lucky.

    Also — if you can’t complete a well-spec’d project in 40 hour work weeks with a reasonable team, then you are Doing Something Wrong.

  24. A note about FullSail – my brother received his degree there and it seemed like a really fun school. Additionally, I got him a job doing ‘normal’ programming with a degree from there so it might be a fun/good way of getting your CS degree.

  25. I’ve never understood the point of working yourself to death chasing a slightly bigger paycheck. What’s the point when you never have enough time to enjoy all that money you’re making? Your kids are asleep by the time you get home, you barely have enough time after work and before bed to do other things you enjoy (that nice new tv, hobbies, etc) let alone all the other day-to-day chores. What a horrible existence.

  26. I agree with you, #28 – the video game industry REALLY needs a union. I still get nightmares from my last stint in QA.

  27. I worked at a game company briefly last year.
    I had no problems completing my tasks on time and leaving at 5:30 most days.
    My coworkers treated me like I was not a ‘team player’ because they were always pulling all-nighters to finish their work.
    If my work is done I’m not going to hang around all night just because it ‘part of the culture’.

  28. MDH – Yes, the 80+ hour work weeks were rough. But when that time is followed by 2 months of being paid to come in and play on a Sega Saturn and do nothing, it balances out (at least in my eyes). Of course, even with that balance, those crunch weeks will eventually grind you under.

    On the bright side, I was well compensated for my time. Time and a half over 40 hours, double time over 80 hours…plus lunch and dinner were covered.

    Of course, the food was junk and I, like Inspector Fuzz above, packed on the pounds…but if I had felt exploited I would’ve left. When I finally felt that the pay wasn’t worth the hours? I did leave.

    Of course, all of this was years ago and the company cultures may well have changed a great deal since then.

  29. And yet when (good, dedicated) teachers call out their 60+ hour work weeks during the school year, we get shouted down because of the two-and-a-half months of the year we work part-time. Luckily, teaching’s so much fun I’m willing to put up with it, but many aren’t–teaching has a similar burnout rate to the gaming industry. And I figured it out once: most early-career teachers are getting paid about $8-10 an hour.

    60+ was also the norm during those dark, dark months I worked as a paralegal. You were entitled to demand a 40-hour work week . . . and you were also entitled to get yourself fired.

    Unless you’re willing to sacrifice quality and/or sanity, 60+ hours per week isn’t sustainable in any industry. But there seem to be fewer and fewer industries willing to recognize the fact that human beings need to spend at least a few of their waking hours away from the office.

  30. There’s a real difference between a “normal” job where some choose to work longer, versus where everyone is expected to work 60+ hours.

    I have worked for years as an IT professional who goes in and helps get customers “back on track” or resolve critical problems. This means I deal with other peoples failed projects on a weekly basis.

    One of the most common factors for broken projects is groups that expect these long hours on salaried pay. These aren’t start-ups or executive positions where there can be substantial pay off for the sacrifice; these are normal IT shops that try to get by with fewer employees to save costs. Because the employees are salaried the management becomes incompetent at planning, because they can’t see the cost.

    In my experience, productivity goes down for your average employee in these environments. The employees working 60 hours a week are typically tired, irritable and frankly doing bad work and making dumb mistakes. They do more work, but it’s mostly done poorly. Meetings typically involve way too much emotion and anger, and bad decisions get made because of it. Without exception the work environments at these companies are horrible, and the companies pay for it. These environments are also typically very unprofessional; management is unable to enforce conduct guidelines under these conditions. So you typically hear stories of sexual harassment or workplace violence lawsuits. You also see significant turnover, which is death for any IT shop, and frankly they attract and retain sub-par talent. The better people find more attractive terms.

    It’s funny; because most of these places we repeatedly have to return to, and they have to pay us a lot of money each time we come in and fix things because they can’t get it right. The same managers who are so proud of their “hard working” cultures are oblivious to how badly run their businesses are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed at these guys when they offer me a job with their “great” companies.

  31. There used to be a saying at a Silicon Valley “giant” that they had Flexi-time: you could work any *20 hours/day* that you wished.

    Companies that expect their employees to work 60 hours/week are amateurish at worst, and criminally exploitative at worst. These places have a way of shooting themselves in the foot, but they wreak havoc in the lives of their employees (and contractors).

  32. In California at least, if you make less than about $105K you have a claim for overtime. The statute of limitations on this claim is 4 years.

  33. I don’t who has seen “The Misfits” but Montgomery Clift’s character always talks about just “working for wages” and that is what is being disucced.

    The *REAL* money in a game that goes gargantuan never ever manifests down the line level employees – dev’s, QA, Artists, etc. – it goes to either:

    a) The copyright holder of the intellectual product the game is based on – the movie, the comic book character, whatever
    b) the producers, who if they are smarty are in for a cut of the actual proficts of the games
    c) The execs and stockholders.

    You as the person actually, you know, making the thing, are getting paid wages, maybe some stock, but very rarely is there a direct financial benefit to those working on a game from a big title, other than…you still have a job because you get to do the sequel now.

    Gameing is like the movie or the music business now, it attracts a lot of moths to the flame with images of living the rock star life, but reality is, you are the help.

  34. I don’t mean to defend this sort of thinking, but recommending a job in any other entertainment field would probably yield similar results – I work in animation currently and have worked in tv and on movies in the past and these sort of hours are expected/demanded in all of them. I’ve worked 80+ hour weeks and 36 hour days on more than one occasion (doesn’t quite compute does it) Admittedly , it isn’t something that i would recommend to everyone but I know nobody with any sort of success in these fields that hasn’t done it. Coincidentally, all of these people tend to do this job because they love it – If it was for the money alone – I’d try banking – even when you totally and completely fail at it you still get paid in spades. That said, I believe that what the game industry really needs is unions, which could at least ensure that you’ll get reasonably compensated for your 60 hour week.

  35. Somebody needs to remind EVERYBODY, that is, management and workers alike, that less than a century ago, people died in the streets of mining and factory towns, just to establish basic things like a 40 hour work week and a lunch break.

    Honor those people.

  36. anyone working in any professional career is probably going to work 60+ hours a week during their first few years – yeah… it’s exploitative if offices force you to do it, but for many of us did it just to get a leg up on each other.

    I don’t agree with getting paid on salary and being expected to put in 10+ hour days, and weekends though…

  37. justi121883 – The difference is that teachers aren’t even being paid for all of that 60 hour work week time. That’s not the same…Teachers get a REAL raw deal.

  38. This is yet another reason for talented game developers to go indie, make Flash games and monetize them with ad revenue streams, make iPhone games and sell them in the App Store. Make your own hours, make the games you want, make way more money if you get lucky (and maintain your dignity and creative control even if you don’t.)

  39. That’s a great point. Face it, you are rarely going to become wealthy while working for someone else….

  40. Allowing myself to work months of 60+ hour work weeks made my wife leave me and made my son a stranger. The few months of light work that followed didn’t magically make everything balance out.

    The industry is going to have to come to a consensus: relinquish exemption status for most of these positions or deal with a union.

    Other industries have come to grips with these same issues over the past 80 years. Why do they think it’s going to be any different this time?

    In my opinion Mike Capps is a sadist and a closet turtle beater.

  41. I read about a recent medical study that found increased mental deterioration in those working more than 55 hour weeks. I’m hoping it leads to lots of class actions suits and a reform of American culture (before we too, like the Japanese, actually have a word for “death from overwork”).

    Disclosure: I’m a graduate student and currently work 70+ hour weeks for the last year. And yes, I’m hoping these reforms extend to students as well. We’ll never improve our culture if none of us has any time for personal growth.

    Neatorama link: http://www.neatorama.com/2009/02/25/long-hours-at-work-may-lead-to-dementia/

  42. To make matters worse, there’s absolutely no job security (even in the short term) in the game industry. Large companies like EA “reward” employees who have put in the long extra “crunch hours” during a project by firing them when the project is done. There’s no “2 months of sitting around playing games” for them. More companies seem to be imitating that behavior.
    Smaller game companies can be even worse, as they might promise bonus checks or even profit sharing instead of paying the (already low) industry-standard wages to encourage long hours. However, employees are more likely to get fired before (or just after) the game ships, either because the company has run out of money (most games aren’t profitable), or they just don’t need those particular employees until they start work on the next game.

  43. I wonder when game developers (and programmers in general) will clue up?
    When will they realise that they are less ‘creative genius’ and more ‘assembly line worker’ and take the consequence of that by unionising?

    Even actual creative types like inventors and authors have unions, after all.

    Is it because a lot of ‘programmer culture’ originates in Silicon Valley in the USA, where unions are generally frowned upon?

    ‘Programmer culture’ – now that’s an oxymoron!

  44. Ceronomus — you worked 80 hour weeks doing QA on the original C&C?

    If that’s the case, it shows. I beat the game by simply building walls around enemy bases. The AI was too dumb to get out.

  45. My job wasn’t to improve the AI…but to hunt down teh memory eating bug that was crashing the game over and over again. I delayed the shipment of the golds twice by finding new and horrendous bugs that would wipe the whole thing out.

    Always at the last minute.

    At least one of them was tied in to that damned Dinosaur crap that was hidden in the game.

    For the time, the AI wasn’t too bad, but certainly was beatable. You should’ve seen it before release though, when you could nuke-proof a base by building chain-link fence around it. Then all nukes would hit to the north of the fence.

    Then I worked on the German version, looking for things that would have to be changed…like oil instead of blood and the like.

    I’d come home and DREAM that game. I’ll still play it from time to time though. I really did enjoy it.

  46. Anonymous at #9 writes:

    >> “[T]hey purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours […]”

    > “Anticipated,” huh? Sounds like code for “we systematically avoid hiring women.”

    I think more critically, hiring below a certain age. I worked in the games industry when I was young, foolish, and full of stamina. I used to think working a 36 hour day was a sign of programmer coolness – that I had the “right stuff”. These days I’m older, tireder, and prefer to actually be paid for the work I do.

    I’d love to write more games, but not on the terms offered by the mainstream games industry.

  47. Finally! I have not worked in the game development community, but I am a veteran web developer who cut my teeth at a very well known parody news site named after a vegetable. And the stories I have heard parallels my experience quite well. The same can be said of most any dot-com boom company or even Web 2.0 startups with delusional goals nowadays.

    I started in 1995. I was the 1 person web department who propelled this place to global stardom. By 1997 I got tired of the low pay, massive headaches and insane “corporate culture.” By 1999 I was ready to leave. But stayed onboard thanks to promises by management of this all working out in the end. So I burned myself even more and in the end (aka 2001) I was kicked to the curb and had the following:

    1) Had odd health issues that have only recently (nearly 10 years later) gone away.
    2) Had a practically non-existent social life.
    3) My bank account was low thanks to savings being drained thanks to not getting paid anything close to a fair/real-world salary.
    4) A hard time getting another decent job right away since management at the place decided to shun me to a degree I could have taken them to court… If I had money to do so (see number 3).
    5) People who I thought were friends at the time treated me like crap.

    At the end of the day I will say this: I’m now in a better position, with better health and with co-workers who respect me and who are pleasure to work with. With hindsight being 20/20 working someplace because it seemed “cool” at the time was a horrible choice. And to this day I have no idea if the health issues I faced will ever come back or not. And this was all done to benefit selfish/greedy owners who really cared less about our well being.

    I recommend anyone who does programming or development simply state the ground rules at the outset: Just pay me a fair salary and respect my knowledge and in return I will help your company grow.

    If for some reason you are shunned because you choose not to work 10 hour weeks and then “binge” at painful parties afterwards, just leave. There will always be better places since the burnout model never works in the long run.

  48. Ooops, I meant to say 60 hour work weeks. I think I was thinking about 10 hour days? Anyway, respect yourself. That’s the message!

  49. having done the 60 hour plus workweek in a few different careers, my conclusion is: don’t. It’s one thing to sacrifice all for your own vision – but for another’s?

  50. Thanks for the stories and anecdotes, guys.

    I suppose I am in that percentile of young, idealistic game-dev go-getters. Still an undergraduate. I was interviewed in BoingBoing Video’s coverage of the ’09 Global Game Jam, in fact – that’s me, in the blue shirt, making pixel art. Designing and refining games is something I truly want to “do” for a living, and not for petty reasons; but beyond the bright-eyed creativity and heady design theory, the industry’s an industry and it seems easy to forget that in this line of work. That is, until you’re knee deep in it yourself.

    However, what I’m trying to say is that I can see a lot of you professionals and former-professionals are speaking of lessons learned, and I’m here to represent posterity saying: I’m learning. And I appreciate it. I recently quit one school’s Game Art & Design program because I realized the students were rampantly unprofessional and the school only spit you out into nightmarish jobs and if I were to graduate from there my closest hope would be that nightmarish job with those unprofessional chucklefucks as my co-workers.

    I’m getting a more general tech/art degree now. A better array of Plan B’s.

    I mean, hopefully worker conditions will change for the better in the near future, but I also can’t count on that.

    The good news is that indie games are becoming more viable and more “legitimate” now more than ever; perhaps thanks in part to the shortcomings of the mainstream industry. And if you’ve followed anything of the Independent Games Festival winners and other game-auteur kin, I’ll be damned if that isn’t the beautiful “Game Designer as Rock Star” myth come true.

  51. ahhh… reminds me of the d-bag i work for. three weeks ago he dropped the bomb on us (his employees) that he’d be instituting a furlough program (i.e. a temporary layoff) at the office. he dropped said bomb two days before leaving for a two-week vacation oversees. upon his return he had the nerve to tell certain employees that he was disappointed they didn’t get certain projects finished while they were furloughed. and then he had the balls to tell one of them he wasn’t happy with the fact they leave at a given time each day – despite the fact that’s when they’re supposed to leave.

  52. It’s one thing to sacrifice all for your own vision – but for another’s?

    Damn good advice. Sometimes you have to stop and ask, “What am I working?”

    I think the concept of a 40hr work week is absurd. it’s defined by the concept of daylaborers and their ‘rights’; not professionals.

    Rubbish. I’m an urban planner and work a 9/80 workweek, working perfectly decent hours and getting every alternate Friday off (in addition to weekends, of course). If I have a night meeting I get paid overtime. Of course, I work for the government and am a union member. But even before, when I worked for a private consultant in the same industry, I had an employer who treated its employees with respect. No overtime, but we were expected to have lives like normal human beings. And before *that*, when I worked as an engineer for an electronics company, they were flexible enough with my time so that I could work on my Master’s degree (in urban planning) concurrent with my employment.

    My wife is in a completely different field, pharmacy benefit management, gets paid a lot more than I do, and works somewhat more than I do, generally 9 hours a day. But it’s a far cry from the conditions described above as being common to the game development industry.

    It’s that’s the standard for your industry, then your industry has a problem. OK, doctors and lawyers work long hours, but they get paid the big bucks that are a far cry from what a typical game developer makes.

  53. The longest hours I ever worked as a programmer was double-shifting six days a week (96 hours) for about a six month stretch. No overtime pay, of course. The manager who enforced that is not going to be allowed to attend my funeral, when the time comes.

  54. I wrote:
    Sometimes you have to stop and ask, “What am I working?”

    Sorry, that makes no sense. I meant, “What am I working for?”

  55. #8, Casual_Casualty:

    I think QA gets the brunt of things because they are required to be there until a certain build is completed; other employees are more 9-5

    I work for a medium-sized independent games developer in the UK, and I’d totally agree with this. QA and project leads are the people who’ll be there after midnight.

    I’ve worked as a games programmer for just over ten years now, and work practices are very different from when I started. The expectation of working overtime has almost disappeared- I certainly NEVER do overtime now unless specifically requested.

    Maybe this means I’ll never be asked to lead a project- fine by me.

    get a generalized CS or art degree

    This is whole other subject, but we actually take on very few people with computer science degrees- most of the programmers we hire come directly from games degrees, or are maths or science postgrads. A good computer scientist isn’t necessarily a good programmer…

  56. Somebody needs to remind EVERYBODY, that is, management and workers alike, that less than a century ago, people died in the streets of mining and factory towns, just to establish basic things like a 40 hour work week and a lunch break.
    Honor those people.

    Definitely, this is something totally ignored or seen as “commies” propaganda for laziness…

    …damn reactionary!

    I have so some examples of creative people working in gaming and high-end animation who work 40 hours a week and will never run out of work because they are dedicated, talented and still learn and improve their craft. And of course they set their conditions and usually the company is rarely disappointed. That’s what we call the human factor.

    So many of my teachers became bitter because of the shit-load of work but in crappy projects they are not even proud of…

    I’d rather work 40 plain and dedicated hours a week in a lifetime career than burn myself out after 5 years and get sick of an industry, being replaced by someone fresh who’ll encounter the same fate.

  57. 60+ hour weeks are insane. Any business that can’t meet it’s goals without such “crunch-time, all the time” situations, is simply mis-managed.

    That said, I find a lot of the moaning and groaning interesting considering that the developers, programmers and IT professionals I’ve worked with over the years tended to be, in general, the most strident, hard-core libertarian, anti-workers-rights, “If you don’t like it, quit” people I’ve ever met.

  58. “I’ve never understood the point of working yourself to death chasing a slightly bigger paycheck.”

    True, mindlessly and endlessly pursuing additional money takes away from time you could be at home. Playing World of Warcraft endlessly. For imaginary money.
    If you can stand grinding, might as well grind for real dough.

  59. I work for the government in the UK as a software developer. I work 36 hour weeks (that doesn’t include lunchtime breaks, so it’s 41 hours if I take an hour for lunch every day). I have 30 days holiday a year, in addition to the UK public holidays (another 10 days).
    I worked the same hours, and had the same number of days holiday, when I worked for a large European multinational.

    If you wanted me to work more than this, you’d either have to pay me more (not just in proportion, if I was working 72 hour weeks you’d need to pay me more than double). Or, it’d have to be a really interesting job.

  60. dang. this is a tough one to talk about. at linden we have a policy to “work sane hours.” a lot of us spent time in other gaming houses and thought that working 60 (or more) hours per week was insane. it burns people out and after about 45 hours per week, you’re really not getting good work out of people.

    but. there are times when i really don’t keep track. i spent last week in meetings at the GDC and IETF74 and i was awake, at the conference venues and chatting from 7AM through to about 1AM. and I loved it. the weeks before… i was spending at least 60 hours per week preparing for our meetings and doing my normal senior engineery tasks. and, but for the fact that it started to cut into family time, i loved it.

    so… people who say the “60+ hours per week” culture is a good thing for their organizations are fooling themselves. people cannot sustain it and give good work. but that being said, there are times when it’s unavoidable and not completely unpleasant. but i sure as heck am not going to do task design for my organization based on a 60 hour work week.

  61. Yo, ive worked at thq, 2kgames, neversoft and vivendi universal/activision/blizzard(yep they just keep eating each other up.)

    Yes, the hours are obscene. There would be many days in a row that i wouldnt see the sun. The closer the game comes to release the worse the hours get. on tony hawks proving ground, the week before submission we were working 19 hour days, many just spent the night, good thing they had a shower. Neversoft wasnt bad though. Vivendi was terrible. It was so hot due to all of the bodies and equipment that everyone was sweating and the place reeked. But they never turned on the AC, no matter how hot it was. They had lots of fans brought in to circulate the hot air around, claiming there was an AC problem. Then guess what? Fix it.

    Thing is, its an easy business to get into for young people. You need zero experience and lots of time. Projects last like 6 months, then they can you, straight up. its a nonstop overtime temp job.

    I dont recommend it unless you want to disappear for a few months and really REALLY need the money.

  62. You know, we sometimes wonder how people in more primative times managed to build big old kivas and works of art or make complex observations of the stars. But we are applying our cultural standard of [having to work a forty or fifty hour work week in addition to having a “life”] to those people, who in reality had a whole bunch more free time, especially once the harvest was in and the hunting was done.

  63. . . . that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of “corporate culture,”

    And everyone knows the “corporate culture” is the very antithesis of exploitative.

  64. I worked long and hard on three back to back projects under someone at the time who thought overtime was dedication.

    The upside

    -The projects got completed despite the deadlines being, let’s say ‘aggressive’.

    -The projects were complete under budget.

    The downside

    -I ended up collapsing after working 30 hours straight. And I mean straight. No breaks. Not even meals.

    -I was hospitalisd putting a $5 million dollar project at risk.

    -I now have several long term health problems.

    -I almost got divorced.

    -I lost several friends.

    The washup? I’ve lost money having to take unpaid sick leave, and am almost able to work 40 hours a week a year later. I spend most of the weekend in bed exhausted.

    Still on the upside the company has been pretty supportive. I still have my job and to make up my slack they’ve hired half a dozen employees.

    To companies thinking that pushing human resource units to the brink to get maximum mileage is good money wise?

    Look at your risk management strategy. What if a high value worker dies on you?

  65. #28 This is why other industries have unions.

    Not to be rude, because I agree with your point, but do you live in the 1950’s?

    Because no, other industries kinda don’t anymore.

  66. Working five days a week, even if for 8 hours in each, doesn’t leave you the time you need to “satisfy your intellectual and social requirements”.

    And further, to adequately dedicate to any activity, you need to spend the hours on it in a row, not in the fragmented manner that a 8 hour working day imposes.

    And most importantly, your nervous system works under certain conditions. Scientific studies found that it reshapes itself on cycles of three weeks. If your life rhythm is shaped by a 5 days/week pace, your state of mind will always be dictated by the office work, and you wont be able to pursue the activities that matter in your life.

    Debord and the situationist were right, if what you do ( your “work” ) is separated from what you are, that is, your work activity is not the mean by which you express yourself as a human being ( as it is for the artists ), your life is depressing and alienated.

    I find ironic that while technology and especially the computer, were sold to us as means to allow people to work less, those that work the most are actually those in the computer industry.

  67. Please please please boingboing can you shine some more light on the labor abuses in the IT industry? US corporations are abusing the exempt status of IT professionals, forcing them to work 60-80 hour work weeks on the same salaries, and with the economy in such bad shape right now, quitting to become a barista or a burger flipper is not even remotely an option. Salaried IT workers are becoming the new abused workforce–with more hours piled on all the time, benefits being slowly taken away. My spouse has seen his workload triple in the past couple of years, as his coworkers were laid off and replaced with incompetent cheap labor in India. He is expected to answer calls all hours of the night and day. He rarely gets more than six hours of sleep, and even when he doesn’t get called, he understandably suffers from insomnia. He has fallen into depression and when his doctor referred him for counseling, it turned out our new “improved” health insurance won’t cover it. Management was recently on record saying that profits should be good this quarter because employees will not choose to take vacations with the down economy (and no doubt the absent or anemic COL salary increases for the pas 7-8 years). His reward for the past year of taking on heroic workloads and saving the company’s ass twenty times a week? A $500 bonus. Yeah, that doesn’t even begin to cover it. Now more than ever people are TRAPPED in these jobs, as much as any factory worker ever was back in the early 20th century before the union movement. Thank you boingboing for raising this issue, and I hope you take a continued interest in it. We need a new labor union movement–fast!

  68. Having been in and out of the gaming industry for most of the last decade at a handful of different companies, I can tell you that the expectations of ridiculous work weeks is still pretty much the norm, whether or not there’s work to be done. Granted, I did most of my work in Community Management (and have been out of work since August after the dot.com I went to go work for laid off a bunch of people), but I did stints in other sections as well.

    One of the things I ask at ANY company I’m interviewing at now, though, is “what’s the average work week like?” And I make it abundantly clear that while I have no problem with “crunch time,” I certainly don’t want “crunch time” to be 50 weeks a year. I expect a 40 hour work week to be the average, with one month a year or so putting in 50-60 hour work weeks (and, conversely, have 30-35 hour work weeks one month a year or so, to even it out, when the load is light). When I meet companies who tell me that they expect people to put in 10-12 hour days, I politely inform them that we’re just not compatible as employer/employee. And I’ve probably turned down some opportunities that would’ve been wonderful because of it.

    That said, I’m not going batshit crazy, I’m not climbing the walls, I’m not a medical wreck and I don’t hate my life.

    Another point I think that’s very much worth mentioning is that QUALITY of games go down fairly consistently with the quality of work environment in the game studio. The last five years or so in games has seen more than its fair share of less-than-great titles, and I posit there are three major reasons for that.

    The first and foremost is that the gaming industry is a high-cost, high-risk environment, much like the early days of film making. Games cost an exorbitant amount of money to create, produce, market and distribute, so the people who hold the purse strings are adverse to risk. They like things that are “sure things,” and if a title has made X amount of money, your odds of a sequel making a similar amount of money go up. It’s a “hit chaser” industry where people like to milk the cow until they hit blood. The problem with this, however, is that it stagnates things. If you’ve got a hit title on your hands and you’re making a sequel, you need to innovate JUST enough to distinguish yourself from the previous title but not so much as to alienate that core audience you’ve attracted. (And god help you if you risk change and it goes WRONG – then you’ve killed the franchise, and people are back at square one.) I’m not arguing against sequels – I certainly enjoy some franchises and will continue to play some of them, but with that said, there are far too many people trying to “build franchises” out there and not enough people trying to innovate and create new gameplay experiences.

    The second reason games have gone downhill is that once it was clear there was a lot of money to be made in the gaming industry, a LOT more people wanted to get a piece of that pie. Many of these companies don’t care about quality, they’re just trying to make a quick buck. It’s understandable – we all want to make money, but at what cost? Even studios that aren’t just in it for a quick buck are still under time constraints put on them by their budget. This is partially why I would say that Blizzard’s games consistently get high marks – they have the budget (and the backing) to basically ignore release schedules and timeframes. They as a company can afford to say “Nope, ain’t done yet, send it back.” Thankfully, we seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the latter half of this problem (the “Christmas rush”) as game studios and production houses are learning that if you’ve got a quality title, you can afford to ignore Christmas. Gamers are also starting to learn to distinguish between “fly-by-night” studios out for a quick buck and people who are trying to actually put out quality stuff. The downside of this is that it makes it harder for new people to break in.

    The third reason is that we’re burning people out left and right. Granted, there seems to be a near endless supply of people willing to replace them, but these people are green under the best of conditions, and often have little to no practical understanding involved in the game development process. This means lots of titles that just aren’t going to do well, or are going to take too long to produce.

    We need to stop driving people out of the industry. We need to stop pushing talent away into other fields. We need to stop making godawful games that no one wants to play or buy. We need to encourage original ideas, we need to prototype them cheap and work to make sure good gameplay and good stories are essential.

    Honestly, the games industry needs to grow up, and we need to do it fast.

  69. Sure, movie cameras aren’t so vastly cost prohibitive any more. You can make a movie for a small amount of money comparatively. Granted, it won’t be a Hollywood blockbuster with elaborate special effects, but you can do it. You think a film like “Clerks” could’ve happened 60 years ago?

  70. Don’t say Crunch:

    The term “crunch” is a euphemism for “unpaid overtime” used largely to disguise the true nature of what’s being described. No-one should ever use the term “crunch”. Everyone should actively encourage others to call it what it is (unpaid overtime). “unscheduled overtime” is NOT an acceptable alternative; it is simply another, slightly less positive, euphemism.

    From T=Machine

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