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Developer Stress Crippling Game Innovation? 355

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the revenge-of-burnout dept.
hapwned writes "Jason Della Rocca, the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), looks at the big picture of the grim, dead-end careers of game developers. From the article: 'More fundamental is the notion that immature practices and extreme working conditions are bankrupting the industry's passion - the love for creating games that drives developers to be developers. When the average career length of the game development workforce is just over five years and over 50% of developers admit they don't plan to hang around for more than 10, we have a problem. How can an industry truly grow, and an art form evolve, if everyone is gone by the time they hit 30?'"
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Developer Stress Crippling Game Innovation?

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  • You claim.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by romka1 (891990) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:50PM (#15115018) Homepage
    You publish an article that software designer [slashdot.org] is the one of the top 10 jobs to have :)
    • From TFA of that "top 10" list, they say that the stress level grade for a software engineer is B. I can't imagine a software development job where the stress level would be B, but it must be a very cushy software job. Most I'd say were stress level C at best, especially game developers. Sure, technically software engineering pays a lot of money because of supply & demand, but many positions pay a lot because of how stressful it is.
      • Most I'd say were stress level C at best, especially game developers.

        The amount of stress people feel are relative to what they are doing. Some people feel incredibly stressed when they have to submit a proposal to a project within a day. These type of people should become a highrise construnction worker for a week to get a more realistic idea of what "really stressed" is. I can think of many similar jobs that would make a project deadline seem like a walk in the park.
        • by MaestroSartori (146297) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:54PM (#15115518) Homepage
          There are different kinds of stress...

          I used to get quite stressed working in Burger King, for example, because we had hard-limited resources (fixed number of staff, fixed number of burgers, fixed rate of production etc) but very variable demand (we were in a place which could be either totally dead quiet, or hyper busy beyond our ability to serve). Now the job itself wasn't what made it stressful, it was dealing directly with customers who got irate because we were in a train station and if we didn't serve them quickly they could miss their train.

          Similarly, I often get a bit stressed in my job as a games developer. Not usually because of the work I have to do, but often the circumstances which I need to do it in. But not because I have game-buyers sitting around me telling me the game is gonna suck, either. Things like last-minute new content, demo work for shows like E3 or TGS conflicting with game production work, schedules which bear no relation to reality.

          Yeah, my job isn't dangerous like someone on a construction site, except when I plug a 110V American devkit into a 240V UK mains supply without a transformer (oops), but when I get stressed I do feel it just as much as I did in my no-thought-required job.
    • When CNN/Money claimed that working at Entertainment Arts was the best job in America I figured they were either being sarcastic or jobs in America really suck.
    • Re:You claim.. (Score:2, Informative)

      by preppypoof (943414)
      there is a difference between software engineer (which the article claims is the #1 job to have in America) and a game developer
  • If more of the source code to these games were open, developers could be contributing not only to games with short lifecycles (and often dead ends before release). They'd also be contributing to systems usable for other simulations and telecommunications. Other UIs, networks, interaction engines. Their work would contribute to the overall telecom industry development. And their own skills would continue to be relevant to the actual platforms used throughout the industry, rather than going down the one-shot
    • How do you earn a living in such a scheme?
    • Most programmers who write game code are used to writing code within strict resource requirements (mem, CPU, etc), especially when it's for consoles (ps2, psp, etc). Depending on their role, most of them are also required to write code that can execute with very strict time limits.

      They basically touch fields such as rendering, networking, AI, performance & realtime, memory management.

      In the end, are you telling me that someone with even some of those skills could not find a job outside the gaming indust
  • Education (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Penguinoflight (517245) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:53PM (#15115037) Homepage Journal
    The question seems retorical but I'll answer it anyway. If the people being hired are all 25 years old, the problem will remain. I have seen more and more offerings or game developer educations. Most of these are reduced computer science programs at universities, which frankly doesn't solve the problem. Recruiting earlier will require a lower education program which teaches programming. Perhaps special programs at high schools, or more likely compartmentalized education from certification schools. I'm not sure if an option like these would help developers or not, but it seems logical for it to be an option if publishers want better developers to work with.
    • Re:Education (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mrchaotica (681592) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:12PM (#15115194)
      If the people being hired are all 25 years old...
      Speaking of which, it could be that people over 30 are being forced out because the game companies are only willing to hire [exploitable] recent college grads. It's not that 30-year-old programmers want to stop making games, it's just that no game companies will give them fair compensation and healthy working conditions, and they're no longer naive enough to get screwed over!
      • Re:Education (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jonboy X (319895)
        Speaking of which, it could be that people over 30 are being forced out because the game companies are only willing to hire [exploitable] recent college grads. It's not that 30-year-old programmers want to stop making games, it's just that no game companies will give them fair compensation and healthy working conditions, and they're no longer naive enough to get screwed over!

        So, put another way, few coders over 30 is stupid enough to work for a game development outfit. That's like saying McDonald's discrim
      • Re:Education (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle@hot m a i l . com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:37PM (#15115378) Homepage
        It's not that 30-year-old programmers want to stop making games, it's just that no game companies will give them fair compensation and healthy working conditions, and they're no longer naive enough to get screwed over!

        I think THIS might be a little closer to the explanation than any "loss of creative spark." A 30-year old developer likely has a wife/husband and is approaching the age where they either have kids or don't. That urge to reproduce has moved more than a few high-stress-job professionals to seek jobs with less stress/hours required because they decided a pile of money doesn't balance out "No family life whatsoever."

        Funny how that "no family life" thing isn't in the ads/job descriptions for these positions...
      • Re:Education (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cliffski (65094)
        amen. thats exactly the problem. But the solution is simple. If you want to actually make fun games rather than licenced pap or sequels, you quit your job and go do it yourself. Bedroom coding is now easier and more viable than ever. The myth that you need a team of 50 people to make a video games has always been nonsense, and is perpetuated now only by 'industry figures' who are scared of their talented developers leaving to go it alone.
      • Related, but not exactly, is the plight of software development in general. While there is a professed need by industry for engineers, there's also little incentive for the silver back to stay around.

        For example, Java has available to the public since 1994. I happen to be a Java developer. I work with a person who has been developing for much longer than I have (in another language). We both started with Java at the same time. So, after 5 years, we both have 5 years of experience with the language (whi
        • What's the biggest difference between us? Even if you say we do nearly exactly the same level of work in Java, he's getting paid nearly twice as much because he's been with the company for 20 years.

          How can it ever be in a company's interest to pay someone so much money for the same level/quality of work as someone that makes half as much? Why not hire two of "me?"

          Because he knows the company, the industry that the company competes in, and the company's systems. All are very valuable commodities that can on

        • Re:Education (Score:3, Insightful)

          How do you know that you two produce the same level of work? Even if you compare raw code, how do you know that the guys extra experience is worthless? Can the guy spot a race in 5 seconds of looking at the code? If so, can you? Java is a very, very limited language (designed to be ...) and it's hard to tell coders apart just by looking at Java code. But that's OK - being a "good coder" is a whole lot more than knowing Java.
  • by goldcd (587052) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:53PM (#15115040) Homepage
    I can honestly say I don't want what 99% of these people make in their 5 years at the grindstone in full time game development.
    Now these people must have got into it initially for the love of games - and even if they jack it all in and get a 'real' job, I assume they'll still like games.
    We're going to end up with a huge glut of people with real jobs (i.e. can do whatever they want) moonlighting in the evenings making quality mods, small games for online distribution etc etc.
    Much more what I want to buy anyway and should be a nice bit of fresh air
  • Suckers! Obviously, they haven't heard the big news [slashdot.org]!
  • developer stress (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xamomike (831092) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:58PM (#15115079) Homepage
    This doesn't just apply to game developers, but most software developers as well. It's a risky business, and for most innovation developers are forced to put their career, money/life savings on the line whenever an innovative product is developed. How can we be innovative when we can't pay our mortage payments?

    There aren't enough investors out there to put money on risky software development projects, so we are often forced to take big risks ourselves when it comes to ideas we are passionate about. And frankly, people with lots of money often don't understand what we're doing.
    • How can we be innovative when we can't pay our mortage payments?
      Duh, don't buy a house!
    • I worked as a game developer for several years. I loved the work, but I was underpaid and it definitely hurt my personal life (i.e. I had none).

      During my last project, we were actually told by management that a 60 hour week was now mandatory (with all of us being salaried). That's when I gave them my 2 week notice.

      Note that I often put in more than 60 hours in a week before that. But it was my choice, sort of. I needed to do it to get the work done but no one was saying I had to punch a clock.

      This sort
  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <{spydermann.slashdot} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @01:58PM (#15115081) Homepage Journal
    Just like the Atari devs split and founded Activision... I think that a small company is the best for game development.
    • Or prehaps a move to GPL games. More game play, more story, and less blingey graphics. How many of us would help with code or art if some one came up with a good idea?
      • by mrchaotica (681592) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:48PM (#15115464)
        How many of us would help with code or art if some one came up with a good idea?
        Apparently not that many, because there are hundreds or thousands of GPL game projects on SourceForge, and most of them are dead (or never really got started in the first place) because there weren't enough people to make them. Surely some of them had to be good ideas!

        I've been thinking about this issue lately, and I'm stuck with a conundrum: Why are people so interested in modding commercial games, when they could use a Free game engine instead and have their work more widely available?

        There are a couple of possible explanations for this:

        • The commercial engines are more technologically advanced and come with better tools
        • The commercial games provide a pre-made style and story universe, and it's easier to create a new story within that framework than making an entirely original one
        • Modders start out as players; they are only interested in the game they're familiar with

        However, none of these reasons seems to provide a complete explanation for why there isn't even a single example of an extremely popular GPL game. I mean, there's no reason whatsoever that the next Counterstrike couldn't be built on Cube or the GPL'd Quake 2 source... so why isn't anyone doing it?
  • Sad but true... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joeygb (530333) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:00PM (#15115097)
    I grew up wanting to be a game developer. I spent a lot of my free time as a kid in front of a computer writing code, designing my own games. But as I get older and am actually out in the workforce the thought of working 80 hour weeks making a salary on the lower range of what programmers in general make has turned me away from the industry. The next step, once the majority of CS majors have been scared away from game programming, is the farm the work out to programming "sweat shops" in other countries to make rehashes of the same games that have been coming out for years. Unless there are some major changes in the game industry the only real innovations are going to end up coming from indie game developers who work some other job to make a living and develop games in their spare time.
    • I think games need to be drien by a vision and that vision has to come from a small group of people (otherwise you get a focus-group deciding what minor variations should be included in EA SPORT XX).
      As technology marches into the future, the number of people required to make a game has increased - there's simply more work to be done. This doesn't mean the proportion of people required to make creative input has increased in line with the overall rise in the team size (nor should it).
      • I disagree. I think the total creative vision required for a modern game like World of Warcraft is in fact much greater than that required for Pac-Man. I don't believe one or two geniuses and a bunch of lackeys could make a Pixar film or a good modern video game.
    • Re:Sad but true... (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It seems to me, having started working in the game industry in 1990, that the industry has switched from most games developed by mom 'n pop 20-40-employee companies (with the publisher offering minor input on the game after the milestones are laid out) to most games being developed by super-mega-corporations who require complete control over the game, even for third party titles.

      Now, you can't entirely blame the corporations since there's a 500lb gorilla, better known as Wal-Mart, stomping around and dictat
    • Meh. People always say crap like this, but the reality is, good games sell better than bad games. You think the big game companies aren't trying to cut corners right now? Hell yea they are. And that's the sort of thing that separates Everquest 2 from World 'o Warcraft.

      Especially in creative markets like Movies/Games/Software, there is always room for companies who develop quality product.
  • by SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:01PM (#15115102) Journal
    Like the old, OLD Activision method of a single developer designing a game and actually getting credited on the product packaging. When someone figures out how to implement that design model again, you'll have the next craze of video games.

    • by gatzke (2977)
      There are tons of great flash games coming out.

      check addictinggames.com or the games section on collegehumor.com

      2D games can still be lots of fun and they don't require teams of musicians, artwork, modelers, or motion capture to produce.

      3D may get there with the open engines that are around, but it still takes a huge team to get a 3D FPS mod out the door. At least you can contribute your own skin, but to create your own mod would be a real bitch.

      I would love to see more cool stuff done that is creative but
  • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:03PM (#15115113) Homepage Journal
    It appears there's a correlation between the "famous names in game development" and the "career-minded senior developers in game development." Correlation isn't causation, but which end is wagging which? Is it because they're a rare breed to stick around so long, or because they're a rare breed who have excellent gaming ideas? Maybe they're just rare because of the career stress. The likelihood of making a name for oneself in the industry is pretty slim. The industry is incestuous and churn after November (after Retail Christmas) is a big problem. If you have to start your career over every year or two, who wants to keep up that grind forever? But maybe it's just a matter of a group of people who like instant gratification in their games, who also want instant gratification in their career path, and they usually don't find it. Ninety percent of everything is crap, and that goes for the workforce in any industry too. There may only be room for a few bright spots to float to the top, while the rest continue to wallow below.
    • The 'famous names' in games are sort of like 'famous researchers' Most of them did something great one time, and now they have a whole team of people producing stuff that they stamp their name on (research equivallent: graduate students). The people that are really innovating, or really creating the fun stuff that goes into great games are usually just hidden away in the credits. Having one super hit can carry you the rest of your career.

  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <infoNO@SPAMdevinmoore.com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:04PM (#15115121) Homepage Journal
    Suppose I hire the kind of people who are creative enough to create a good game, and then I hire people that are able to code that creativity into a functioning product. Isn't this a much better model than hiring 50 super-coders to bust out YAJMF? (Yet Another John Madden Football) Game development is expensive to get right, but if you have a team that can make lots of good and different games, games good enough to develop franchises from (i.e. Zelda and Mario), then you will win. If you take one painfully stale idea and re-release it over and over, it will cost you more each time in order to generate the same sales, because PEOPLE GET BORED. It should be real obvious how to manage creativity, but apparently few want to take charge and do it. There's such a ready supply of young kids looking to "code games" that they can be duped into thinking that "some company" is cool when in fact it's a slave ship. Any gaming company that leverages creativity over slave hours and slave pay will be the champion in the long run, bar none.
  • by umedia (964947)
    And here I thought cloning the same old games year after year was the problem... my bad. Well that and the fact Duke Forever isn't done yet...
  • How can an industry truly grow, and an art form evolve, if everyone is gone by the time they hit 30?

    Outsourcing. They'll hire people who don't think complaining is a job skill.

    Seriously, it's a huge industry with tons of money. I bet someone figures out the answer, makes great games, and gets a lot of that money. I don't think they need Slashdot's help (or whatever it is Slashdot apparently thinks it has to offer).
  • same old stuff... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NetMunkee (905279) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:08PM (#15115167)
    This is so two years ago. More and more game companies are adopting sane schedules and better production schedules. There is still a ways to go of course, but it's getting better by leaps and bounds. My last project I only crunched a combined 2 months. Much better than the 14 months of crunch I did two projects ago. The REAL problem with innovation in "big" titles is that the development teams are getting too large. On a 60 person team only a select few actually get to give design input on what the game is. There just isn't enough time to get input from every team member that wants to share their ideas. You can't afford to prototype enough to get to everyone's ideas, so to be fair no one's ideas are prototyped. Back when a game could be made with 10-20 people, every one could go crazy with ideas and everyone could contribute. That just isn't possible now. Except of course with the small teams making the flash games and things like that.
  • A lot of this has to do with the suits being in control of the company and driving their talent into the ground. Whether that's because of poor planning on their part or artifical deadlines, it doesn't matter.

    I'm not saying the t-shirts would do any better, but at least the t-shirt folks understand what the heck the development team is actually doing. The suits usually just see t-shirts as interchangable warm bodies.
  • Hahaha! I was right! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MagikSlinger (259969) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:16PM (#15115220) Homepage Journal

    As my profile states, I'm a reformed game programmer. I've written a couple of bitter posts on Slashdot about working in the game industry. I'm better now. :-)

    But the stress caused by poor quality architecture and code cannot be understated. Coders begin to hate the designers and artists after awhile and that, as you can guess, really causes problems. If the designer wants that really cool scene or feature or art, but the coder is stressed out the kazoo with debugging the last 3 new features and hasn't seen his new born child awake since it was born, you can imagine how he would react to the new feature.

    The solution is a self-learning development process. A.k.a., CMM [wikipedia.org]. I met some game developers who've only worked in Game Companies who sneer at that kind of talk, but the more seasoned veterans (working 10+ years) actually liked the idea. When you reduce the stress on the developers, and improve productivity, they can spend time making stable code that can be used to build cool, new features on it.

    More importantly, it will rebuild the relationship between coder and artists, designers. That is the single most important relationship in the game process, IMHO.

  • Prescription (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreakNO@SPAMeircom.net> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:20PM (#15115256) Homepage Journal
    OK what have we got here? Overworked developer. Inadequate tools. Unreasonable deadlines. Exponentially increasing content. Parallelisation problems. Increased competition. Increased Expectation. Aaaannnd... C++....hmmmmm.

    OK. Looks like a classic case of square peg in round hole syndrome. Take two courses in Lisp and read up on a fractal generation algorithims.

    And for Christ's sake kid, lay off the coffee.
    • Because, you know, fractals solve everything. Got an ogre on your tail? Mandelbrot his ass! WWII fighters closing in? Julia sets with an alpha of .75 to the rescue!
      Lisp won't solve the problems, and it hard for many people to understand. C++/Java are a much more easily grasped paradigm.
      And for Christ's sake, lay off the maths for a few minutes and try looking at another way of thinking.
    • OK. Looks like a classic case of square peg in round hole syndrome. Take two courses in Lisp and read up on a fractal generation algorithims.


      Here's a challenge: write and finish a game with a good graphics and game play as say, Starcraft, written in LISP. Otherwise, I call BS on you. :-)


  • Sure its going to sound like console bashing, but look at the market. When you make a product more accesible it becomes very tempting to try and maximize that even further. As businesses grow and the market evolves, publishers are under greater pressure (mostly greed) to abuse that market. The easiest way is to ignore innovation, create broader appeal to already existing franchises (often through dumbing down) and pump it out and make it available for anything that moves. As an example on what's being don
  • by Duncan3 (10537) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:21PM (#15115263) Homepage
    You mean game developmers are humans? That by the time they are 30 wise up and aren't willing to slave away 12 hours a day for someone else?

    Wow.

    And you mean companies get rid of people once they aren't willing to work 12 hours a day because they have a life and don't like being treated like slaves anymore?

    Amazing, really, it is.

    Welcome to reality for the rest of the world. At least here in America you get to wise up and have a life at 30. 90% of the world will slave away until they drop dead.

  • Why not unionize, like the movie professionals in Hollywood did?
    • I agree. When people in any industry in the past have run up against shitty working conditions, unreasonable management, and crappy pay (for the hours they put in), they've unionized. It's an entirely reasonable thing to do, especially considering how close to Hollywood games are getting and how many trade unions are in effect in the film industry.

      And don't start with the "Oh, developers are too independent, too maverick, too high tech to be unionized." That's the exact same way you could've described au
    • And look at all the innovative new products that are coming out of Hollywood these days.
      • by Senjutsu (614542)
        And look at all the innovative new products that are coming out of Hollywood these days.

        Last I checked, the focus group and clueless executive professions weren't unionized.
  • It's a no-brainer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moochfish (822730) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:21PM (#15115272)
    I don't understand people who go after this career because they "love games." It always concerned me when someone told me they want to become a programmer because they like games. HELLO! Everybody loves games! You're joining the profession for all the wrong reasons! Sometimes I'd ask the person if they've ever even programmed. Answer? "Nope!" I admire the willingness to fight for a dream, but I frown on the lack of research before committing a lifetime to it. Why programmer instead of another facet of game production? Oh, the money, you say... Notice how programming itself is not mentioned as an interest in any way here? Yes, it concerns me too.

    The games people love are nothing like the process of coding them. Anything that is remotely fun and exciting in programming has nothing to do with what makes Madden fun and exciting. The average consumer can love Final Fantasy -- no, I'd even say there are many, many hardcore fans. But the vast majority of those that love that franchise are not meant to ever, ever become game developers. It's apples and oranges.

    Playing games is exactly that -- PLAYING. But coding a game is no child's play. It's work -- and hard, hard work. If producing a graphical manifestation is the only joy you see in coding, I'd seriously reconsider the profession. There are other ways to contribute to creating a game without being the code monkey. There's marketing, story writing, graphics, concept designing, testing, and even managing.

    If those don't appeal to you any more than coding does, then why choose coding? What? For money? That's a whole different can of worms that I'm sure you can already see is a repeat of what I just finished saying.

    In my humblest opinion, programming is fun on its own, and it really doesn't matter what it is you're coding so long as it is challenging and stimulating. Sure, coding games can fit that, but to start on this path without actually loving the path itself seems risky at best and a terrible, life-long mistake at worst. In short, don't choose a path that makes you walk through shit and garbage. That path just so happens to be the rest of your life. You better damn well choose a route you'll enjoy every minute of.
  • Stress? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mad Ogre (564694) <ogre.madogre@com> on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:23PM (#15115278) Homepage
    I thought it was a lack of imagination that was killing the game industry.
  • I'm of for the day for an interview for a game developer position tomorrow. Here's what they had in my application allready: Professional Enviroment, competent colleagues, room for creative initiative, professional workflow and solid & fair payment. Tomorrow I'm going to add 'no standard overtime' to that list. 2 Pro's with a proper workflow pull more in 8 hour days than 6 people with 12 hour days. That's the simple truth. I'm not subventioning stupid management with my mental and physical health.

    They'v
  • by Frag-A-Muffin (5490) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:29PM (#15115320) Homepage
    I wonder if the sentiment is true on the other side of the earth? Do the Japanese devs feel this way too? From what I've read, Nintendo devs are a very proud bunch and lots of them have been doing it for a long time. I don't know for certain, but I wonder if they're under the same time pressures as, say, EA? We've all read stories about EA's marketing dates dictating everything. Is that true for Nintendo? If it is true, I certainly wouldn't have noticed, cuz all their games seem so polished. SSBM? Wind Waker? All top notch (in terms of quality). Can't say the same for EA. I actually bought the first Sims game for gamecube way back ... 10min into laying out my house, it froze on me. First time I had a game crash/freeze on me (on a console). I haven't bought an EA game since.

    Anyways, I'm rambling. Just wondering if the japanese devs feel the same? Anyone have any insight into this?
    • Anyways, I'm rambling. Just wondering if the japanese devs feel the same? Anyone have any insight into this?

      Yes. You can't put time pressure on Japanese developers. The Japanese think that a 90-hour working week is normal; there simply aren't enough hours in the week to pressure them with (or at least not like EA do). They're a nation of workaholics.

      Exaggerated? Well, a little bit - not all the Japanese are like that. Just most of the professional workers.
  • by pestilence669 (823950) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:33PM (#15115349)
    This is a common problem that plagues every booming industry... especially advertising. Your bean counters arrive, and apply their "insight" and "wisdom" to running the business and increasing productivity. The end result is deadlines, avoidance of solutions that are too difficult to schedule (or understand), reuse of code and concepts that should be trashed... in all: a bad work environment. Game developers, like myself, strive for the cutting edge. The idea of mandated shortcuts pisses us off.

    Game development is a creative art. You can't rush or schedule that kind of a process. No project management book or body of knowledge can overcome this. As long as game publishers drive for more efficiency and output, they will burn out their staff. Game development is a business that needs a bit of fat (free time). You need more freedom to develop and burn code to test new concepts. Investing in throw-away code is almost always a business "no no."

    Business folks expect that all problems in computer gaming have known solutions. This idea is false. There's a ton of R&D for just about every algorithm. There's not necessarily a "one size fits all" solution to any given problem. And even a solid algorithm can often be implemented in over a dozen different ways.

    I've worked for a couple of places that tried to run game development like regular software engineering projects. They did not succeed. Sometimes, entire industries need to ditch the MBAs and embrace what got them to where they are in the first place. Operating efficiency is only a good thing, so long as it doesn't negatively impact your staff, quality, and sales.

    Building games is completely different that any other kind of software development. It needs to managed that way... special needs in mind.
    • by brainstyle (752879) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @04:11PM (#15116073)
      Sorry if I come across as a know-it-all outsider here. I'm really not trying to start any kind of a flame war, but as someone who's well-qualified to work in the games biz, and until recently very much wanted to do so, I'm not a fan of the "we're so different" attitude in the industry.

      It's because of that kind of talk I've stopped looking at jobs in the game industry. I just can't see how every time a game is made, especially when so many of them are so similar, each problem is something new that hasn't been done before, and the whole thing is some huge creative endeavour. I'm sure that's part of it, and hopefully each game has something new and cool, but still - most of the code is, or at least should be, well-maintained, well-written, mature, and stable.

      It should be engineered in such a way that adding new functionality doesn't mean starting from scratch or digging deep into the code and changing things at the lowest level, but rather it should mean working with a well-designed interface. There should be good test coverage, and you should be able to drop features from the product if you have to make a deadline, since that's better than half-implemented features that don't work or aren't tested.

      I recently had a job interview with a game company, and had a list of questions about their engineering practices. After getting the pitch from the president, who talked about the hours they worked for the last title they shipped, and how they really really didn't want that to happen again - but he still said there'd be long hours - I knew that it would indeed happen again, and there was no point asking my questions since it was clear that the answer to a significant number would be "no."

      I understand that there are things that make games different from other types of software, but good engineering is good engineering, and it should be adopted by the industry. That almost every algorithm is mostly R&D rings false to me, since most games sure don't feel like there's much new in them.

      If there's something that the game completely depends on, and no-one knows how to do it, then don't greenlight the game. Figure out how to do that critical thing first, get it working, and then invest in the game. That's how things are done in the rest of the software industry, and it's a very good thing: it means as cool as an idea sounds, if it can't be done, you don't want to waste a lot of money on it. Lots of new features in lots of software is almost all R&D, but it doesn't mean the product can't be scheduled or that gobs of money should be wasted on something that might not go anywhere no matter how cool it would be if it worked. How much better would Oblivion be, to take a random example, if they realised early on that the AI sucked and they needed to take a different approach, and designed around that? Instead you can burn someone's house down as they happily tell you plot points in the story (or so I've heard - haven't played it myself).

      I don't doubt that there are elements of game design which are very difficult to schedule. But to say the whole game is like that sounds like a cop-out.

  • Impossible! (Score:3, Funny)

    by ml10422 (448562) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:35PM (#15115364)
    Software Developer is the best job in America: http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/0 4/12/1353238 [slashdot.org]
  • Check out Mount and Blade, it's a fun little game even though it's lacking the polish of a AAA title. It was made (as I understand it) by a couple from Turkey. They've sold something like 80K copies at $10 or so a piece...not bad especially for that area of the world! A good game, plus word of mouth, and internet distribution is a good formula for having many great years of PC gaming to come!
  • Now that game budgets are approaching the budgets and crew sizes of smaller Hollywood productions, why not look to movie studios for the organizing methodology for bringing in a multi-million dollar production requiring immense creative input on-time and on-budget? The budget-busting fiascos we hear about aren't common, they're the product of big stars/directors/producers with too little studio control. The more common case is a fairly rigorous process that moves through well-defined stages with constant
  • by xtal (49134) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:50PM (#15115483) Homepage
    You're being exploited because you let yourselves be. That's the harsh truth.

    If you want a life, you need to control the business aspect where money is generated. Otherwise the machine is going to use you up and spit you out, if there's one thing conclomerates like EA have shown, is you can beat programmers stupid and (new) ones keep coming back, begging for more.

    Get involved with the business, own the IP, sit on equal footing.

    Yes, business sucks sometimes. Coding sucks sometimes too. If you're able to distingush people with the clue from those without, use that to outbid people. Yes, there's big budgets involved - but there's also people with big pockets who will fund things that look like they'll make money.

    Entrepreneurs: See the above? Find some really good programmers and PARTNER with them.

    Otherwise? Well.. I'm sure there's a fresh crop of programmers to burn out next year.
  • 5 years later.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by joebooty (967881) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:52PM (#15115498)
    I worked in the games industry in PC game development for about 5 years coming out of college. Some good things. I had my own office, there were pinball machines and game consoles in the break room, you could get pizza billed to the company delivered any time after hours etc. Also I learned some very important things about software development. Things like designing self contained code that can not break/interfere with unrelated code. Also learning that just because an app is more or less code complete means very little in the overall completion of your product, the real work is just beginning when that project hits QA. We had a QA lab inhouse and it was interesting to get perspective from interacting with those guys. Also the job made me better at testing my own code because if I did not test it well, I was just going to have 20 entries in the bug tracker when i got to work the next morning. Now on to the bad things. 60 hour weeks were very common. When there are milestones or internal project reviews or E3 or some gamign conference require special builds it is more like 70-80 hours with no weekends. When you have a team of 8 programmers and on any given day 4 of you are still there at 9pm it psychologically does not seem so bad because everyone is going through it together. Likewise when you show up on a Sunday and you see all the familiar cars in the parking lot you do not feel as though you are getting 'screwed' on your weekend. It is kind of amazing what you can get used to but in the end it does feel like young single programmers pretty much are the fuel of the gaming industry. When they are tapped out there is always more fuel waiting to jump onboard. Over time you realize all those perks are just lures to keep you at work as much as possible. When you are 22 some of these sacrifices are not so bad and you are constantly learning new things. When you move on to your second and third projects you start to realize that the problems are no longer new and being at work 60-70 hours a week for a salaried job is more annoying that it used to be. It is annoying things that change over time like hardware technology and machine API's relearning these things over and over every couple years is not intellectually rewarding it feels more like a chore. You can make a good living in games but most places pay a fairly modest salary and then have project completion bonuses that can be VERY rewarding if the product does well. Unfortunately programmers are just one part of the equation on whether or not a project sells well but we ARE the only part that does 20+ hours of free overtime every week for a couple years. Unless your product does great it is entirely possible that you walk away with the equivalent of 5-10$ per hour of bonus money for all that OT you worked which is really a raw deal. Ive been out of games for about 5 years now and would not consider going back. I do not regret my time there because I learned a great deal, but leaving the industry yields more money for fewer hours of easier work. Not a hard decision in retrospect.
  • Up or Out (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sketchkid (555690)
    There's nothing wrong with an up or out mentality in an industry. Both big law firms and management consulting firms employ this strategy. Having a revolving door of fresh blood may be what allows the industry to flourish with new creativity instead of stagnating with aging dinosaurs.
  • by SloppyElvis (450156) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:55PM (#15115520)
    Technical innovation has been raging in games, screenshots are ever more beautiful year after year, sound is terrific, and physics are improved. It's the content and themes that are stalled in a never-ending regurgitation of last year's offerings, and this is a result of producers wanting a "safe-bet" for the stakeholders money.
  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @02:59PM (#15115547)
    Its hard to really care when you're an artist working on games. All you hear is, "the game industry makes more than hollywood" and all you see is very low wages incomparison to hollywood fx artists, insane deadlines, tons of tedious work, little control over idea because it came down from the suits, no room for advancement, and it sucks the life out of you.

    The industry supposedly makes so much money and yet the salaries are like 40k to 60k, while the work days are 12 hours.

    Its not a fun job.

    The days of garage games are pretty much over due to the amount of time it takes to make a good 3d game.

    The game industry was great for artists and programmers, but then the suits came in. Yup those vultures from the entertainment buisness, such as the movie and music industry decided to get their hands on the gaming cash.

    No longer are the days of the garage game developers who make millions making a hit game. Now you go and work for the suits if you want to make a game. You get shit pay and thats the way it is.

    How much money did Halo make? How much do you think the guy who animated Master Cheif made?

    Peanuts.

    It's a shitty buisness thats been raped by the buisness majors.

    which is why i've decided to leave it and go into film and advertising.
  • It's hard to be a hardcore coder AND a hardcore World of Warcraft / EverQuest raider. 12h coding + 12h of grinding xp/pharming/raiding doesn't leave a lot of time in a day.
  • Replacability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Skraut (545247) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @03:24PM (#15115747) Journal
    The problem with the industry (or at least as I experienced) is that most of the stress comes from the looming spectre of "Do what we say or you will be replaced." You make the games you're told to make, and if you don't there's 10,000 other pimple faced kids with a copy of "Making Games for Dummies" ready to take your place for half your salary. Want to be creative? want to be innovative? Tough. As the story a couple days ago about Wal-Mart pointed out, The stores are looking for publishers who do what they are told.The publishers are looking for studios who do what they are told. Studios are looking for designers who design what they are told, and designers are looking for programming teams that do what they are told. Everyone who "dreams" of being in the business is just so happy when they get an opportunity that they just get taken advantage of, and become another cog in the corporate machine.
  • Supply and Demand (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deuterium (96874) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @04:25PM (#15116170)
    If game companies get away with overworking or underpaying their employees, it's only because there is apparently an oversupply of coders eager to work in games. This is a lot like professional acting or singing. Everybody wants to do it, and those who aren't the best at it won't get any great reward, but may still be happy to be involved on some level. Sooner or later, the invisible hand will set a steady scale rate for developers with the requisite experience. What is probably most needed are HR people who are able too weed out the enthusiastic but mediocre from the pool of qualified candidates. Working a clueless hack to death isn't going to do anything to help your quality or release date, and as the industry matures, I think compensation levels will as well. Too much money is at stake to play Monty Burns with the workforce.
  • I lasted 4 years (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rAiNsT0rm (877553) on Wednesday April 12, 2006 @04:44PM (#15116304) Homepage
    Four. I don't even personally know anyone who has been in the game for 10. 2-3 is the norm, and I eeked out one last year.

    It is a fast-paced, high-stress, thankless, low-paying, non-creative field. It didn;t used to be this way, bottom lines and the almighty dollar used to still play a big part in things but now it is just insanity.

    I have personally witnessed more innovative and fun titles get axed to move the talented folks on the team to work on some budget title or licensed product to meet a deadline than anything else. It is disheartening for everyone involved, and crushing to many. Who wants to work like that? Not creative talented individuals, but code pushers who just work in the confines of some pre-built engine and collect a meager check.

    I really want to see the Revolution make good on their claims of open/indie development for the system. Online distribution and a free/low cost accessible dev system would produce so many great and unique games. Xbox 360 is still too expensive and has too many barriers to really take off in this area and will just be a haven for ports and such, the Revolution has a rela chance to break into new territory and if they do I think a real revolution will begin.

    The industry needs to collapse and come down off of this Hollywood emulation they so desperately cling to, it has become derivitive, immature, inaccessible, expensive... and for what?

"I've seen the forgeries I've sent out." -- John F. Haugh II (jfh@rpp386.Dallas.TX.US), about forging net news articles

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