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Game Developers Sound Off On 'Quality Of Life' 67

Posted by Zonk
from the step-one-get-a-life dept.
simoniker writes "At the recent WIGI Conference in Dallas, a number of game industry veterans discussed the ever-problematic issue of 'quality of life' in the game industry, or, as moderator and The 7th Guest creator Graeme Devine commented: "What does that mean to most of you? Well, it means crunch." Aspyr's Lori Durham suggested of the issue: "You won't always have a perfect balance as far as how many hours you're outside of the office, and how many hours you're inside the office", but, for game developers: "As long as you feel good about where you are at that moment, Durham thinks that's what matters.""
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Game Developers Sound Off On 'Quality Of Life'

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  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:25PM (#15273919)
    Sorry I'm not first...but I'm only allowed out of my coding cell for two breaks in each twelve hour shift. Quality of life? I'd say it's pretty good. We get three meals a day, including one hot meal, and sometimes we get a mouse pad or eye drops if we invent something that saves render time. Well, gotta go - I heard we just got the rights to code the game for Charlie's Angels III; I know I'll need to pull a couple all-nighters just getting those stupid line breaks in the string tables lined up again.
  • by Cthefuture (665326) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:26PM (#15273929)
    Alright, I'm sick and tired of hearing about this issue and the overworked underpayed game developers. The only reason this is turning into a big deal is because a lot of these developers are fresh-out kids and have nothing to compare to so they eventually start thinking they are in a uniquely punishing position.

    The fact is, the conditions are nearly the same across the entire American culture. Everyone is always in crunch mode. I can't think of any development position I have ever held that wasn't mostly in crunch mode and I have never worked in game development. If you're working for the man then you are going to have to work overtime without pay and all sorts of things like little to no vacation time (at least in America where it seems the worst).

    The main thing with developers is they lack skill and/or experience and end up reworking code all the time or debugging like crazy because they can't figure out why something doesn't work. That is what really puts the pressure on them. It's especially difficult when you realize you made a mistake and have to redo days or weeks of work or you neglected to put enough debugging information to make problems easy to spot. That is painful crunch mode. As you get better and get more experience you make less of those mistakes (if you're smart) and although you're still in perpetual crunch mode it doesn't feel as stressful.

    This is not unique to software development either. Almost everything is like this.
    • Find better jobs. I've yet to be in one where crunch mode was more than a rare abberration, and most of those times the solution was to *gasp* push back the deadline. If you're in perpetual crunch, either your management or you are fucking up big time. I haven't worked more than 1 day or so of overtime a month, if that, ever. Nor will that be changing- if they want me to work without pay they can take their job and shove it.
    • by Drogo007 (923906) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:34PM (#15273974)
      If you're in a job like that you've got some seriously dysfunctional management.

      I was in the game industry for 5 years. I have put in upwards of 110 hours in a single week, not counting an hour for lunch or a half-hour for dinner break. Now when you realize that 18+ hours a day for MONTHS on end is normal in the game industry, well, they might have something to complain about.

      I have some former coworkers from that studio who have moved on to positions with other large corporations and they may wind up doing 60 hours weeks for 2 or 3 weeks. But nothing like the death marches we regularly endured.

      I'm currently with a smaller company. Any overtime has to be cleared with the president of the company. Most folks who work here haven't seen any overtime in over a decade. My brother (who worked at the same game sutdio) works for a medium size corporation now, and he hasn't seen overtime in over a year. And then it was only one 50 hour week.

      Once people realize that overtime is something that should be RARE rather than the norm, and start calling their boss on it, corporate America might just get the hint. In the meantime, enjoy your hours upon hours of being worked to death to pay for someone else's vacation home.
      • And with game development it at least used to be that it went in cycles. Development would start slow, and espically for later stage people it was a dream job of having almost nothing to do but play anround and help in the creative process as they could, it slowly ramped up, reaching a crunch right before release, and then back down again. I'm willing to bet it still works that way at least at some game studios. I can't very well see Epic being in a continual crunch, they don't release things often enough f
        • Yeah, strikes are not needed. If management can't accept that you want to work contracted hours only then you can leave. Employee turnover will kill them just as quickly as striking.
          • Not even leaving, just not working anymore. Work 40 or 50 or 60 or whatever you all decide is reasonable then just go home. If one guy is doing it, ya he's fired, but if the entire team starts doing it, they'll just deal with it. They won't sack and replace everyone, it'd kill them. You don't need to give up your job, just get together with your coworkers and agree to be sane about it.
          • Employee turnover will kill them just as quickly as striking.

            Not with an abundant labor pool and the majority of companies in the industry having the same policies, it wont. This is why we need unions.
    • Cthefuture, I had to chime in because I think you've taken too many unfair comments on the chin. So let me show some support.

      To anyone who thinks "Well I don't see what the problem is; I don't work that hard." - you're in the minority. Count yourselves lucky, the majority of us are bound in contracts that don't allow overtime and have management that simply expects us to work late to hit deadlines. Management sets the deadlines and we have to get them done and if you can't get it done during work hours
    • by Thangodin (177516) <elentar&sympatico,ca> on Friday May 05, 2006 @09:59PM (#15274798) Homepage
      I have to agree with the other respondents. I work in the games industry, and I discovered early that perpetual crunch mode does not work. The first company I worked in enforced 60 hour minimum weeks, with 80+ at peak. I clocked over 100 hours one week--by Thursday morning. It took me a month to fix the damage I did that week. I soon discovered that the work habits of everyone in the company had deteriorated to the point that it took 60 hours to get 35 hours work out of people, and if they went did work 40 hours, you barely got 20 out of them. This is called burnout. I remember one guy who was considered a crunch time hero, who wandered in at 11:00, didn't start asking code related questions till 4:00, and left at 8:00 most days. This means he barely put in 4 hours a day.

      Labour did not invent the 40 hour work week--in fact, they opposed it because they were paid by the hour. For 150 years companies have been doing research into the optimum work week, and they keep coming up with the magic number 40. When you go over this number, errors due to fatigue cancel out any productivity gained. You can exceed this for short durations, but the gains decline rapidly. It seems that every generation insists on learning this again the hard way. Companies get around it by literally cycling through employees; they get a lot of kids who aren't burnt out, but most of them have don't stick around long enough to gain much experience.

      Of course, there are the other costs as well. The other team at the first company I worked at had six married members when the project they were working on started. By the time it was done, all of them were divorced. I worked long hours on a project for a dot com back in 2000. The guy I worked with, a good friend of mine, died last year of congestive heart failure, caused by chronic stress. If you're working 60 hours a week or more on a regular basis, your boss is an incompetent boob. Your job isn't worth giving up your life for, figuratively or literally.
    • Well, not me. I don't work 80 hour weeks. In fact, I mostly work 40 hour weeks. Yes, there are occasionally, rarely, situations where I have to put in a lot of hours. (These situations usually occur because of something customer facing that means a lot of money for the company. They are not regular events.) I have weekends off. I get to use my vacation time. I take my lunch hour. It's been that way for 6 years.

      I make a good living for the area I live. I'm comfortable.

      It would suck if this wasn

    • The fact is, the conditions are nearly the same across the entire American culture. Everyone is always in crunch mode. I can't think of any development position I have ever held that wasn't mostly in crunch mode and I have never worked in game development.

      I know this now echoes a few posters views, but I don't think thats accurate. Totally depends on your industry and corporate culture, and I don't think this kind of required overtime is anywhere near the norm. I've been full time programming for 6 mont
  • Quality of life (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Confused (34234) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:31PM (#15273954) Homepage
    Quality of life are no more then 45 hours per week work time, 6 week paid vacation per year, a short commute, enough money to feed the family, keep it healthy and live comfortable and a job you don't hate most of the time.

    It seems that with the general IT population getting older, even in the USA people start to realise that spending 16 hours per day in the office isn't improving their life. Also it seem to me, that people aren't really more productive than people who just spend 9 hours per day. The excess time is usally spend in goofing around or creating problems, which will take time the next day to fix.

    • Re:Quality of life (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MerlynEmrys67 (583469) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:47PM (#15274053)
      Also it seem to me, that people aren't really more productive than people who just spend 9 hours per day. The excess time is usally spend in goofing around or creating problems, which will take time the next day to fix.

      Very true. It is rather interesting that as you go from 40 - 45 hours a week, there are HUGE productivity gains (the 5 hours is all productive - vs. 15 of the first 40 hours are meetings, overhead, waste) so you see a huge 20% gain in productivity... Wow - if I get that with 5, what do I get with 10 or 20.

      Well, what happens as you go from 45-60 hours a week, you start seeing bad effects with people spending more "Work" time doing their chores, longer lunches, dinner gets in there too... Then what happens that is even worse as you go through 60 hours to beyond is that preventable mistakes start happening. I am tired and make a mistake that takes days or weeks to debug and fix (even assuming it is caught and doesn't ship) and my ACTUAL productivity measured in debugged LOC/hr starts to plummet until sometime above 80-90 hours a week my productivity can actually become negative.

      These are all longer term results - you CAN drive a developer for a week at 80 hours... but if you try for a month - look out for failure as his life starts to fall apart, health suffers, mistakes are made, and they leave for a better life somewhere else - with the mess in your lap.

      By the way - I often wonder if this is the classic difference between young guns that CAN work longer hours for longer periods of times, and seasoned vetrans that don't seem to go over 60 hours, but are still effective (don't write as much code either - but what they write works better)

  • I have been programming for over 5 years as a profession now, and I guess that I am one of the lucky ones. I make 6 figures a year, and can think of less then a dozen times that I have 'HAD' to put in more then a 40-50 hour week. Sure, there have been times that I have been working on something, and got so drawn into it that before I knew it the sun had set and I had been working 14 hours straight, but that was my own initiative, and wasn't due to crunch time or management.

    I think that one of the other p
    • I felt good about making a six figure salary... until i realised that the digits after the decimal point dont count.
    • 6 figures a year?

      Where do you work, are you hiring and could you use someone with a background in security (making and breaking) and 10+ years of experience in pretty much any useful programming language (Assembler 80x86 and a little ARM only) except ABAP?
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf (17166) on Friday May 05, 2006 @06:59PM (#15274096) Journal
    You won't always have a perfect balance as far as how many hours you're outside of the office, and how many hours you're inside the office...

    Why not? (Assuming the guy means not like perfect to within a Planck constant, but a more normal kind of perfect.)

    What's really so damned unique about the game industry that makes it need 110 hour weeks? What's really so damned unique about the game industry that it makes it immune to the productivity nose dive that occurs after just a few 60 hour weeks?

    The real problem here is the fundamental assumption that there's something inevitable about this way of life. But somehow, almost nobody else needs to do this. So what's unique about the game industry?

    High stakes? Competition? Tight cycles? Winner-take-all market? High quality requirement? None of these are unique to the game industry, not even in combination.

    My personal opinion, informed on experience, is that the software industry in general is not unique. It is not immune to extremely-well-documented productivity declines that occur with excessive work weeks. It's just really, really hard to measure productivity, so people substitute time measurements instead as the nearest measurable quantity and never ask what it's measuring. The whole software industry has this disease; the game development community has an especially acute case, brought on by ignorance, pigheadedness, and (perhaps more important) the "need" for all these hours being determined by people who probably don't have to work them, or have no reason not to and can't imagine why anybody wouldn't.
    • What is unique to the game industry is the 'one and done' product cycles. Teams don't generally get multiple releases together to refine and hone their practices and procedures.
      • All the more reason to keep work hours down to a more sensible level like 45 or less per week. People constantly working 80-100 hours aren't going to be great at avoiding mistakes.

    • Re:Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Xiroth (917768)
      One of the most unique things about the game industry is that people are actually willing to work these hours. Writing games for many of the people in the industry is more a passion than a job, and some managers are quick to take advantage of that enthusiasm to encourage them to work to unhealthy levels. Now that's become so commonplace that it's simply accepted, and it's draining the passion out of the people working there. We'll see a balance regained, but only thanks to the disillusionment of many dedica
    • The reasons all come down to the fact that games jobs are regarded as high status among young males and thus there are thousands of applicants for every job. This leads to giving the employer more power over employees and a paranoid workplace. Thus:

      1. Management push. Almost everyone is young in games development, and many managers have come from the trenches with little or no management experience. When someone inevitably yells SHIP and the game goes to Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft for testing, there is a chanc
    • Me, I blame it on nerds and geeks. There is no inherent need to work 100 hours a week. With all the mistakes made etc, working 60 hours or just the standard 40 hours a week will get you the exact same level of finished product.

      But geeks and nerds like to geek out and have long evening coding sessions. It's what they did. The geek macho could, at any rate. And it's that geek macho which has penetrated and stuck in the software dev biz.

      And even if I'm wrong, I prefer this explanation, 'cause I can't think of
  • I am fairly worried about this kind of thing. I can foresee myself spending as many hours modeling/texturing/animating as possible, and that's all well and good while young and single. I thoroughly enjoy working and taking pride in what I do, and doubleshifts or longer hours a day don't bother me in the least... but what happens when if I get married and have kids? Do game developers allow senior employees to work from home at least some of the time? The last thing I want is to retire and realize I'd missed
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:23PM (#15274241)
    40 hours of a job that SUCKS is worse than 80 hours of a job you enjoy. I've had jobs that went on 18 hours a day for 7 days a week, going on for months. Didn't matter. It wasn't something I didn't enjoy. It was actually fun. Yeah, I'm weird, I consider creating code fun, and when an exceptionally cool function works it's better than sex.

    If I had to, say, bag some handbills for 40 hours a week (aside of the most certainly crappy pay), it would put more burden on my quality of life than those 7x18 weeks in a job I did enjoy very much.
  • by SpacePunk (17960) on Friday May 05, 2006 @07:24PM (#15274248) Homepage
    The 'article' just talks around the quality of life issue. Nobody on that 'panel' has the guts to define a baseline 'quality of life'. Nothing like "Hey, nobody should be required to work unpaid overtime. Everyone needs to get the hell out of the office at five or six, go home, bang the wife (girlfriend, boyfriend, squeeze one off), unwind, relax, etc... If your in the office after hours because you want to be there then you don't have a life, much less a quality life, and we'll hand ya a roll of tens, take you to the nearest strip joint, and introduce you to tits and ass."

    Work is not 'fun', it's not for 'play', it's certainly not a 'life'. It pays the bills, that's what it's for.
    • And here I was complaining about family time before your post brought me to the disconcerting realization that working those kinds of hours... well, it certainly isn't the kind of lifestyle that gives you ample time enough to put the needed effort into wooing a potential spouse. So I guess I don't have anything to worry about. :) Perhaps game developement companies should just reclassify themselves as a new type of monastery...
    • Work can be fun if it's 40 - 50 hours a week. Programming that AI guy to hide behind a crate, and pop out a few shots at you, and seeing it work, is immensely satisfying. Getting a cool shadow effect to work is immensely satisfying. These are the things we work on. And when it's all done, seeing your product on the store shelf is immensely satisfying. Of course crunches are hell, but to say "work is not fun," or it's just to pay the bills, just means you lack the passion to work in the games industry,
      • "Of course crunches are hell, but to say "work is not fun," or it's just to pay the bills, just means you lack the passion to work in the games industry, and you have no understanding of the drive and passion of the talent that does work there."

        Passion is for crybabies and sissies in relation to work. You go to work, you get the job done, you leave... rinse, and repeat. Your 'passion' should be used for YOUR LIFE. Unless you just like being reamed in the ass after you've given your 'job' all your passio
        • The whole 'passion' bullshit is trying to put the work as an art.

          Wow. Strangely, I find myself agreeing 100% with this.

          Example: Daikatana? Battlecruiser 3000 A.D.? Games built from the "heart" of "passion".

          Katamari Damarcy? The general impression I get is "uh, yeah, I guess we had fun? Maybe at some point? We weren't tortured, really. And yeah, the game's kinda cool, isn't it? Anyway, work work work".
          DOOM? I get that "yeah, we were friends and had fun together - but that thing wasn't passion. That t
        • I have passion for life too. I love my family. I love Formula 1. I love golf. I love fine gourmet food. And I also love my job. Maybe passion is a bit strong a word, but if you look at work as purely as a means to and end, then you come from a different universe than me. I'm not advocating working 60 hours a week without fair compensation, and fortunely, my company only does that a few weeks out of the year, but I see nothing wrong with being excited about the work you do. I'd rather be doing 8 hou
        • I'm not going to make any claims one way or another about "passion", but you've got to be nuts if you actively believe that work shouldn't be fun. You shouldn't burn your entire life there, no, which is what I suspect your real point was, but that doesn't mean it has to be a pure case of "You go to work, you get the job done, you leave... rinse, and repeat," either.

          As for myself, I'm not a workaholic. I have had a policy from day one of not working overtime on a routine basis and not working unpaid overti
    • > Work is not 'fun', it's not for 'play', it's certainly not a 'life'. It pays the bills, that's what it's for.

      Woah, I really feel sorry for you!

      Regardless of the hours issue, treating your job as just something that pays the bills is wasting those 40 hours a week and up to 20-30% of your entire life.

      Put your heart into your job, make it fun and your quality of life will go up a lot more than simply restricting yourself to an exact 40 hour week and paying your bills with it.
  • Wow, you people posting talking about working at least 40 hours a weekand up to 80 hours scare me.

    I don't mean to troll, but see, here in France, it's work 35 hours a week (at worse 39) or it's the strike. And the problem for me is that I'm planning on moving to the US, and I find it quite scary to think that I might have an over-40 hours a week job.

    • Here in the US there are under-40 hour/week jobs available, but they're usually designed that way to be "part time" so that the employer doesn't need to offer benefits. You'll find them in retail (Can I help you find something?) and service jobs (Fries with that?)

      So you get all the benefits of low hourly wages, no benefits, and you're replaceable, too!
      • Here in the US there are under-40 hour/week jobs available, but they're usually designed that way to be "part time"

        Seriously, you guys are getting screwed. So a 35-hours job in the US is a part time job? lol, that's quite funny, and at the same time scary.

        I only hope one day you guys will wake up and do quite what we did during the last 150 years or so, and fight in order to bring the weekly work time from 48 hours to 40 to 39 to finally 35 (although the 35 hours have always been controversial and are kind

    • Not to worry. If working hard is a scary thing for you, you can always flip burgers at McDonalds on a part-time basis, thereby assuring yourself of as many free hours per week as you want to pick your nose and sleep...;)

      The great thing about working in a country with as low an unemployment rate as the US is that you have no shortage of jobs to pick from if you're qualified. So, you can work as long or as little as you like, and take whatever job you like. The government doesn't put a gun to the head of e
      • you can always flip burgers at McDonalds on a part-time basis, thereby assuring yourself of as many free hours per week as you want to pick your nose and sleep

        lol great idea. by the time i'll move to the US i'll be a sysadmin, so no, I won't work for McDonald's in order to work for a decent amount of time.

        So, you can work as long or as little as you like, and take whatever job you like

        Wait, do you mean I can be a 35-hours/week sysadmin??

        "going on strike" is just another way of telling your employer that

  • by DSP_Geek (532090)
    Every place I worked which imposed 100 hour/week crunch modes more than once was a guaranteed lose, because it meant management was so incompetent they couldn't come up with a plan of work more sophisticated than "more hours! more hours!". It was only a matter of time before they drove their employees into the ground, followed shortly by corporate implosion after mass defections took the necessary brainpower to greener fields.

    Game companies sound like lousy places to work on that basis, but that's to
  • by Digital Vomit (891734) on Friday May 05, 2006 @11:25PM (#15275153) Homepage Journal
    I had some email correspondance with one game developer who flat out told me all these terrible stories were "urban legends" and just "bullshit". Then, in all seriousness, he went on to describe how only a few people in the studio worked more than 50 hours a week, and that during "crunch time" he might work upwards of 85 hours a week for a few months.

    I guess denial is how he copes?

    Or maybe he was just screwing with me. :-P

    • Really? (Score:3, Funny)

      by waltc (546961)
      I guess it's you who is in denial...;) Since when does a 50-hour work week = a 100-hour work week? IMO, "crunch time" wouldn't happen at all if the people who manage and work in the game companies didn't spend ~20 or so hours per week of every week leading up to the month before release "talking at the water cooler" and "taking coffee breaks" and "scratching their nuts" and "Internet surfing" and etc., ad infinitum...;)

      Basically, "crunch time" looks to me as the game developer saying to itself and its emp
  • by creimer (824291) on Saturday May 06, 2006 @01:13AM (#15275513) Homepage
    I think Dilbert [dilbert.com] sums it up nicely! Been there, done that, don't want to do it again.
  • no wonder the game industry survives on younger workers (minions) they dont generally have a committment towards a significant other, they are more than happy to work extra hours as long as that earns them brownie points in the eye of their boss/supervisor because they either as one person said dont have a life besides what they do at work (including no hobbies to pursue and their idea of fun is playing games) or they have a tough time going to back to their lonely lives at home. Thr trouble starts with peo

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