Friday, October 17, 2008

Content? Happy? Passionate?

For everyone else, starting next Monday we're going to ten hour days. Eight of those hours have to be between ten and six ... so we're just basically going to be crunching company-wide... and then on Saturday it's core hours, so 1:30 to 5.
- Rod Fergusson, Producer Gears of War
I was watching my bonus content disc from the Gears of War collector's edition when I heard the above quote, which was made four months before the game went gold. You can't tell from the quote alone, but nobody is surprised or obviously annoyed about the announcement. The assumption seems to be that this is simply how the industry works, and it's a reasonable trade-off to work six day weeks in exchange for creating one of the landmark titles of the year.

The quote above is followed by "No limit on what your duration of time beyond that is, but we need need you at least here on Saturday at core hours." People are going to be voluntarily working more than the mandated 53.5 hours a week, and they're being reassured that they're not going to be pressured about working too much.

Now, sure the games industry is a different beast altogether to corporate software development , but consider this: what would be the reaction in your workplace if your project manager came in and said a six days work week was not only expected, but mandatory? In my situation I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be met with indifference and people asking if they could work more hours.

What's the difference? People who make games want nothing more than to make games, People who make corporate software have a job. There simply doesn't exist an outcome from a corporate software contract that is worth 27 unpaid days' work over four months. If everything goes perfectly to plan the best result is that nobody will complain. There are three basic reasons why people will work mandatory overtime:
  1. They need the job. For whatever reason, be it family or mortgage or whatever, the employee can't afford to lose their job by refusing to work the overtime.
  2. There's a payoff at the end. I don't mean overtime pay, I mean millions of dollars of stock options in an IPO or similar.
  3. They are passionate about the work. The person wants nothing more than to see the project get released on time and to the highest level possible. There are a number of motivations for this passion, but the fact that the passion fuels the work remains unchanged.
Can you think of a situation in your job where you'd happily work an extra 30% in unpaid overtime for four months just to get the product out on time? I can't, and I really wish I could.


glyph said...

While game developers do tend to enjoy their work a bit more than the average corporate drone, you shouldn't romanticize this too much.

The primary reason nobody complains in this sort of environment is simply that it is socially expected. Like victims of a cult, game developers are introduced to their abuse bit by bit, so each individual affront seems reasonable, even worthwhile. By the time you see the final, inevitable 'crunch' announcement, everyone's sense of reasonable employer/employee relations has been so thoroughly destroyed that it just seems normal to be told that you can never leave the compound, erm, I mean, office, until the messiah, uh, I mean, gold master, arrives.

If you haven't already read it, you should see the ea_spouse story. That story resulted in a class-action lawsuit. Treating people like this is illegal, even in the united states, which has far from the most stringent labor regulations.

Bice Dibley said...

Yeah, I'm familiar with ea_spouse, and I know that realistically nobody wants to spend 80 hours a week doing anything. And somewhere like EA, or Epic or Activision it is a carefully created environment where working until your fingernails fall out is just what the company expects.

However you see the same kind of insane hours worked by indie game developers who have no hierarchy applying the pressure to them. I guess the flipside is that they don't earn any actual money, which I guess makes it pretty much incomparable.

So, in summary: yeah, fair point.