WWI Epitaph

  • If any question why we died,
    Tell them, 'Because our fathers lied.'
    — Rudyard Kipling

Places Sara (or I) Blog

The Other Old Blog

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 02/2005

« EA coverage | Main | BSE ‘link to different CJD types’ »

2004.11.11

Comments

Pina

We are four guys trying to take of the ground with a young project and are impaired by the non undestanding of those who are investing in us.

We live in Portugal Oporto. How is that for a challenge?

CybrF

Very good article! I am a Software Enguineer with 15 years on this business. I have left companies for this same type of business practices. Good planning and having a good assestment on the team's abilities is paramount for success. This can only be done by good tracking of past performances. This is more valuable than having a skillful development team.

Backrod

My ass, your ass!

Geoff Depew

I'd bet money that EA won't take you up on your offer, because their internal culture doesn't like the idea of it. I remember reading when EA was founded and all the things that it believed in... and now? They're taking those original founding principles and tossing them out. Good for you, sir, and I hope someone finally takes you up on your offer.

TheOne

This was a great read. The thing I don't undertstand is that this is plainly obvious and I myself have repeated many times the things in this article, yet managers still repeat the same mistakes and then pat themselves on the back when it's all said and done.

William Volk

As a former VP of Technology at Activision, and the current CEO of a mobile games and content company I agree with what Evan is saying here. To be more blunt, what's happening at EA is the triumph of APPEARENCE over REALITY. It's not about the results, it's about convincing management that your teams are working as hard as they can ... and damn the results.

I am amazed that this nonsense is still going on years after it has been proven counter-productive time and time again.

Peter Bartholow

Fantastic and, dare I say it, inspirational essay.

I want a stable and normal home life some day - wife, kids, dog. Unfortunately, I can't imagine myself doing anything other than game design for a living, and it would be a disservice to those around me if I were to pursue that home life with the industry in the state it's in. I'm young so I have time, but unless things change, my days in this industry are limited - in the long-run my normal home life is more important to me, and I will be able to cope with a less-potentially-fulfilling job to realize that.

Reid Kimball

In addition to poor management practices I believe another reason developers find themselves in crunch mode often is poor development tools. So many games try to create the wheel from scratch with brand new engine technology. I've worked on 5 different games and each one had a different set of tools for me to do my job (level designer). There's a learning curve with each project so I can use the tools and some of them are very counter-productive in their work flow efficiency. I can't wait until this industry essentially has standard development engines and tools for developers. It'll save us a lot of time using tools that are stable and robust.

-Reid Kimball (brushbaron@hotmail.com)

Scott Ruggels

Evan,

Long time no hear. Well we've seen the final result of EA's current prqctices in the abysmal quality, and ultimate demise of the 3Do company, where Richard Hicks set SKU Quantity over quality, and with 7 month production schedules for PS2 titles, and the interchangeability, some teams were on 2 or 3 year crunches. One of the producers worked himself into a bad health, bu7tbasically never leaving the office and sending folks out to do laundry for him. He went on leave (for health reasons) and returned as work-a-holic as ever. After 9 hours, I just shut down,and surfed, because "we culdn't play games" during crunch. Butt in the chair, reading the web and ordering dinners on the company ticket. We weren't any more productive, and because of this and other factors a lot of folks "phoned their work in", so to speak, and 3do's titles were justifiably critically reviled for being graphically lavish pieces of crap. EA should not go the same route. Yes, this crunch is stupid, and other than trying to keep payroll costs down, doesn't eem to make a lot of sense. Thanks for the clear thinking on this.

Scott

Diego Jimenez

I have shared the link to this essay around and everybody seems to agree you have made a quite a good case in your favor. I have much respect to you, for having the guts to put that challenge out there and the brainpower to support it.

Jeff Brown

Hi there-

I've been a game developer for 11 years, and am now Senior Lead Designer at a well know company (NOT EA =)

EA's argument against this runs 'then why have our games been so successful for so long?' My theory is that this is just due to spending 2-3x what they need to to make a game. But, given that their system works for them, what incentive is there for change, really?

Ex EA 10 yr ringing in from a place far away from EA (since July). Your name is rather familiar, but cannot place you.

Great and cogent analysis of the problems and solutions. As you know, this is not a rocket science type problem. But it IS a problem driven by the personalities at the top. The guys running EA now are not the same ones from 10 years ago. The new guys don't give a damn about anything we write on blogs, unless it somehow impacts their egos. They are beyond mere monetary considerations, they are playing the Game of Princes. So yes your blog is great, but essentially useless as it does not solve the real problem of inhumane leadership. I have experiences that validate my sense of this problem if you are interested.

Best of luck and thanks for adding energy, wit and rationality to this multi-blog topic.

Aloha!

The Wombat

Evan Robinson

That is the question -- why should EA change?

They're making their deadlines, and shortening their schedules won't help them any.

They're not paying overtime, so eliminating overtime won't help them any.

I can think of only two reasons they have to change:

1) They're leaving money on the table: better (less bugs, more features) product should sell better. Of course, to someone who says "I could sell dog shit in the right box", maybe that's not a convincing argument;

2) Less turnover will allow them to build games with smaller teams. That will save them money. Experienced developers can do more work than inexperienced ones (on average), largely because they don't need to be brought up to speed on the game and libraries they're working on (assuming they've worked on the previous version, that is).

I'm not going to advance the moral and ethical arguments since they obviously don't contribute to the bottom line. I will point out that the current firestorm of criticism EA is experiencing may well reduce the bottom line -- either through boycott of their products or reducing the number and quality of their entry-level programmers.

Evan Robinson

God damn but I am smart! Check out this article I wrote seven years ago. The formatting is sucky but the information is pretty much there.

Derek Meister

I'm not a programmer by trade, just a mere tech support guy, but I've worked a spectrum of jobs within the corporate, academic and military environments to know that smart people don't work smarter simply because you're working them harder.

From my experiences with supporting programming departments I've seen huge problems with team management that would have not only gotten the person responsible removed from duty back in my Army days, they would probably have been administratively seperated from service as well.

It's amazing to me that a field driven by intelligence rather than physical strength still needs to learn the simple premise of "work smarter, not harder".

Aaron Fitzpatrick

I'm taking a Game Design course at school in Toronto and find the news of these EA employees very troubling. Am I soon to be part of this 50% turnover rate? There aren't too many development houses here in Ontario, and I guess it's only understandeable that I know FEAR a job with EA. This was a great essay, and I hope it saves people in the industry now, and beginners like me, much time and wasted effort.

Edward

If this is the type of shit that me and my family have to look forward to, (I'm an aspiring game artist) than I'd gladly give up my dream so I can watch my little girl grow up. These corporate bastards need to be shot. We are not slaves, nor are we outsource workers. How may of these game development managers are immigrants? Check THAT out . . . I'm sure you would find a lot of them.

Slappy

I was a programmer in the industry for seven years (lead for five) and agree with everything you say, but I wonder if EA corporate has "dictated" those hours, or it was just the original spouse's team?

Also regarding reinventing the wheel, that's a chronic problem in the industry but mostly because of engineer immaturity -- 23 and 24 year olds just DON'T want to use others' code, they can always do it "better", and ALWAYS insist they can "have it up and running in a weekend." I was the same way when I first started... and nothing I could do or say as lead could ever convince them except pulling rank and pissing them off (and morale). And part of the development culture at least at the time a few years ago was individual ownership of "your" code, and productivity was better when people could design and implement their "own" part however they saw best (as long as it plugged into the main framework). So people would reinvent the wheel even if you said not to... and have to stay late to fix it because they'd always fall behind the milestones. So everybody was always staying late, out of choice.

(Not surprisingly, my teams usually blew our deadlines and produced crap, mostly because I was a crappy lead and gave up caring probably... and that's why I left. But I'm glad I did, working my straight 40 hour weeks now with a wife and beautiful baby... I'd never go back).

Eric

Edward, it's not like that everywhere. But I'd say if the leads or producer are under age 30, or it's a large studio with leads like that, run away. It's too easy for them to take people off projects doing well and stick them on the ones in trouble, so everybody just ends up running around putting out fires.

There are also a number of quiet studios where the old and jaded go to fade away *cough*stormfront*cough*, but at least the projects are well-run, if not a little dull, and people do leave at 5 or 6 every day.

monkeyman

In the spirit of parody. :)

EA Management Motivational Posters

Anonymous "Simmer"

Wow, I've been reading these stories all evening since I first saw them mentioned at www.thesimszone.com All I can say is thank you and all who are coming out with this news.

I am 17 and it is my dream and goal in life to work in the electronic entertainment industry creating the art for games. I am saddened to know that the company I have been hoping to get a job at for so long, Maxis / EA, has such barbaric working conditions. I knew for a long time that game developers work long and unusual hours, but I was always under the impression that it was done fairly, and that they were well paid for that work - now don't get me wrong, the reason I want to get into game design is because of my passion for great games, not for the pay check, but what I am learning now just scares me... passion will only get one so far, and such mistreatment will not allow it to grow productively.

Perhaps all of this coming out will get the attention of management before it is too late - yeah I know, very naive to think so.

I still hope with a passion to create games someday, and I still hope to work at Maxis - they produce some of my favorite games - but I hope conditions improve so that 1) there will still be game developers around to create great games and inspire us "gamers" to get into the business, and 2) so that when I start working with games, I won't regret fulfilling a dream I have stuck to for so long.

Thanks again, I will be sure to show my gaming friends this article.

Peace!

Young Lead

Eric,

I'd just like to say that not all young leads act like that. Let me tell you a short story.

I was 22 when I got my first lead role. I was already Senior Developer at the time.

The company had been having some turbulent times, and some excellent people had left the company. It was a small company with around 16 developers which were now down to 12. (Since age is the topic here, their average age was around 33, I was the youngest in the company). Among them, the technical director had left. The senior devs had usually been managing their projects with a large amount of help from him. So when he left, things started breaking down. I felt that the quality of the software was going downhill, and we kept slipping our schedules and missing milestones.

I have always thought process was important and had done a lot of reading and thinking on the subject (McConnell and Beck in particular), so I asked the new technical director if I could be technical lead on a project. I discussed many of the points you wrote here, and he allowed me to take lead in a new application which was to be delivered a few months later.

It started with me and two other developers. While I couldn't do much to improve the work environment or get the best developers on the project (I tried!), I definitely could do a lot in the others. My main focus was on planning and motivation (which I think is missing from your list). I always insisted on doing the highest quality possible, and created a vision of a cool product in our minds. We got excited about trying out a new process and doing a really good job and in a few weeks worked out which of my ideas actually worked for us, and we basically stayed in that mode for the rest of the project. I can go on, but to cut the story short, we met our deadlines and created a high quality product, basically by following the recipe you gave above.

After the initial delivery, it was decided to create second version, and we ended up being six people full time on the project. I am still the technical lead, and now so much wiser at 23! :-)

DSIF veteran

This isn't limited to just the game development arena. Luckily, the two types of "crunch" that I've experienced (including one right now that's causing amazing neck and back pain) have been accompanied by compensation, because the govt required it. 2 weeks 0400-1630 then 2 weeks 1600-0200, repeat for 18 months, back to normal for 6 months then pulled back in for another 6 because they need your "experience". Currently doing 1400-0200 or whenever the manager tells the lead analyst to tell us its OK to go home.

If somebody disputes the 40-50-60 hour thresholds described above, he's at least talking about close to the 9-5 shift. Put a similar "brain" job of radar system performance analyst on a 2pm to 2am schedule, and dumb mistakes (both mine and by others) start to occur after only a few days. Good thing this current crunch has a defined end, and I go on vacation the next day.

I feel for the people going through this crap and not getting comp or OT pay. Voting with the feet may not be an option for those without financial fallback, but that seems to be all that management understands. At least if you're getting pay for overtime, it makes "progress" meetings less of a insult.

icelava

And once again: Rapid Development

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1556159005

Burntout Code Goddess

This type of burnout permiates all different types of dev teams. I work for a leading ISP and although we're not a core dev house, our dev teams too work with absolutely unrealistic expectations. We have VP's promising other VP's that our team can produce products in under a week - this is quite common. And the reward for miraculously shipping something in that insane timeline is MORE OF THOSE CRAZY TIMELINED PROJECTS! ("hell they did it before, they can do it again, but this time, they should buckle down and get it done in THREE Days instead of a week" - see the slippery slope there?)

My team's manager is completely unable to protect the team from any of that kind of nonsense. The reassurances of "hang in there kiddo" offer little comfort. The reminders that "this is just how it's always been" seem way too cliche. After a month or more of being on call constantly, sleeping 2-4 hours a night, ignoring my family and working my butt off, something very interesting happened. I suddently couldn't give a shit if I ever saw another line of code. I found myself angry with my manager, my company and myself for thinking this company would be any different than others for which I worked. I found my concentration out the window and my motivation nonexistent. Everytime I blinked, I discovered something I'd terribly screwed up. This upset me greatly and I would chase my tail to put out these fires. But the problem is that after a period of time, all I can do is introduce problems - my brain gets exhausted and I make stupid mistakes. Each time I get this way, I find myself longing to deliver pizzas or wash windows for a living. I've even taken MONTHS off from coding because it just gets way too intense to deal with when you've done nothing but code like happy little monkey for months on end. Tell me how I'm helping my company when my attitude is ALMOST poor enough to unintentionally sabotage these projects. We used to get "comp time" but the same VP's with the insane timelines felt our team shoudld be "more visible" (read in the office from 9-5 no matter what). This type of management just sets up a team for failure.... They have no clue and no compassion, and it's exhausting to see everybody running around chasing their tail.

Please - come offer that challange to the ISP who "revolves around you!".

-One Code Goddess' rant...

King Mongo

Simply stated, the abusive taskmaster approach to management is easier. Managing people is incredibly difficult, and requires someone to stand back and out of the fray far more often than it does to wade in with a bat; abusive, cruel, manipulative methods are easier to implement, provide more direct, immediate results, and are more immediately gratifying, particularly to the classically trained corporate middle manager.

Mark Manyen

I am another long time vet of the game biz and I agree with your essay's points. I finally gave up on games when I realized my daughter was walking and talking when, in my mind, she should not even be crawling yet. I never worked directly for EA, I was an employee of a number of companies that had EA as the only publisher. Let me tell you that it is not just EA. In my 18+ years I have been in this situation way more than in the "enlightened" situation that you describe. The ratio is something like 1 Year of good for every 7 Years of evil. In each case (after the first), I voted with my feet and left when I got too stressed out.

This is the advice that I give youngsters that say that they are interested in the game industry: "Run away! Don’t be like me!"

P.S. Gratuitous 1986 joke! "Remember in 6502 0xEA = NOP"

Minor nitpick, but I'm not sure I agree with enclosed offices being a necessity for game development. That seems to be one of those points that needs preaching for corporate software development, but it doesn't translate well when you're trying to make a more creatively-geared project like a game. I sure could use some more desk space, though.

Jon Reid

Is outsourcing to India is not working out? Is it a factor of distance and difference of timezones, or what?

Evan Robinson

As I understand it, at least one major project team at Adobe has quietly (and still unofficially, when I last heard) rejected using Adobe India for any coding. Reasons included: poor code quality, poor turnaround time and communication difficulties (both because of time zones and because of language).

Great Article. I've been in the industry for 10 years and have walked on many a death march, more often then not on projects i didn't have any desire to play or make. Now that I have finally allowed myself the luxury of having a child(and a home life) I can't stop thinking about how absurd this whole thing has become. Since My husband also works in the industry and is subjected to the same industry abuse, I've had no choice but to put my career up on the chopping block by insisting on normal working hours to accomidate basic parental responsibilty. Surprisingly, the disapproval and nay-saying comes from my fellow employees as much as management...but who can blame them for feeling it isn't fair? I'm searching for a new career path now, i'm done with the BS.

Duri Price

Yep. I've been in software since '92, and started in games (I've been a tester, QA manager and game designer). I left games in '98, and much of the reason was the sort of thing you describe. The same crap happens in the rest of the software industry, but with one major difference; by and large, the rest of the industry can't get away with statements like "You should be happy to have a chance to work on this fine game!", which seems to be one of the more assinine motivational fallbacks of the games industry.

I've been in management most of the last 8 or 9 years, and follow the principles you describe. My experience is that my projects (which are mostly testing projects incidentally, which I run with the same approach) are consistantly on time and hit our goals. My normal limit is not more 2 weeks OT, and that reserved for the end of the project. My people stay smart, work -effectively-, and don't leave. I'd say that wins. Now I teach this stuff for a living.

I wish the game industry would figure it out. I'd love to work in games again, but will never torture myself with that kind of stupidity again. Life is too short.

Mike Dornbrook

This is a great and long-overdue discussion. After 25 years in this industry, I've seen everything that has been described here. But the good news is that it is possible to learn from the mistakes and run a humane and successful game development company.

During my first couple of years at Infocom I worked 80-110 hours a week. I took only 2 days off in an 18-month period (one was Christmas day, I forget the other). Partly it was due to a huge workload, but mostly it was my own youthful, gung-ho, "I'm going to knock their socks off" attitude. After 18 months of this, I finally took a vacation. It was 7 days before I found myself actually relaxed, and I decided then and there to make a change. I vowed never to work weekends again (and, with only a couple of exceptions, I've managed to keep my resolution).

Harmonix has now done 6 PS2 games, 3 for Sony and 3 for Konami. All have been on time, on budget, and critically acclaimed. The normal workweek here is 40 hours. We do occasionally go into "crunch mode" before a major milestone such as the E3 demo. Typically this is for two weeks at 48 hours a week. Twice we've gone into a "major crunch" for the gold master delivery. Our major crunch is 11-hour days on weekdays, plus 8 on Saturday. [We're generous with comp time after the project is finished.] We view these major crunches as failures, and have vowed to do all in our power to eliminate them.

It has been said before in this thread, but I'll reiterate: you need excellent scheduling, a prioritized feature list, and the discipline to cut when necessary.

-Mike Dornbrook, EVP & COO

Mike Dornbrook

I forgot to mention: our employees' satisfaction with their jobs is quite high, and turnover correspondingly low. The median length of employment of programmers here is 5 years, and virtually all of the managers have been here at least that long. That makes a *big* difference.

-Mike

Ea is american so, only money and f...ck everything else.

What dou you wait of EA if it is from U.S.A.

EA sucks.

james

A global game development union could sort out this issue. It could use consumer goodwill, the media and the markets to pressurise non-compliant companys. Theres enough talent and creativity in this industry to destroy unreasonable CEO's.

Coherent English would help your case hold up a little better, anonymous. Just because it's an American company doesn't mean it's instantly bad. Just because anything is American doesn't mean it's instantly bad. Hate monger. On a more relevant note to the problem; yes it is long over due. Electronic Arts is possibly starting to take notice. They may not feel it's a threat yet but they will if things don't change. I'm sure change will come eventually as it will come to "sink or swim" eventually. Some sort of union would help speed that up and prevent it from happening again I'm sure. We'll see if the Class Action Lawsuit against EA goes on through. Things are looking good considering the court halted EA's attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed. Time will tell.

Yet Another Mike

A word from the student trenches - I recently graduated from a 4yr degree program in a game programming which, unfortunately, tends to be a microcosm of the industry with 4 years of 10-13 hour days and regular 6-8 hour saturdays. But it is not entirely a bad thing; having 4 years of crunch BEFORE you even get in the industry is a powerful motivator to find responsible companies and alternative paradigms. Every student in that school aspires to the be in the industry, and we all talk to each other to find out which companies make the grade. Even if we have to stoop to working at a designated "sucky" company, we go in with full knowledge of the fact that we should still be looking for a responsible employer. Coming out of that environment, I knew what companies I wanted to be a part of, and I even turned down companies that I felt to irresponsible, which is a scary thing for a graduate trying to break into the industry. But I knew from talking around that intelligent companies were out there, and that if I could hold out, it would be worth it - and it has.

Timon

I worked for a top game company on million-selling games, but the entire time I was there I was always under tremendous pressure. "Make it better or you're fired!"

The only way to achieve the quality they desired on schedule was to put in a lot of extra hours. I averaged 13-16 hours-a-day, 5-7 days a week, for about 9 months out of the year. I know, a luxurious schedule by game industry standards. But the constant threats of being fired really took their toll on me.

Even when we weren't crunching, I lived in constant fear of the crunch starting again, and so never got any rest. I didn't have any friends outside of the office. I hadn't had a date since I started in the industry. I'd been in the game industry for nearly a decade before that company, but never anywhere else was the pressure so high. I was really becoming a nervous wreck. I called the company mental health hotline several times, but all they could tell me was "Don't jump!"... they couldn't offer any real solutions to my problems.

Needless to say, I am not employed there anymore. It took many months of therapy to calm me down, and seperate "game programmer" from my identity and sense of self-worth. I'm now on anti-depressant medication and doing much better, although I still can't play anything more elaborate than Ms. Pac Man without getting kinda upset.

These days I entertain myself by playing guitar and leave the TV and games off.

I've been out of work for over 6 months. I'm not sure I could work on games again, and having talked to my recruiter extensively about my insistance on a 40-hour week clause in my contract, it's not likely that I will be invited back to do so.

I've programmed nothing but videogames (straight C and assembler) for the past 12 years and that has left me with a skill set that is hard to sell outside of the game industry. I'm trying to train myself up on new skills, and making a go of it as a freelancer, but contracts have been few and far between. Many months have been poured into prep work for jobs that suddenly evaporated into thin air. Mostly my own lack of proper contacts and networking have been responsible for my lack of success so far.

I don't think anything will ever change the game industry. As long as there are kids who think it would be cool to make games for a living, they will be exploited. I used to be one of them.

If you're thinking about a career in the game industry: Don't.

Disgruntalassault

I completely agree with your above statement, well written. In my situation we have a company who hires nothing but young talent and the turn over is starting to reflect that of EA's. We also receive no overtime and incredible unthinkable deadlines That we always meet.

Try 3 months to build a Triple A title with an oversized undermanaged team. Bigger is not better people, more people means more slackers and slackers dont read crucial todo emails which means more people screwing up and less production due to stoppage in flow because someone messed you up. 8hrs would be fine and dandy to get work done if it was properly managed. And If any HR people are reading this you might wanna Can the next Moral event your planning, we need money not free beer. Beer dont pay the rent. Crunch after crunch after crunch and yet our salaries stay at a low such that when I worked in retail I made more, OH they say that we will get good bonuses. Sure if we stay to get them we "MIGHT" get a bonus dependant on a 20 page algarythm system that they've concocted to see how much of the aloted profit we can have. As well after theyve given the govenment Half of it. BONUS cram it up your ass, I wanna aford to pay a mortage, settle down and have a child and be able to see him/her grow up.

But they continue to push us all the while saying so coldly well you have 2 choices you can do it or you can leave. Leave what kind of option is that for someone with 1 year in. This isnt some kind of production job you can just pick up and do. This CAREER took years of my countless hours to breakinto. SO as the story goes Ill bid my time until someone else makes me a better offer and hope to god that the extra money means the next company will be owned and managed by people and not slave drivers.

Are the creative people in charge of the schedule?

If so this panic crunch at the end of the schedule will never change.

Cram in more features, cram more in; all the way at the end.

If the game succeeds its the creative leads vision and dedication; if the game fails then it was because the technical guys failed to make the grade.... (Been there chewed that,)

Once I got to be talking to my ex-MD about business cycles and he could not for the life of him after 20 years figure why his company unfailingly went through a bad downturn every few years. "How often does the software staff turnover?" I asked , "Software staff? What do they matter? its the producers who count and they dont change every two, three years like the software staff do.....!" Doh.

There are some tools to help stop this - one of which is increasingly used on the big IT projects to give proper visibilty of projects.

Elapsed time schedules tell very little. Often they disguise problems. First change the schedules to man-hours - and plan the schedule at 6 (productive) man hours per person per day.

Each month a comparison against actual hours against planned hours is made, also actual progress versus planned progress. Either one varying by more than a couple of percent is a danger signal that can be caught early in the project.

The other important facet of this style is that everyone, without exception, can view the schedule, the assumptions in it, and the variance each month. Not just managers, but programmers, designers, artists and Publisher staff.

If its not totally visible what is some incompetent trying to hide?

If a publisher can see a detailed account of how fast their cash is burning against true progress and hours worked, how much more confident they should be in giving a studio work and being less insistent about repetetive milestones?

Instead of demanding ever more complete expensive tech demos publishers could be demanding better visible project plans that demonstrate a capability to complete on budget, on schedule, and give them fair and true warning if things start to go awry.

It may actually be down to publishers demanding better security for the increasingly large budgets that might actually break the industry out of this one.

Jeff Lewis

Stephen Horn

I'm still working on a 4-year computer science degree, and still hoping to get into the games industry, but... wow. Suddenly, a lot of the companies I was originally looking at are looking very bad, because I know I can't effectively work 85-hour weeks for months at a time without suffering from a complete burnout that will hurt me for years to follow. Heck, I'm still coming out a burnout from pushing myself along those lines for a semester: a tragic error that hurt my GPA and will hurt my job opportunities for the rest of my life.

Now I'm looking for development studios with sane practices... and I'm glad to have been warned! Working for EA would have killed me and probably left me in similar condition to Timon. I want to work on games, I'm extremely dedicated and tenacious to a fault, and my peers in the CS department seem to view me as some kind of programming hero... but I'm going to need a schedule more closely approximating an average 50 hours/week than 90, and maybe that means I should just "stay out", or try going indie with the wonderful WWW to distribute my products.

wife of industry artist

i think the big thing is appreciation.. it is the one thing that i've heard every person IRL and online complain of - they do the hours and get no thanks - most aren't bothered by bonuses etc - they just want a simple thank you and to be appreciated... the bonuses are nice but not if they are for £4 !!!! (from a huge game and company) and especially as no thank you's were attached but management got new cars... some how that doesnt seem right to me.

we have been lucky - hubby is now with a cool company who so far have kept their promises... we are determined to stay working for people who appreicate what you do and how you do it... rather than how long your seat has been warm...

a lot of the bad stuff comes from people who are in charge and have never worked a decent day inthe industry at all... office management, schedulers etc... there is nothing worse than some over paid management bod telling you you need to do more/stay late etc when you know they havent put in a full days work, never mind done a real industry job...

companies need to sort out life/work issues becuase unhappy and stressed and exhuasted employees are not good.. they need time off, to have a life outside of the office and more importantly know that the job they do is appreciated and valued to the point where management get their arses in gear and learn how to do their job properly.

i've been through the ea's wife type of thing and have/am seeing other wives familys going through it and it sucks big time...

gamergirl

Dear Writer,

Wouldn't you agree that you took a pretty sexist viewpoint to write this article assuming that EA_Spose is a female, wife, widow, whatever. Nowhere in the journal does EA_Spouse confess the sex of either spouse, and mentions NOTHING in regards to being a wife, husband, mother, father, etc. For all you know, EA_Spouse could be the husband of a female EA employee. Get your sexist head out of your arse, and think outside of the box for once. Jesus.

Matt Wagner

A very, very good article. I work for a B2B software company that tries to very strictly enforce a '40 hour a week' mentality on ALL employees because they want us to feel part of a good team, not a slave galley.

Gamergirl - I think it's a bit sad that for all the good points made here, you specifically felt you had to rail about him being 'sexist.' Yes, it is a bias. But have you looked at the industry lately? There are some phenomenally good women working in gaming and game development. However, they remain a minority. I don't think the assumption was made with malice.

Evan Robinson

Gamergirl: I quote from ea_spouse's original post:

I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?"

(emphasis mine)

I took the easy way out and assumed that, because ea_spouse's SO was male, that I could generally refer to ea_spouse as female. I know that there's a possibility that ea_spouse is also male, but I've known many male gay couples who refer to each other as husband & wife so I figured widow was not out of bounds.

If you'd rather be offended than accept that I didn't want to clutter my writing with "he or she", "they", "hrit", or other offenses against the easy flow of language and information, you go right ahead.

This is the best article I've read on this issue to date. Thank you.

LegacyOfHerot

I worked for EA in the UK, in publishing, not game dev, though I did get involved in a couple of games. It was my first time in the Game Biz - 20 odd years in insurance, telecoms and pensions - I couldn't believe my luck when I got the job! On the whole I enjoyed the culture, even though my manager kept telling me not to get too settled, as my job would be moving back to the US - that went on for a year, then eventually I got the brown envelope. They were very generous with severance, though at the time the whole software industry here was in the doldrums, and it took me 9 months to get another job. I tried to get back into the games Biz, even got to second interview at a big name, but having passsed the technical stuff in the first, the second was more about how I might "fit into the team" and "no your age isn't a problem. Not at all. No way". I heard nothing more. Like the others who have contributed here, I would not be able to work an 80 hour week, today I'm off sick having worked Sunday and an 8am-Mmidnight shift last week. Like Evan (are you the same Evan I met?) I do not believe that making developers work stupid hours results in quality. Most will do it, particularly under the threat of being replaced by cheaper foreign labour, but the result is high turnover. I dont think I'll ever get back into games, as EA have just bought Crterion, Lionhead is in merger talks with Activision, Codemasters and UBISoft are getting friendly, so the question of working hours is academic. So, I for now I get paid for billing and provisioning, and in the evenings work with my boss - another refugee from the games biz - on a private (game) project.

I must be mad.

ProfessionalismMatters

These are well known problems, recurrent in the programming (but not just) industry, (particularly bad in games companies though), to the point that books have been written on them.

Part of the problem with ``death marches'' is that sometimes managers simply need excuses for the inevitable failure (``but we tried really hard, we could not have done more'').

But as another comment says, in the EA case I think that the point is that they successful, as in "But, given that their system works for them, what incentive is there for change, really?".

Whether overwork is used to avoid blame for failure at any cost (to others), or as a way to achieve success at any cost (to others), the ultimate causes are incentives, and as EA says, they have plenty of candidates despite a reported 50% turnover.

EA is making a lot of money for executive management, and as middle managers usually get huge bonuses for doing "whatever it takes" to get games shipped on time, why should either group be bothered?

Also, my impression is that not only some managers are driven by the bonuses, but also that some seem to positively enjoy being "abusive taskmasters", if they can get away with it.

It is the "fuck-you" economy, not the "free-agent" economy.

Eventually and soon I think there will be a reaction, and this will be an overreaction, which will cause other problems, like the arrogance of some employees during the dot.com boom.

Whether abusive managers (usually) or arrogant employees (less often) are the issue of the day, the one constant is the lack of professionalism and balance, which is caused and allowed by skewed incentives and skewed power relationships.

It is sad, but I can't see this changing, only sometimes being alleviated, until the political balance of power shifts between employees and employers.

As Warren Buffet says, if there is class war in the USA, his class has been winning. In the past 10-20 years there has been a dramatic shift in the share of GNP from the poor to the rich, and things like abuse of employees in the game industry are just a symptom.

If one reads reports from the Victorian era, one sees incentives driving the grinding down of employees in even worse ways, and this lasted for decades, until the political climate changed...

mjm~Rifai

This article was a kick on the butt of the game industry.

Julian Gold

Hallelujah! As a developer of some experience who has been used and abused, it is gratifying to see others echoing the sentiments I have arrived at. As others have said, the solution to work smarter rather than harder is a no-brainer. But there are a number of pernicious forces that are keeping developers on the wheel:

* Inductive inference based on old sample data. Teams that have previously crunched and delivered have set a precedent that these sort of timescales and practices are realistic. No matter that the size of teams has grown and the scope of projects have grown even more.

* An inflated sense of importance. Teams that crunch often are made to feel that they are "bleeding edge" and are cramming as much into the product as time allows to make it the best ever in the genre. Sadly they lose the perspective that quality is no guarantee of sales and that crunching is no guarantee of quality.

* Good ol' Supply and Demand. There are developers in China, India and former Communist states who will work insane hours at a fraction of the cost of a US or West European dev team. Frighteningly, their quality level is surprisingly high.

* Conservatism. What games sell? Sports (Fifa 2002, 2003, 2004...); sequels to already successful products (Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Final Fantasy X-2,...); licences (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,...). These IPs are controlled by a select few - breaking into these genres as a small independent developer is nigh impossible. And the industry has shown little or no interest in other more innovative - perceived riskier - game concepts. The trend has been that risks are being loaded onto the developer rather than the publisher. Whereas a few years ago a developer with a crude demo that proved concept could get a reasonable publishing deal, now Sony, EA, Microsoft, etc want to see near-finished game "demos" before approval (ie "work for nothing and we might sign you"). And contracts tend to be back-end loaded (ie if you get to master then you get the bulk of the money but milestone payments are small). All this results in small developers slashing margins and forcing crunches on their (large) teams to deliver their (growing amount of) content.

* Turnover naivete. This applies as much to management as devlopers. There is a high rate of turnover of staff in most development studios. Most bosses seem happier to recruit inexperienced graduates who will work for candy and work stupid hours to gain cred. Of course, they will also f**k up big-time: under-design, over-design, poor development practices, inability to self-manage, inability to work in teams... all resulting in slippage. Ergo a false economy. And often they leave at the end of a project either through disaffection or their market value being raised beyond their current employer's rate, taking any potential experience gained with them.

* Poor engineering practices. Code reuse is not just possible, IMHO it's essential for a developer to survive. There's still a real resistance to it: "It's too hard"; "It's too slow"; "It's too long-term - let's just fix the short-term problems". This mind-set needs to change - may even be glacially changing, with the growing credibility of middleware (Renderware, Havok).

I could go on...

Lee

Hi Evan,

Yeah Hypnos is great, EA is insane. I guess that seems to be true of the game industry as a whole these days. It's too bad; I really used to enjoy what I did... I had fun at Konami until they decided to move their development to Hawaii. Oh well, I'm still looking for that perfect job ;-)

Thank you for your opinion and information Mr. Robinson. I will take what you have said into deep consideration when running my projects and I will try to take a look at those books you mentioned in the post. Good luck to you and what you do.

Excellent article! Those managers think with their butt, not with their brains!

Keep up! ;)

BunsOfVeal

This type of appearance over substance practice is not just limited to game development. A classmate of mine used to work for Intel, and every Saturday morning, he had to make an appearance at work. When I asked him if he was in crunch mode, he told me no, but the Intel culture requires him to go in on the weekend just to show his face. When I asked him what he did on these Saturdays, he said, "Surf the web. Read some magazines."

BunsOfVeal

I'm just responding to two of the comments. One is about the benefits of outsourcing, and the other is about having standardized tools in the games industry.

I can't personally speak to working with folks in India, but I have worked with very capable engineers in Germany, and believe me, even with people from a Western culture where English is pracitcally the first language of engineering, it's still difficult to work around the distance and time difference. Communication across and ocean and time zones is like trying to download the Library of Congress with 14.4K modem. Also, cultural differences such as work habits also differ. The Germans take their vacations seriously (good for them) and expect you respect their vacations. If they say, "I'll be boating through the canals of France for the entire month of August", they mean it. It means no cell phone calls, and no emails. At first, I thought they were a bunch of slackers, but with time, I have realized that they are even more productive they we were even with all the vacations they take.

As for standardized tools, why isn't it possible to create the equivalents of company like Synopsys or Cadence for chip design in the games business? I don't know. I'm a chip designer, so I'm used to having standard tools.

BunsOfVeal

ProssionalisMatters hit the nail right on the head. As a share of the GDP, the top 1% of the population have racked up all of the benefits of the increase in productivity in the last twenty years. With the re-election of George W. Bush, this trend is only going to worsen. Too bad the folks in the Heartland of America vote for Dubya's "values" (what values?) over their own well being. Believe me, the really rich want nothing more than to create a huge underclass from which to draw nannies, servants, maids, and drivers. Think that this is not possible? For historical example, you can look to the Georgian and Victorian era. Child labor, long hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions. Lose a limb in the mill? Well, too bad, it's off to the street you go. For present day examples, you only have to look at every other Central and South American country to see this social structure in practice. For the top 1%, life is cream and peaches. Every wish you can dream of can be satisfied. For the other 99%, life is subsistence at best. A life of washing dishes doing laundry for the rich is a good life because at least the work is stable and the surrounding is pleasant.

The following is a quote from Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest magazine:

ANOTHER POINT is that while many of you enjoy the highest standard of living in human history and will live in bigger houses, take better vacations and drive flashier cars than your parents, you nonetheless are well and truly screwed.

From 1947 to 1973, real income, adjusted for inflation, rose about 75 percent, and went up almost equally for the poor, middle class and rich. Since then, the growth of wealth has continued, but real hourly wages have declined and middle-class income is virtually static (rising at best half a percent a year, adjusted for inflation). Only pay for the upper classes has soared.

The stall in pay for most people is odd, since worker productivity — or the amount of goods and services we each produce, on average — has risen 61 percent since 1980. Benefit should have followed, right? If we make more, don't we get more?

Nope. Instead, average CEO pay in the same period rose 480 percent, corporate profits rose 145 percent, and income for the top 1 percent of Americans climbed 157 percent, all adjusted for inflation. America now has 2.2 million millionaires, and CEO pay that was 44 times that of an average worker in 1980 has rocketed to 301 times in 2004.

The URL for the entire article on the nature of work in present day America can be found at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2004/0725/cover.html

BunsOfVeal

ProfessionalismMatters hit the nail right on the head. The top 1% of the population want nothing more than to create a huge underclass. Think this is not possible? You only have to look to the Georgian and Victorian era to see the terrible work conditions. For present day examples, take your pick of a Central and South American country, and you can see this social structure in practice.

Here is an excerpt from Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine:

ANOTHER POINT is that while many of you enjoy the highest standard of living in human history and will live in bigger houses, take better vacations and drive flashier cars than your parents, you nonetheless are well and truly screwed.

From 1947 to 1973, real income, adjusted for inflation, rose about 75 percent, and went up almost equally for the poor, middle class and rich. Since then, the growth of wealth has continued, but real hourly wages have declined and middle-class income is virtually static (rising at best half a percent a year, adjusted for inflation). Only pay for the upper classes has soared.

The stall in pay for most people is odd, since worker productivity — or the amount of goods and services we each produce, on average — has risen 61 percent since 1980. Benefit should have followed, right? If we make more, don't we get more?

Nope. Instead, average CEO pay in the same period rose 480 percent, corporate profits rose 145 percent, and income for the top 1 percent of Americans climbed 157 percent, all adjusted for inflation. America now has 2.2 million millionaires, and CEO pay that was 44 times that of an average worker in 1980 has rocketed to 301 times in 2004.

We live in a winner-take-all society where the average author earns below the poverty line but Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling becomes a billionaire, or where the median Mariner salary is $2.66 million and Class A minor leaguers earn as little as $600 a month.

The comments to this entry are closed.