lostwinds.jpg Big sister site Gamasutra's recent feature on game industry quality of life, which featured comments from quality of life whistleblower Erin Hoffman (EA_Spouse) and International Game Developers Association executive director Jason Della Rocca, generated a considerable number of responses from the development community.

Commenters on the Gamasutra article spoke on a variety of topics connected to quality of life, including the prospect of industry unions, management issues, developer/publisher relations, conditions in related fields such as serious games, and, of course, crunching.

Interestingly, there were both comments criticizing crunch time as an exhausting result of poor planning, as well as those defending it as an inevitable component of a creative industry.

In addition to those comments criticizing the practices of studios and publishers, there were also those frustrated with members of the industry who do not stand up for quality of life issues - although most commenters were sympathetic to the dangers of doing so.

Because we felt this discussion was worth preserving and distilling, we have compiled excerpts from some of the most interesting responses. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of respondents to the original article, still available for reading, elected to remain anonymous, as many were critical of common industry practices.

Crunch Time

"I think maybe we should work toward the elimination of ridiculous crunch time from the other end of the problem - from what I can see, the game business needs, more than anything, professional project management and professional creative management.

In my experience, so much time is wasted during the first 2/3 of a project's schedule just figuring out what the game is going to be and working up the tech to handle it, that the game is really only being actually produced during the last 1/3 of the schedule.

There's a lot of schedule myopia too - only paying attention to the current milestone and its attendant tasks and assets, on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to effectively managing long-term tasks over multiple milestones.

I'd love to hear how many of us (I know it's a lot) have had to pretty much take their whole game apart and rebuild a lot of it from scratch between Milestone 13 of 18 and Gold Master, because at the last minute it was learned that the tools or engine wasn't going to handle some key function, or that art tasks that were left to pile up couldn't possibly be completed in time.

There's a lot of leaving things up in the air because 'we're only gonna change our minds about it in a few months anyway,' which needs to STOP. The companies I've seen who make the best games all have decisive creative, art and tech directors (or direction) that is able to 'build the game in their heads' and on paper first, and communicate requirements to each other effectively.

I bet it's a hell of a lot cheaper to hire, or train, a truly effective production management team than it is to pay 50 people overtime - or to burn out all your best people.

I'm anonymous because I'm at a place exactly like I just described - hopefully not for much longer, it's killing me."

-Anonymous


"There is simply no 'getting rid' of crunch time, unless you want to just make product. Every seasoned professional in the games industry knows that the fun in a game comes out in the last few months, when everyone is crunching and working hard and playing the game and looking for the fun. This is a necessary part of any project about which you care.

People are confusing this with mandatory overtime for a project on which you are just another salaried employee.

If you're just a cog in a big wheel working on a game you don't really care about, or in which your concerns are only a small part of the whole, it can be managed like any other professional project with minimal overtime. Note MINIMAL overtime. In reality, some overtime will be necessary because it is still a creative endeavor.

People don't revolt against overtime when they are working on something they care about. They revolt about it when they see what they do as a job, and the overtime as a burdensome chore."

-Anonymous

Forming Unions

"No one would take legal action out of fear really. It's a small world in video games and no company wants to hire someone who's been splattered over the news papers for taking legal action against a developer for doing exactly what everyone else is already doing; overworking their staff. It's a huge scarlet letter on your forehead and for lack of a better phrase, 'you'll never work in this town again' comes to mind =).

The only way to take legal action is as a conglomerate entity, not an individual, and unions are often required to organize something like that. Even still; a union has it's own evils and I would not hope to see them infest the game industry like they have in the air-travel and car manufacturing industries.

In truth, it would take a massive joint effort which (in these days) could easily be done virally online. Though most developers would sooner just replace you with the next hungry sucker than listen to what you have to say."

-Anonymous


"I'm a fan of irony. This is simplistic, the industry is much more complex now, but it seems the situation is a continuous loop ... who will step up and force the train to jump the track?

Activision 1979 - Formed by Levy, Crane, Kaplan, Miller, Whitehead. Talented designers/coders fed up with the corporate shaft job they were getting. First major 3rd party developer - changed the industry forever. They wanted and achieved developer credit, fair compensation, etc.

Activision 2008 - Have they become Atari of 1979 ?? Is the next rebellious batch of Crane, Whitehead, Kaplan, Miller working in an Activision studio right now? I agree with several folks on this - I think a Guild-like force will be necessary. :)"

-Steve Watkins


Publisher/Developer Relations

"It sounds like one of the core issues here is publishers. In regards to everyones comments on designers, producers, and managers; they don't' have the time they need to do their job right because of pressure from publishers. We all just need to face the fact; the current business model is ass backwards, and needs a complete makeover! A makeover where the studio has more control over the creative process and the IP they create.

Have some f*cking backbone and vision for christ sake! If you don't take matters into your own hands, who will! And on top of that: by excepting these conditions; your doing a great injustice to your selves and to those yet to come.

I mean.. really people... find a f*cking spine and have some gumption or suffer!

Until this is done, I don't think much will change. Any changes made will be in vain, and serve only as a band-aid remedy. Needs a complete makeover from the ground up, like most things, and industries."

-Robert Zamber


"'It sounds like one of the core issues here is publishers.'

I have never crunched because of publisher pressure. I've always crunched because either the team's plans were unrealistic, weren't paid attention to or followed, or because the team considered that thanks to crunching we could add more stuff to the game that would make it a bit (or a lot) better.

Always self-inflicted ('self' as in the team, although obviously the leads are responsible for it, and many team members didn't exactly like it).

'We would see less of the garbage that is ALWAYS, on behalf of the publishers, and pushed on both the studios and consumers alike'

In all the games I've worked on, you can attribute 100% of the mistakes and questionable decisions to the developers (including myself).

To say that QoL issues in general are caused by publishers is the same as saying bad sales are due to piracy, i.e. an easy cop out that only kids and PR people should use."

-Javier Arevalo

Leaving Commercial Games For Serious Games

"I left the commercial games industry because of the many issues detailed in the EA Spouse letter as well as others stated in this article. I have moved into a Serious Games field where the hours are much more regulated due to the nature of govt contracting.

Employees often work EXACTLY 40 hours a week; no more, no less. This is to maximize what they charge to the contract since overtime is unpaid by the govt unless explicitly approved.

Though it does not have the 'rock star' feel of making games that are hyped on TV, and the work at times is not as challenging since you are not always pushing the graphics envelope, it's a solid and sane day's work. The office is typically dead by 6-7pm and everyone heads home to their families and friends.

It certainly isn't the final solution by any stretch as the production quality of many serious games tend to feel 'old-school' but it's hard to argue with a fair pay check and a 40 hour work week. If game developers took a better look at this and focused more on QoL and less on the bottom line they might still be able to make great games (even IF they are not busting at the seams with production quality).

Working overtime in video games seems to have gone from a labor of love to just plain labor. A mandatory rite-of-passage for anyone in this industry. I think that everyone should go through it once and witness just how bad their life could be; it puts your life into perspective. I would not however make a habit of it or even put up with it for long."

-Anonymous


"There was a lawsuit, several in fact, against EA. There were class action lawsuits. I was part of the class for the programmer lawsuit (with the lead plaintiff being Erin's hubby).

EA settled (they also settled their artist lawsuit earlier). So it doesn't change their behavior just costs them more. Although, it did reclassify a lot of programmers as non-exempt.

Also, I had done the same as [the anonymous commenter immediately above]. I went to work at a serious game company. I've been there over three years now, and it's regular hours 99% of the time."

-Joe Straitiff