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Quality Of Life? Does Anyone Still Give A Damn?

May 13, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[How have 'quality of life' issues in the game industry progressed since the EA_Spouse controversy in late 2004? Gamasutra talks to the IGDA's Jason Della Rocca and the Spouse (Erin Hoffman) herself to find improvements - and the news that we still have a long way to go.]

It's been exactly 3-1/2 years since EA_Spouse -- née Erin Hoffman -- wrote her open letter to the games industry and focused a laser-like light on the oppressive working conditions that her fiancé and, by extension, the rest of the development community endured. "Quality of life" (QoL) became the buzzword du jour and unionization the hottest topic around studio water coolers.

But 3-1/2 years later, is QoL still an issue? Does anyone still care?

Yes -- to a degree. QoL is no longer on everyone's lips, says Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), but that's because awareness of the issue has become so widespread.

"Prior to EA_Spouse, quality of life was kind of like the elephant in the room," he says. "Developers were stuck in their studios and had no idea whether the same problems existed in other studios. So they kept quiet and bit the bullet. The EA_Spouse letter, together with the IGDA's QoL survey blew the doors wide open."

Now, says Della Rocca, "every studio head, every producer, every HR person is keenly aware of this quality of life issue, of this working conditions issue and, believe me, none of them want an EA_Spouse to surface in their company."

As a result, he says, the number of companies being proactive and deliberate about QoL has increased substantially. "But the issue hasn't disappeared, that's for sure," he says. "The average developer at the average company is still overworked, underpaid, and doesn't have the right tools or training."

That may be because the crusade to right those wrongs seems to have lost a certain amount of momentum.

For instance, at Seattle's WashTech/CWA -- which describes itself as "the nation's leading union for high-tech workers" -- union heads admit that while reaching out to the video game workers is still high on its agenda, they've gotten little to no response.

And, at the IGDA, a project known as Employment Contract Quality Of Life Certification (ECQC) seeks to gather up those elements that make for the best employment practices at a studio and then translate them into a set of employment contract provisions.

But, a year after the ECQC committee predicted it would take as long as 12 months before the certification program would be ready for primetime, not a lot of progress has been made, admits Della Rocca. The survey that needs to be sent out to studios is still being refined and hasn't been mailed yet. No studios can be certified until that task is completed.

Another initiative still not underway -- but one that is on the IGDA's "to do" list -- is a continuation of its 2004 QoL Survey.

"Ideally, we'd like to do that annually so we can create a year-to-year index and see a trend line showing whether QoL is getting better or worse," explains Della Rocca. "If we had that index, we could correlate it to the introduction of the ECQC and -- boom! -- we'd be able to see a huge spike in QoL or not."

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An interesting article alright. I'd join if a guild of sorts was formed. And an interesting point at the end about royalties, that is somewhat 'off kilter' that someone who put two days work in gets them when the programer just gets his normal paycheck. I'm not saying setting up royalties to each of us for a game we work on is nessary but still some sort of recognition might be nice.

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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. That's why there's so much crunch time - horrible creative indecision and appallingly bad communication between design, art, and tech departments results in doing things over and over again until "OH MY GOSH we only have 4 months to go!!" and suddenly the place is in panic mode.

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.

Of course on some projects this is hard to avoid, like licensed games where you have both the publisher and licensor to please. However, even in that case the process can be handled more effectively than I've seen, IMO.

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.

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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 days 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 right-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.

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Very interesting read. Just got around to checking this out. I use to work in the industry during EA_Spouse's letter for 7 years. I left mainly for the QoL issues as well.

The problem is the industry is geared up for the young 20 something who has less responsibilities and more freedom to work longer hours. They usually embrace this type of thinking and management takes advantage of it. 30 Somethings and those with families, have a more difficult time committing to those standards, and rightly so.

I think SCRUM and other management type of business models need to be addressed by management in the games industry. Also realistic scheduling, not what you think your publisher wants to hear. Until this is resolved the problem will persist.

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There should be a law about working unpaid overtime.... wait there is. Why isn't everyone suing?

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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.

Maurine Starkey
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In the early days when companies were small and pioneering, putting in long hours was our sweat equity. But when a company grows up to managing larger groups and teams you have to balance the hours against profit. I always thought the long hours not only diluted a person's salary, it also diluted the value of the product. The company wasn’t getting anything for free when they burn out their most valuable resource.

”Ah, more blood oil for the machine” as been my more caustic welcome to new graduates. I also know if you want to do games nothing is going to stop you, so I’ve made it a priority to let these new hires know their rights. I’m glad to see employees ‘wise up’. No one should feel bullied into working obscene hours. If that’s the case, let the managers up their skills and do the work.

Joe Straitiff
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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 Anon #3 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...

(and the other 1% was never a lot -- just support for the major shows, and last year no extra time was necessary)

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I think there are a lot of issues here. First communication amongst disciplines is a that should be managed more carefuly by the producer. If we're going to be doing these big games, a good hierarchy needs to be put in place.

Second, a lot of the crazy indecisiveness from designers could be solved by not desigining from on high. Distribution of power is key to making a good game. Let the people in the trenches who are aware of the most pressing issues, and have the least amount of leads meetings to attend make the low level decisions. If you're worried about inexperience ruining a project, get some sub-leads who have some experience to oversee. You almost always get better ideas from a diverse group anyway. The worst thing we can have is everyone waiting on a single person to make a decision. This throws production schedules into chaos.

Finally, this one is probably going to be less popular. I want to clarify that I am not a managmeent or production person stating this. I work in the "trenches". I think the games industry as a whole has a lot of really unprofessional people working in it across all disiciplines. On one side of the coin we might say it helps us to be creative if we keep extreme flex hours, have lots of toys in the office, play games at lunch that regularly extend back into work hours, etc.. But the other side of the coin is that these things make us all less efficient. They set up an environemnt where it seems ok to come unprepared to meetings, or even show up late. I'm not saying Soviet era strictness needs to be the norm, but we should definitely be making more efficient use of our time. If we set up a professional work environemnt we'll nto only be more efficient, but we'll taken more seriously by production, and management.

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Pretty much every major "non-creative" company invests in all sorts of professional management workshops and training for their production and management staff. Really large companies often have a department which does only that, employee development. These workshops aren't that expensive, small companies take advantage of them all the time.

Also they generally come up with standards and "best practices" guidelines for streamlining both workflow and decision-making processes.

Why doesn't the game biz do that? (I'm sure most of the really successful studios do.)

There's some ego involved, to be sure. Probably also some ignorance.

Management seminar folks: new business segment opportunity!

Benjamin Quintero
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Interesting article.. Anonymous (above). You mentioned your "not popular" opinion but in some ways I might agree. I've always been a, "sit down, work, then go home" type of person. I don't even smoke to cut out those wasted 15 minutes on the hour spent away from my work. Though I enjoy gaming immensely, I don't think it's the most productive in a workplace. I actually have no problems with the younger guys gaming through lunch (and often a little over) because they stay in the offices til 2am to make up for their lack of experience and wasted time in the day. What bothers me only is when management will group guys like me with guys like them and expects me to work til 2am even though I've been at my desk for 9hrs already.

I luckily am not in that situation currently but I have been in the past and I think it's important for any manager to recognize who is packing their workday versus who is stretching it.

Games in the office should be viewed as an option for the FEW who game at work, not an excuse to keep the MANY there through all hours. (though it is nice to have when you are waiting 45min on a master build and can't touch your code)

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In response to the 12:45 anonymous and Benjamin:

You're both right, there is a lot of unprofessional behavior from people in games. But does the chicken come before the egg? Maybe some people don't put their nose to the grindstone because they know that no matter how hard they push themselves or how ahead of their schedules they get, they're still going to be asked by management to come in on Saturday?

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That's a management problem, then. If management is being clueless in that way, perhaps they need some work on professionalism.

Lorenzo Wang
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Most salaried workers are not going to win anything suing for unpaid overtime, read carefully:

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The problem is that we're lumping two issues into one.

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.

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I respectfully disagree. It's possible to "find the fun" in a game using a relatively crude gray-boxed version of it, very early on in the process. In fact in my opinion, if you haven't "found the fun" in a game until the last few months of it, you may (or may not, to be fair) be "inventing" the fun in your head because you've been living with the project too long and are too close to the game.

However, I do agree that people are less likely to complain about heavy crunch if the game is obviously fun and cool and the project has been a blast to work on.

The reality, 3:19, is that most current game projects are those where the workers are just salaried employees working on "product assignments" and "SKUs" for publishers. I doubt anyone at a small, fun startup complains much about working long hours!

I think the crunch time should come at the FRONT end of the project, if possible - crunch on the concept, creative work, and game mechanic design and testing at the beginning, as well as crunching on meticulously detailing the remaining production schedule and dependencies and critical paths.

The game industry could learn a hell of a lot from industries like aerospace, construction and movie production, or any industry that deals with extremely complex projects that span long periods of time.

Jonnathan Hilliard
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Problems are the same they ever were.

Making a game is a creative undertaking, and as such, nearly always impossible to schedule accurately from the start. its not like building a car. Its more like building a car prototype, multiple iterations until it is good enough, or ship a product early, and risk a dud.

Investors and management want changes part way through, some things don't work out as planned. There are always unforseen things that break the schedule... but many dev houses are subject to very small margins from their publishers, so can't afford to over-run the dates, and there is plain and simple no more money to pay people overtime or to take more time.... marketing $$$ have already been spent based on shiping on a certain date.

Its the nature of the beast....

Bigger... self funded publisher/developers have less of an excuse regarding over-time pay as do the smaller houses.

Its also fair to say.. some guys love to work on games all hours of the day. Even some of those guys complaining about the long hours... then go home... and work on their own games at home.

Most people really enjoy working on games, so won't make a stink about it when asked to work late.

I think most people working in the games industry would agree that you can't really lump this job in with a regular desk job. It has both benefits and its down side.

Sometimes I wish games worked more like the movie industry... Just crunch the whole damn project.... 6 months. then take 6 months off

Tynan Sylvester
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This is a really great article. Being that I'm just entering the industry fulltime, I'll be watching carefully for all these concerns.

Is there any industry whose projects are harder to schedule than games?

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"I respectfully disagree. It's possible to "find the fun" in a game using a relatively crude gray-boxed version of it, very early on in the process"

I'm sorry, but that's simply naive. It's something people tell themselves until they try to ship a AAA title. It may be the case for some simple gameplay mechanic, where the mechanic defines the game in its entirety. But in 99 out of 100 cases you will be tweaking some facet of our gameplay right up to the wire.

There is a reason all the great games that come out go through crunch time, and despite the natural desire of everyone to think that they're just smarter than everyone else, it's not because everyone else is dumb or mean or cruel. People crunch even in the most beloved of companies run by experienced and respected people. Ask Bioware, Irrational, Insomniac, or DoubleFine about crunch times.

"The game industry could learn a hell of a lot from industries like aerospace, construction and movie production, or any industry that deals with extremely complex projects that span long periods of time"

Non-creative industries are, by definition, less prone to this problem than the creative ones. And the whole thing about movies and TV not having crunch time is a myth. Crunch time for movies was just largely moved overseas. Fly to Korea and ask an animator how many hours they put into the Simpsons.

I understand the desire to minimize crunch time but it's ignorant to believe we can entirely do away with it, or "pre-crunch".

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"It's something people tell themselves until they try to ship a AAA title."

OK, ya got me there. I've never shipped a AAA title, my studio has never been given a shot at one. That may have something to do with the fact that even with projects that wound up doing a ton of crunch time, the games still weren't very good at the end of it.

I have a few acquaintances at Insomniac and Bioware, and while they do sometimes complain, they don't complain about crunch time the way that EA_Spouse did, or how people I know at studios doing licensed games do.

There really isn't a good reason for a generic beat-em-up movie game to involve a ton of crunch time, is there? Other than a very unrealistic, rushed schedule?

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While fairly new to the industry, I'll have to say that as far as the type of department I'm working (QA on the publisher side), life is tough. It is expected that crunch/overtime will happen; we all accept that and we don't mind it.

What gets rough though is when it's only a matter of two or three weeks between crunch times (as projects finish and people move to other projects), when that OT is required (weekends included), and when even the QA leads are working everyday for 16 hours for two months straight with no break (as happened to one of mine). Worse still is when such time is because of decisions that probably should have been figured out long before or because of decisions to try and squeeze in something before a deadline or where QA is all doing hard OT... and no one else is.

Considering all that plus most of the people are still in school? It's not easy even for the young guys (and girls). And since people always want QA jobs for experience, to an extent, it occasionally seems like we're resources not human resources... because if someone is burned out to the point where they quit or are fired, it's easy to replace them or whatever situation it may be.

While, fortunately, we have someone working to change that, the OoL for those in the trenches from my end isn't all that great. We love the job so we stay (or at least, we know we need to stay for the experience)... but we all know that we're getting a small stick and taken advantage of. More than a handful of people have quit for other companies, non-gaming and otherwise, for the simple fact that those companies aren't asking constant OT for just above minimum wage.

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"There is a reason all the great games that come out go through crunch time"

If everyone does crunch then it's normal that great games go through it - just like bad games do. The naive thing is to say that great games are great because they crunched, or that that without crunch they wouldn't have been great.

I believe that if the people developing a game are passionate about it then the game has better chances of being great. I also believe that when people are passionate they will work more hours and/or with more intensity, because of their own choice and desire. That's not crunch. Crunch is mandatory overtime for an extended period of time, often planned (explicitly or not). Wonder what that does to your passion and your productivity, in the short term but especially in the long term? It destroys them. You will cut corners to go home before 10. You will hack solutions that will bite you in the ass next month. You will hide problems that someone else will have to deal with. Your ability and willingness to communicate with your teammates will diminish. Way to make a great game!

In various projects, I have crunched on my own will, I have crunched against my own will, and I have asked other people to crunch. But you will not convince me that crunch is a necessary part of developing a great game. Crunch is always the result of creative and technical management mistakes. You can argue that the ability to use crunch to work around those mistakes is what allowed some great people to complete great games without proper management skills. Everyone has a first time full of doubts, mistakes, etc. and you do anything you can to make it happen... but that's something that you also have to grow out of or you won't be making any great games soon.

Point me to a crunch success story and I will point you to a couple dozen miserable failures that also crunched.

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Whats more worrying is now that companies are asking for 'more' than they did, not only are you supposed to be a star animator, they also ask you be a star modeler, texture artist &

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I've had a few months in the retail industry now, working on a licensed game that's been almost continuously overscoped.

What bugs me is that the essential problem and its resulting bottleneck(engineering crunch, and subsequently design crunch later down the line, which I'm now seeing some of) was never resolved, just "troubleshooted." Everyone who could make an early decision to save our time by drawing up a new plan - the lead designer, the producer, the engineering team - put it off and let it become a crisis. Hence we've restarted on doing simplistic puzzles more than once and are way off track for our original ship date.

While I respect everyone at the company, it gives me a poor impression of the industry to see some really basic failures of planning. Almost every day I see the lead designer, the guy who has years of industry experience on me, waffle and handwave away things that he should come to decisions on immediately or very soon. A few days later it gets dragged out into a meeting taking twice the time it should have, because that's when he finally makes the decision, and with no written document it becomes a terrible back-and-forth "oh, I did not think of that" process. And so we lose more time. I'm grateful when he lets me take a free hand at something as it means I can write huge documents, and when opportunities present themselves I can cut and cut until it's at a scale I know can be handled. I am discovering that when I cut too much, someone else will point out what's missing when they check the plan, but open-ended decisions only get dragged out and tossed around over and over.

What's probably the worst part of this is that I know that this company, as it stands, is well above the bottom of the barrel for quality of life, and probably above-average on a number of other counts too. The rest of the company, doing other projects, usually goes home after putting in 8 hours. It's just this team and this project that suffers from crunch.

Here is a last thought: Do ports and remakes suffer as much from crunch?

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I never had to suffer from crunch time.

I work as a game designer in a successfull mmorpg studio, and I have to shove out 2 major updates a year and in between them there are episodic content updates. The only thing that is a little hard from time to time is that directly after the launch (or maybe even prior to that) I have to prepare the next update. There is some undeniable pressure to flush your brain and come up with somehting entirely different.

But nonetheless, Our company is quite good at keeping internal deadlines. And we work exactly 40 hours a week.

Why does this work?

- we are independent developers, that means we have no milestones or external deadlines. And we have no publisher who says "get it done by monday". It's done when it's done.

- I have done some content updates by now, which means I have quite an overview of how much content I can stuff into 3 months of work.

- Our company has been running our MMORPGS for many years now, so whoever responsible for estimating work load has quite a good overview and feeling for mass and timing, too.

- If some technical or content feature doesn't make it into a "big update", it will be put into the next "season" of episodic content.

- It's done when it's done. That is, in time or features are going to be stripped :)

- It is company policy, and somebody "up there" must have understood that overtime doesn't speed things up. In contrary, there are more mistakes made that would only generate more crunch time. I am very grateful for that insight.

- No, I don't work on Duke Nukem :)

Robert Zamber
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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.

Not to mention the fact, that we would see less of the garbage that is ALWAYS, on behalf of the publishers, and pushed on both the studios and consumers alike. We could develop more fresh quality titles every quarter. Scratch that! I really don't think this "quarterly" model is good for the industry either: how about just a handful of good titles yearly from independents :)

I mean, you don't have to put up with this shit. Just follow your heart, leave your companies, start your own, and take control of your own destinies. It may take some time, but publishers will follow. If they don't, fuckem! Find new ways to do things!

On top of that, I cant believe EA had the AUDACITY to take advantage of their creative peoples passion, by not even CONSIDERING compensating them for their blood and sweat!

Whats even more appalling, is that it took a WOMAN, outside of an industry, dominated by MEN, to speak up and take some action! What the fuck is wrong with this picture!

Have some fucking 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 fucking 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.

Javier Arevalo
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"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. Oh and I wouldn't say Erin was exactly "outside" of the games industry. Your words are passionate but quite misguided (imho). :)

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Great article, great issues and great points. The only thing I can add, is that a Crunch time should never ever be added to a schedule...I've seen it done!!!

The compensation issue really kills me, especially calculating the near 1 Billion dollars I have participated in making with others for several companies, Activision, EA to name a few and me now waiting for my next unemployement check!

I originally left an incredible blossoming academic career on my way to finishing my masters to go into the game industry as QA tester, thinking that I would be compensated enough to be able to return to school with a lot of money. Wow was I naive!

Several of us tried to get a petition around at EA before EA Spouse to address the irregular salary practices between dept and games; however we got a message from upper management that it was illegal and their would be consequences...nearly everyone dropped out of signing the petition except 3 of us. Which wouldn't make much of a petition.

I think what really needs to occur here is the Govt needs to step in and regulate.

Mickey Mullasan
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I think there should be companies setting a very loud example. One of the reasons EA has become such a lightning rod of suspicion among gamers is due to their bad public relations. Everyone can sympathize with exploitation even if it's a semi-comfortable one.

Companies who are doing it right, should be more open aand public about how they do things, how they treat their employees, their working ours and set a PR example for the ones that do not. The public shows its respect with dollar signs, and we should let that be the driving force.

Robert Zamber
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"Javier Arevalo"

Yes, some of my comments where a little misguided, but yes im always passionate... so thank you!

But I think overall, knowingly exploiting your employees is a very bad practice. Putting up with it, is even worse! And in that sense it is "self-inflicted". But to say... that publishers have nothing to do with it.. is a far stretch. Thats like saying the president has nothing to do with this fucked up economy. Or the unemployment rate has nothing to do with the many jobs shipped over seas because the current administration offers tax incentives to those who do... encouraging it! Again what the fuck is wrong with this picture? I see the same thing going on in much of the game industry.

Not paying royalties to the respective creators? Or not paying overtime? Huh... Did I hear that right? Maybe I'll go back and read the article again to see if I missed something. Because this sounds like bullshit to me. Create all our stupid knockoff game titles, using your labor, creative energy, and ideas: oh... by the way... we keep all the money. But we will mention your name in the credits.

Watching last years E3... I remember some douche-bag, at Microsoft, telling someone (somewhere along the lines of) "Whats the reward? The reward is... you get to have your name in the credits. Your work will be seen by MILLIONS... Thats the reward... a reward money cant buy! You can say... I did that!" And millions of people will see it"! Thats the true reward"! Hahahaha (in the back of his mind)... even though most of our employees are now collecting unemployment checks, and facing foreclosure's and evictions. They get to say... "I did all that work... and got nothing for it! Yes... I love my job!"

This is the logic publishers and studios 'alike' are using to justify poor work conditions, and low salaries. Its even advertised this way buy all these schools who offer online game design degrees: "Can you believe... we get paid (so poorly we are lucky to get paid at all) to do this." bla bla bla (Collins College Advertisement). Give me a fucking break!

So ya, maybe my lack of experience is relevant in some of my comments being "misguided"... but you did not address the other points.

The under payed and over worked employees with no kick backs or perks for creating IP etc. As stated in the article, I think we'll make some progress when we see some changes in these arenas. But I don't think these changes will happen with-in the organizations that use this current model. Like the previous poster said (Mickey) "there should be companies setting a very loud example".

But, don't leave this just up to companies... you can be that voice as a work "force" with-in these companies. And I qoute: the word FORCE... and leave you with this....

force |fôrs|


1 strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement : he was thrown backward by the force of the explosion.

• Physics an influence tending to change the motion of a body or produce motion or stress in a stationary body. The magnitude of such an influence is often calculated by multiplying the mass of the body by its acceleration.

• a person or thing regarded as exerting power or influence : he might still be a force for peace and unity.

• [in combination ] used with a number as a measure of wind strength on the Beaufort scale : a force-nine gale.

2 coercion or compulsion, esp. with the use or threat of violence : they ruled by law and not by force.

3 mental or moral strength or power : the force of popular opinion.

• the state of being in effect or valid : the law came into force in January.

• the powerful effect of something : the force of her writing is undiminished.

4 an organized body of military personnel or police : a soldier in a UN peacekeeping force.

• ( forces) troops and weaponry : concealment from enemy forces | figurative a battle between the forces of good and evil.

• a group of people brought together and organized for a particular activity : a sales force.

• ( the force) informal a police department.

Benjamin Quintero
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I suppose the heat in this room is proof that people still do care; and that the problem is certainly far from gone. In a perfect world we would all be making Halos, God of Wars, Shadow of the Colossus; all in 6 months with no crunch.. ahh that would be awesome... a man can dream... Some needs to invent the "make cool game" button for my compiler =).

Brandon Van Every
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Geez guys, quit the mainstream game industry, contract your skills to non-game outfits, make top dollar in short periods of time, then get back to your own indie work. If you can't join 'em, beat 'em.

Jeff Zugale
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Heh... yeah, because that's really easy! :)

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here's the other kicker, when the EA spouse letter came out, EA had no official policy on how to promote an employee or dish out raises....BUT (prepare yourself) they did have a policy for employees going through a Sex Change Operation! It happened at EALA....

Steve Watkins
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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 Acitivision studio right now? I agree with several folks on this - I think a Guild-like force will be necessary. :)

Just a couple of spitballed thoughts ...

1 - Seems a lot of the best games are shipped "when they're done." How? Financial independence and/or HUGE studio leverage. Neither thing is easy to achieve. Good luck.

2 - Please remember that publishers don't work for developers and their best interests. They work for shareholders and all those yummy, fluffy stock options.

3 - I found the Guts displayed by folks in the thread laudable.

The position most workers are in (Have to force change, but have to put food on the table while doing it) cannot be easy.

Heartfelt Good Luck to you.

Finally, BioWare is a fantastic company that makes "Wow! You have to buy this game!" games. No argument. But they've been Assimilated. Call back in 5 years and see what form they exist in. Maybe Canadian laws will benefit them more than USA Dev's that were Assimilated, but I have my doubts. Bye, Bye, BioWare (as we knew ye).

Hoby Van Hoose
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Wow, this reminds me of nearly every story of labor issues throughout history. Especially as studios become giant, forming unions is key. Banding together and moving in unison is one of the only ways that the crossing of needs can be balanced (boss needs you for work, you need boss for money) through policy and consequences.

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Moving to a film industry style model could solve a lot of problems in the games industry, where creatives are brought together for the duration of a game.

1. Power would subtly move toward the developers, where contracts would genuinely be drawn up to suit both parties (a la sports or films). Developers may choose to act as a team and thus have more bargaining power for things like pay rate, overtime, bonuses etc.

2. The chaff would be culled from the industry at the end of every game cycle. There's a lot of dead wood in the industry and a LOT of crappy games being made.

3. Development companies or publishers don't need to bring in crappy projects just to pay wages in between proects. This is a vicious cycle.

More money being paid to fewer people making better games (in theory). The model won't suit everyone of course.

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@ Robert Zamber

Erin is very much an active part of the industry, before and after the EA Spouse events. She just wasn't an employee of EA.

@ Javier Arevalo

If you've worked for any appreciable length of time in the industry and you would attribute 100% of your mistakes and questionable decisions to the developers and none to the producers, well... you're working with a phenomenally inexperienced and short-sighted, or utterly inexperienced, development team, AND you are working with unbelievably accommodating publishers. I've yet to work on a title that didn't undergo at least a couple "questionable" changes as a direct result of publisher demands.

Hell, at my current company, I would attribute 100% of such issues to the "publishers" (which in this case is upper management, as I'm in a first-party development studio, but all the management and production issues are handled by the home office half way around the world). Developers tend to have a better idea of what they can do and how quickly they can do it than production ever will, barring perhaps their first or second project in the industry.

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So when's the union going to be announced?

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I realize that I'm a little late to the party, but this is a topic that (I hope) gains more momentum in the near future. I am nearing the end of my patience with mandatory overtime, last-minute changes, incompetent people with egos the size of small moons, and pay that defies reality.

I can only speak for myself, but my biggest problem with working in this industry is that I have no sense of ownership in the things I work on -- as if my purpose is so insignificant that I am not allowed to participate in the process, let alone share my opinion. It is completely morale-crushing when I've devoted so much time and energy into my "craft" that the only reward I get is some marketing swag and the chance to stay on board for the next project. When I hear about the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars being spent on developing or marketing a particular title, and yet there's only one tape dispenser in the office, it becomes clear why I am so miserable.

I wouldn't have as much of a problem if I had worked on the project in a real team setting where everyone from every department communicated freely with each other in order to achieve a common goal, but it's simply not set up that way; it's a bureaucracy. What makes things worse is that the people in the high positions don't seem to have any interest in games whatsoever; games are simply consumer products.

I think I've spoken my peace. As much as I would like to post my name on this, I've already learned the consequences of burning a bridge.

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This is an attempt to collaborate the creation of a union while keeping anonymity. Hopefully we can use this page to accumulate information on unions and starting unions. With this we will draft up a plan to create a union in the game industry that a few brave souls could use as a base to start one.