Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Game Developer OT

Also via Play Journal comes the story of a class-action lawsuit by employees of video game giant EA suing for unpaid overtime. It seems like the thing was at least partially set off by an anonymous blog post from the spouse of an EA employee, who describes what she'd ask the CEO if she got him on the phone:
"The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?"
I wonder if this is the case in many "buzz" jobs and industries like video-game design. When you get so many people wanting to work in a field like that, employers seem to be able to treat them however they want, knowing that there will always be others to take their places.


Jory Des Jardins said...

Wow--some letter. And I've been there. The fact is, this is a cultural issue, and despite CEO's denial that they have anything to do with the underliings' workloads, it starts at the top.

Is it me or are people getting less and less tolerant of this behavior?

Jeremy said...

Yes, it does start at the top. Executives set the tone, but they also tend to make five times as much money, too...you sort of expect that they'd work a lot.

I hope people will be less willing to take it. It's hard to tell, though. In the office cultures I've seen, there's the sense that if you're working late, or putting in time on the weekend, you're a team player. Otherwise, you're seen as disengaged. It would be awfully difficult to change the culture...although a gigantic lawsuit might change EA's.

Anonymous said...

This is worse than I'm familiar with, but it's pretty rough hours in software engineering as well. I've done my fair share of duties on 'mandatory' weekends and I'm sure glad to have moved to the business side of the house. It's pretty common knowledge that game developers hours are hell. I once interviewed around for a game developer position (my background is in computer graphics) after leaving million-dollar video-game aerospace industry - they drop BIG hints that you'll be working major overtime during the summer to make those Christmas release dates.

Ultimately, I think Electronic Art's corporate creativity has got to be suffering. I just went through a self-imposed period of two weeks of heavy hours on a research project (totally intrinsically motivated, no one is paying me). By the end I was a mental vegetable. It's just not sustainable for any innovative/creative field - and I think their industry will suffer for it.

Evelyn Rodriguez

Jeremy said...

Agreed, Evelyn. It's interesting that ea_spouse's post opened with a scathing critique of EA's churning out mindless licensed games -- perhaps their creativity has already suffered.

There doesn't seem to be any excuse why game development should be any different than any other deadline-oriented creative industry. My theory that it's because it's such a "cool" industry can't explain it all. But they've clearly been getting away with it...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a frequent reader of your blog, and I just had to comment on this one. I've worked several years of 70 to 90 hour weeks in the entertainment industry, and I'm finally moving to a less demanding field. When I take freelance jobs in the industry, I'm constantly amazed that 50 hours is considered an average (or even short) week. In just the last couple of years, the weeks have gotten considerably longer, and the pay less and less. Good for the EA employees to take a stand!

Anonymous said...

I think that sometimes it's about who you are too. I work in the IT industry and in my workplace the majority of workers work 60-70 hour weeks. I do not. I have a family and they are my priority. I make sure I'm home by 4:30 every day. But my work speaks for itself. I have recently been promoted ahead of my peers, I work every minute of the time I'm at work (except for a quick response to a blog:) ) I'm not convinced it can all be blamed on the executives. Sure there is pressure, but you can make sure your work is done, and done well, and if you are given more work than you can handle, you can say so, and propose solutions to that. Eventually, people know that you'll get things done, and you can dish it back to collegues who comment that they wished they could leave as early as you.
I think there's a lot of time wasted in the high tech industry, with complaining, and technical snobbery, and "silo-ism". If you can cut through the red tape, drag your butt into work early, and stay organized, you can produce a whole lot in 8 hours.

Jeremy said...

"I'm constantly amazed that 50 hours is considered an average (or even short) week."

One of the interesting things in the ea_spouse's post was her assertion that the turnover rate is 50% at EA. I doubt that it's that high, but there's no reason for a successful company like that to be losing any large percentage of their employees every year -- you've gotta think that it wouldn't be sustainable.

Jeremy said...

"I work in the IT industry and in my workplace the majority of workers work 60-70 hour weeks. I do not."

Good for you. And I agree with the rest of your comment, too. I think some of the people working longer hours are likely accomplishing less than someone who works hard for 40 hours.

Of course I'm still in a mental space where even 40 hours seems like an obscene amount of time to spend on work...

Phil from the UK said...

I also think that 40 hours per week in a job is far too much.

I think the long hours culture is endemic in white collar jobs generally. It is over here in the UK anyhow. In the past ten years I have worked for a major UK Telecoms company in Marketing and in a major accountancy services organisation as a Management Consultant. I got around lots of companies.

Presenteeism is endemic unfortunately. People really do beleive that they have to be at their desks for obscenely long hours. It is quite pathetic, but underlines the sad fact that many people are working in a climate of fear. Fear of losing a livelihood.

The trouble is that the long hours merchants who enjoy sitting at work polishing their busy medals then set the benchmark for people who have got a life. It only takes a small proportion of people in an organisation to skew the atmosphere towards a long hours / always on call culture.

When I was working as a consultant, we were measured on how we used our time with incredible precision. Every minute had to be made chargeable. Trouble is you get to a stage where you will not move until you have a "charge code". Helping mates out informally becomes almost impossible under these regimes. This is an inhumane and massively inefficient modus operandi.

Jeremy said...

Great stuff, Phil. We're really on the same page here.

"People really do believe that they have to be at their desks for obscenely long hours."

This presenteeism thing fascinates me. It's been blatant for me since I started splitting my time between home and the office. In the office, it's feels like it's more about putting in desk time, and at home the focus on what I can get done today. There's a weird (and potentially dysfunctional) phychology at work there.

"Helping mates out informally becomes almost impossible under these regimes."

Isn't that true, eh? But it's bizarre, because many of our most interesting connections, epiphanies and opportunities arise out of informal interactions. Not that any organization will ever encourage their employees to hang out in pubs all day, but you know what I mean...