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Well, I Been Workin' In The Pixel Mine, Goin' Down Down, Workin' In The Pixel Mine, Whew! About To Slip Down!

Apparently GDC was the spot for all sorts of well-mannered discourse – as seen on Greg Costikyan’s blog (via Zen of Design), a studio head at Epic Games declared that there were no EA spouses there!

Mike Capps, head of Epic, and a former member of the board of directors of the International Game Developers Association, during the IGDA Leadership Forum in late 08, spoke at a panel entitled Studio Heads on the Hot Seat, in which, among other things, he claimed that working 60+ hours was expected at Epic, that they purposefully hired people they anticipated would work those kinds of hours, that this had nothing to do with exploitation of talent by management but was instead a part of “corporate culture,” and implied that the idea that people would work a mere 40 hours was kind of absurd.

 

Now, of course, the idea that a studio head, which Capps is, would have such notions is highly plausible; but he was, at the time, a board member of the IGDA, an organization the ostensible purpose of which is to support game developers. Not, you know, to support management dickheads.

To be fair, some game developers are also management dickheads! That being said, this taps into quite a bit of pre-existing discussion, both about the IGDA and whether or not it’s actually of any relevancy at all (Adam Martin and Darius Kazemi both have had a few things to say about that) and the long-running discussion over whether long overtime (“crunch”) is a workable model for game development.

 

My views on the former are simple: meh. My views on the latter are also pretty simple.

Crunch doesn’t work. You simply don’t gain more productivity by applying a 1.5 multiplier to everyone’s work hours. More likely, you start to introduce failure into the system as people get sloppy and careless as a best case scenario, and as a worst case scenario people start to flip you the virtual finger and spend their hours at their cubicle playing World of Warcraft instead. (I’ve seen both.)  This is not a problem unique to game development, and there have been literally hundreds of studies that show that the productivity gained from crunching is minimal at best. It should be noted that the management consultant who originally came up with the 40 hour work week was Henry Ford, who was anything but a soft humanist.

Quality of Life is a choice. I’ve been lucky in my game development career to work on teams (Mythic, our team at NCsoft, Webwars, and my current Player To Be Named Later) which agree that part of keeping the best team members is in offering a work environment conducive to, well, being a well-rounded human being. I, and my peers, are older now. We have families, friends, and lives outside of work, and that helps shape who we are. Effective managers understand this. Ineffective managers don’t ship good games.

60 hour work weeks usually aren’t. Although there are exceptions (such as the weeks before a milestone or a big demo or if your entire production timeline has fallen apart) generally keeping people in the office for their waking hours does not mean they are actually working. What you are doing is instead creating a very efficient subculture of slacking. People will watch online videos, post to their blogs about how abused they are for never leaving the office, killing each other in this week’s shooter of choice, and have a Naxx raid going on the other monitor. Some companies fight back by aggressive firewalling and system monitoring. Those companies find out how easy it is to bypass those systems. If you treat your employees like enemy children, you’ll find that they can throw a lot of stones at you.

Note to the game industry: the economy collapsed. Maybe I’m pointing out the extreme obvious here, but this is not a good time to go on a tear about working conditions given that there are quite a few of out-of-work people quite willing to put up with whatever horrible pixel mine conditions exist, over and above the usual “holy-crap-I-can-work-on-games-and-come-to-work-at-10” college kid talent intake, thank you very much. Of course from an ethical standpoint, that shouldn’t matter. Yes. And from an ethical standpoint unicorns have pretty flowers in their manes, and that’s about as relevant and realistic. You pick your battlegrounds, and this isn’t a terribly good one.