I'm Just A Poor Mid Level Line Producer Whose Intentions Are Good

Only in 2009 can you have the intersection of game balance kvetching, business ethics, and charts about the Great Recession. And believe it or not, this time it’s not even me!

This was brought to my attention by a hit on my referral logs from my earlier primal scream about the omnipresent spectre of the gaming industry collapsing into a Schwarzchild radius of incompetency; namely that I’m a big whiny baby pounding at the keyboard with my hamfists.

If there is a product to work on today, the employee will have his salary. Tomorrow is another day. If there is no need for so many workers, they will no longer be employed. It’s that simple. Obviously if there will be need for some workers, the company tries to keep the better ones, fireing the underperformers. It’s obvious self-interest.


If the employee thought of his employer as a friend, his coworkers as a group of friends, he will feel betrayed. But whose fault it is? Actually I’ve never heard any company’s slogan to be “We are here to make our employees feel good”. They usually say “we are here to serve our customers” and mean “we are here to serve our customer’s money to our owners”. No one, ever offered the employee a “freindly helpfull group of peeps”.

Well, if your coworkers aren’t a subset of your group of friends, it may well be because you are an antisocial package of chemicals that everyone installed IM at work for specifically so they could make lunch plans without you overhearing. Most of us that have moved past the point in life where we have to wear nametags and hairnets when going to work, and now work in ‘teams’. Teams of like-minded individuals, selected in part due to personal compatibility. A key part of any employment interview process, after all, is “can we work with this person?”, which should appear closely behind “can this person actually do the job we’re looking to fill”. Both, after all, are important.


But beyond that, there is a small matter of business ethics to consider. There are some, like Mr. Greedy Gecko, er Goblin, who consider the only responsibility of a company to be its bottom line. Profit uber alles, and devil take the hindmost. It’s a fairly common viewpoint – who needs ethics when simple mathematics determines the victor!

But of course, there are other factors, or should be in a world that people not goblins may want to live in. Profit is all well and good and necessary, but at some point, someone may figure out that it’s cost-effective to dilute your milk with, say, I don’t know, something wacky like plastic. Of course long term, killing off your customers may hinder your bottom line. There are long term considerations.

One of those considerations involves the welfare of your employees. These are people who have engaged in a very clear bargain with you – for a given amount of money per week, they will spend that time helping you collect wealth. It’s a standard economic transaction, on the face of it. And for lower level employees, that’s also where it stops. Someone else pays you more, you move on. Shrug.

But past the point where you wear name tags and hair nets, it becomes incumbent on you to treat your assets as assets – and your team members are definitely assets. Because when the economy isn’t busy melting down into goo, they do have options – they can move elsewhere, say to places that don’t treat them as industrial cogs. So there is a certain level of capitalist self-interest there – you keep your assets happy, your assets stay with you and don’t become someone else’s.

But that’s not all of it, at least for most of us. Most effective managers see themselves as responsible for their team. Their team members rely on them to keep the engines running so that the explicit part of the bargain – come to work daily, get paid bi-weekly – continues to happen. That carries with it responsibility. The effective managers make sure their teams, and their projects, are successful, not only because it’s part of their job description to run a successful project and generate wealth, but also because your team members are relying on you to steer that ship through icebergs. Effective managers worry about this. Effective managers lose a lot of sleep about this — and I guarantee you, it’s not because they might deliver 22% less profit to the Mothership. It’s because they’re ethical.

This is not something you’d think would have to be explained in such grueling detail, but you’d be wrong. You’d be wrong because apparently the latest craze in Pinhead Public Company Management 101 involves divesting yourself of as many employees as you can before earnings reports so that your balance sheet looks good – regardless of whether or not you’re actually making a profit. Which is disturbing enough, but then you get apologetics like this who think that there’s nothing at all wrong with throwing your ‘assets’ over the side, and invalidating your implicit contract with them, solely to make a bar on a chart move from 43 to 48. You see – it’s really your fault.

However most of us get into situations when incompetent managers order us to do something obviously stupid and harmful to the company. Creating a malfunctioning product is not a crime unless it is dangerous to people’s health, yet it is stupid. The punishment for stupidity is market loss and the subsequent layoffs.


While employees acted as instruments of managers, this “instrument state” do not relieve them from the responsibility of their actions. They could write a memo to the higher management or simply say that “this management is stupid, I quit and find another job”. While it was a strong ape-subroutine that made them obey, they had free will to act differently. The fact that the managers would deserve layoffs more than the employees, does not change that the employees deserve it too.

I read things like this, complete with pseudo-scientific references to “ape subroutines”, and wonder if 50 years ago this guy would have been on the Warsaw Judenrat. There’s apologetics, and then there’s disturbing apologetics. (And hey, he went all Godwin first, with a somewhat disturbing equation of dissenting employees and the Nuremburg trials. I’m just finishing the neuron loop!)


Of course, many of us aren’t in the position exhorted by this blogger and MMO bloggers everywhere, namely that if you disagree with the direction of the company/design decisions/overuse of the color brown you should hand in your walking papers forthwith. As pointed out by a commenter to his blog:

I don’t know if you have a family that relies on you for its income, but tell me again that I’m free to quit a job at any time with 2 kids and a wife relying no me as the sole support of income.

To which the blogger responded:

Kids are investment to the future, cost a lot today but pay back well later. However a wife is a grown person who shall be able to support herself AND half of the kids. If YOU made the choice of supporting a grown person than it’s you who have to live with the consequences.

Hey, he’s got a point. I recommend octuplets. Better return on investment, donchaknow.


I realize this entire long blog post was the rhetorical equivalent of punching a baby, but business ethics has been something on my mind lately for fairly obvious reasons. Said blogger’s image of me as a caterwauling child ramming the keyboard with my forehead aside, I have been in the position of my failures as a team member and manager being in some way responsible for people losing their jobs. Interestingly enough, the fact that it was an eminently justifiable business decision – and in one memorable case, one I personally recommended – did nothing to help me sleep that week. Because I failed. Despite the fact that recommending a course of action that resulted in layoffs was, in a business sense the right decision – that was a failure.

And the rampant, smug self justification that we’re seeing with this year’s model of layoffs and cutbacks and corporate jets and stimulus explosions is telling me that there’s quite a few people who have no problem whatsoever sleeping. And that bothers me.

Enough to slam the keyboard with my hamfists.