Project Management And Industry Analysis Is Hard

Project Management And Industry Analysis Is Hard

Michael Pachter, NeoGAF's greatest game industry analyst, has this to say about crunch (prompted by the Team Bondi and Rockstar complaints):

If you’re getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours. I hear from lots of people on Twitter about these Team Bondi guys in Australia, [hearing complaints about how] they’re young and right out of school, well, don’t pick that as a profession then. If your complaint is you worked overtime and didn’t get paid for it, find another profession.

I just don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people who say ‘I worked for such-and-such, and I didn’t get paid, and that’s not fair'. If you want to be an hourly employee, go build automobiles, and what will happen is they’ll close down your plant some day and you’ll be out of work.

My first reaction, like anyone who works in the video game industry, was "Oh. Michael Pachter. He's either (a) wrong, (b) stating the incredibly obvious, or (c) both."  But the problem here is that people actually pay attention to this person. Thus, they may actually believe him and think continuous crunch is normal and expected. So, in the ever-continuing compulsion of correcting people who are wrong on the Internet, I feel it necessary to actually correct some of the ridiculously glaring falsehoods in Pachter's, er, ah, um, analysis.

So. Point by point:

The [Team Bondi staff] were asked to work crazy hours, I don’t know anybody in game development who calls it a 9-5 job. So that [complaint] doesn’t really resonate with me.

That's nice. But whether it "resonates" with you or not, expecting people to work 60 hour weeks on a regular basis is not normal. The 40 hour week exists for a reason. Really! This is not new! And people have actually done studies about its effectiveness in the game industry! The longer you encourage your team to focus on the project to the exclusion of their lives, the worse work they will do. This has been proven, again, since the era of industrialization. This is not happy froofy hippie stuff. This is basic project management. The fact that many game companies utterly fail at basic project management does not make any less a tenet of basic project management.

I think [the point] that everyone is missing is that, if a game is good – and LA Noire was good – there will be a profit pool, and there will be bonuses.

Really? Because that's certainly news to the developers of the best-selling game ever made. But even when your publisher doesn't make "screwing your developers" part of their business plan, in every large project, the top tier of developers - the leads, perhaps the superstar engine developers and the media-suckup designers and producers that are on Michael Pachter's speed-dial - may have bonus packages as part of their compensation contract. Do you seriously believe that the line programmers and artists can count on profit sharing and bonuses, as opposed to, oh, I don't know, being laid off three days after the game ships? And do you think they don't crunch? In fact do you think that the media-whore producers on your speed-dial (who, by the way, are largely responsible for the atrocity of project management that results in crunch in the first place) do crunch?

Apparently there are people who don’t like McNamara, apparently there are people who think he is a tough boss. Making a game is not easy, it is a complicated process, managing the process is really hard. The LA Noire project was disrupted, and there were several false promises of finishing the game, and poor Brendan McNamara – who is probably going to be ‘rich Brendan McNamara' – was put in the position to get his team to crunch and get it done more than once.

OK, I'm really trying here to come up with something besides "Wow, Pachter, you're really kind of a jerk". And failing. I don't know. There's got to be something. Are we supposed to be feeling sympathy for the producer who put his team through hell so he personally could get rich while the people he was responsible for got completely screwed? Because I'm not really feeling it. Really, all I'm feeling is kind of the "Wow, Pachter, you're really kind of a jerk" thing.

Sweatshops should have unions but games studios, which tend to pay people a lot of money, shouldn’t.

Yes. Because other creative industries never do that sort of thing. Of course, if you're Michael Pachter, you probably sympathize a lot more with, say, John Ricitello and Bobby Kotick than Joe down in QA. Even if your entire work as an analyst comes largely from Joe in QA's posts on NeoGAF.

But really, I'm being too hard on poor Michael Pachter. First, because the man is making a living off of being an industry joke, and to be fair, he is doing a damned good job of his vocation. And second, because why should the game industry be any different from everywhere else?