A day in the life of a 23-year-old Tokyo game programmer

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/11/30/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-23-year.html


Ooh, programming AND coding! Um, whynotboth.gif I suppose…?


Those reasonable work hours really don’t seem normal for the Japanese game industry. 8 hours!? I don’t know if things have radically changed, or that company is a freakish anomaly, or both. US companies have been making an effort to reduce work hours, but they aren’t that successful, and Japan was always much worse than the US.

I know a few Japanese developers working in the US who were desperate not to go back to Japan, because of the crushing nature of the work culture there. Which is saying something about how bad things are/were, given the long hours they were working here. (One did end up having to go back, and faced a hellish commute - the office was in the middle of Tokyo, but his pay only allowed him to live on the outskirts.) I also vividly remember reading a game industry trade mag where a Japanese developer was talking about the work culture there, and how he previously had lived at work, literally only going home a few times a month to get clean clothes, even sleeping sitting at his desk.

But a big part of work culture in Japan, and apparently Korea as well, involved “after hours” work-socializing. It’s often essentially mandatory and effectively extends working hours well into the night. (To the point where sometimes workers are seriously sleep deprived, kept out late into the night and expected to be in the office bright and early, unlike the game industry.)


The video is really light on detail unfortunately. I mean, yeah he’s a programmer for Bandai-Namco, what’s he gonna do all day? Well he sits in front of his computer and programs! But I agree that his overall working hours and conditions are quite a bit more relaxed from what I understand of salary men in other industries. The idea that he has enforced overtime is at least mentioned (the not getting payed for it bit is where it gets worse for Japanese developers compared to their US counterparts). Otherwise it’s not too surprising that crunch happens overseas just like it does in the US.


Yes, this important issue was sidestepped in this puff piece. I worked in the US side of the console industry for 20 years and our conditions were tough, but our Japanese colleagues have it way worse on average. Many large companies literally have beds built into the desks, laundry facilities on site, and the expectation is that you not leave for weeks on end. And in US companies you certainly don’t get charged for your snacks!

That said, the entire US console game industry needs to die in a fire, and be reborn run by women, with everyone having read The Mythical Man Month.


US game company programmers certainly do not get overtime. These companies are very good at finding ways to declare people “creatives” which means they don’t rights to such things. The hourly QA people are the only ones who generally get overtime. I regularly worked 80 hour weeks for years on end in that industry and never saw a dime of overtime.


Quote of the Day.


I had about 500 of those gundam models all put together and sometimes painted by yours truly. They were gifted without my knowledge to “mom’s friend’s kid” … gone forever!


I could understand some things being more relaxed for game developers than the average salaryman (it’s the nature of the job), but work conditions for game developers are generally much worse than average in Japan (like the US), which really didn’t get conveyed. But I suppose part of that is pay, which wasn’t going to even get hinted at.

If I remember correctly, one of the Japanese developers I knew had worked for Bandai-Namco. But he was also an animator, so there’s likely a whole different set of expectations for programmers as opposed to animators, at least in terms of work hours/compensation as there is in the US. (I.e. insanely long hours and insanely low pay being the standard for all animators in Japan; long hours and no theoretical possibility of overtime being the standard in the US.)

The idea that anyone gets overtime in the US game industry caused me to issue a hollow laughing sound. The game industry has always been fairly consistent about ignoring labor laws, leaving aside that all work in it was traditionally considered “creative.” It wasn’t until after the whole “EA Spouse” lawsuit in 2004 that it was established that programmers weren’t doing “creative” work and thus theoretically qualified for overtime. (The major result of that lawsuit seemingly being that EA essentially fired a bunch of employees and brought them on as short-term contract workers - of whom unpaid overtime wasn’t “demanded,” they just let it be known that anyone who didn’t put in the extra work wouldn’t get their contract renewed.) So now programmers not getting overtime is just part of the labor violations, rather than law.

The irony of programmers being treated as “not creative” is that they get paid better than any other developers to begin with, and most of the work being done in development isn’t any more “creative” than writing code. Not that I’ve ever seen anyone getting paid overtime. I hear vague rumors that it happens somewhere, but not in any studio I’ve worked at, or that anyone I know has worked at. (And I have to say, the studios I’ve worked in have been relatively good - they were run by experienced developers who had previously had their lives destroyed - lots of divorces - working insane hours for studios that didn’t even properly reward them. They were at least trying to do things better.) Maybe those mythical overtime-paying studios are in other countries, where they’re more likely to adhere to labor laws.

I worked in PC game development, where: also yes.

Yes, oh, yes. (A sentiment I had long before working in the game industry, which was totally reinforced by my time in it.)

Hells yes. This is something I’ve advocated for constantly. I continue to be shocked that management in the game industry doesn’t understand the basics of labor studies. Even people arguing against long hours were under the impression that more hours just meant less efficiency per hour worked, not less efficiency overall, which is the reality that would seem to be pretty bleeding obvious in the game industry. I’ve heard a millions stories about studios where everyone worked long hours, they got behind in milestones, hit crunch and then got even further behind. Yet no one connected the dots as the more hours people worked, the more behind they got, the more mistakes that were made, the lower the quality of work got. Even as workers mental and physical health was falling apart. It’s so dumb because companies are hurting their efficiency as they hurt their workers.

I can only assume that industry workers/management have been so brainwashed by the idea that they’re lucky to work in the industry and need to undergo these kinds of brutal conditions as a kind of hazing; it’s the only way ignoring a pretty obvious reality seems possible. Which is part of why the industry needs a reboot/burn down.


I feel your pain. As a kid I spent almost every nickel on plastic tank models. Made elaborate bespoke dioramas with kit bashed environments and all the blood gore and pathos of the last bit of Saving Private Ryan. Went away to college and my asshole little brother blew em all up (him being a pyro and all).

I’m a designer, self-employed so ‘over-time’ ‘vacation’ and ‘benefits’ are all foreign concepts. I mean someone gives you free snacks? Can I bring a duffel bag? But even I have crunch times for CES or RSNA etc. My personal rule is to sleep at least 4-5 hours a night during crunch times. You just get wildly inefficient working more than a 12-16 hour day. Worked for a web start-up and worked a couple 20 hour days back to back. Brutal, but I woke up eager for the leash (until we all got shit-canned a month after the launch). Gaming is notorious for throwing more resources at something that eventually just bogs down.


There is a bizarre cultural management blind spot in AAA gaming. As we were all working mandatory 18h days, 6 days a week, it was so patently obvious that all the employees were checked out. People were taking three hour lunches, showing up later and later, taking long coffee breaks, stumbling around like zombies, napping at desks. Yet management seemed to think this was “commitment” and “the only way to hit our deadlines”. I worked at several different companies in PC and console, and they were all like this. Maybe 3 hours of actual quality work happened per day in that environment. After I quit and went freelance in mobile gaming, I was stunned how much I got done in a six hour day. Three or four times as much as I ever did in a AAA 18 hour day.


I have no explanation other than management wanting workers to suffer, because it’s so clearly counterproductive. A friend worked for a studio where everyone was being made to work deathmarch hours in solidarity with the programmers who were trying to squash bugs (but were obviously too stressed and sleep-deprived to do so, so it dragged on and on). Ostensibly they were all there for “testing” as well, but it was mainly so everyone was suffering. I’ve heard even worse stories from other studios. That happening once can be blamed on naivety about how stress degrades the ability to work combined with an expectation of suffering. But after that, the naivety should be gone, which means it’s just an expectation of suffering.


100% this. A lot of these companies are run by people who simply believe deep down that suffering is important for doing big projects. Like it’s somehow functionally necessary.

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Yeah. Because they did it. Because “one has to suffer for one’s art.” Because it’s a payment for the “gift” of getting to work in the game industry. There’s some powerful brainwashing going on that leads to ignoring obvious realities.

I like to think people are getting wise to this, but it may ultimately take a generational shift, a workforce turnover where all the current game devs who bought into this have retired.

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