Originally published at: A day in the life of a game illustrator | Boing Boing
Originally published at: A day in the life of a game illustrator | Boing Boing
Not shown- the part where management passive-aggressively requires everyone to eat three meals a day and perhaps spend the night for months on end to hit a made-up deadline that the team is going to miss because management is a bunch of disorganized bro college roommates not qualified to run a big project.
Yeah, I was shocked she was only at the office for 9 hours and only had a half-hour commute each way… I’m guessing she’s not a typical worker on a typical day. It’s not consistent with what I’ve read and heard from former game dev coworkers from Japan - one of whom actually worked at Square Enix before he moved to the US out of desperation. The abusive practices of the US game industry and high cost of living in the SF Bay Area were actually a huge improvement over what he had been experiencing in Japan. Things might have gotten better in the Japanese game industry since then (as they slowly are in the US), but I can’t imagine they’ve gotten that much better in the last ten years…
Yah, in the early 2000s, as bad as the US industry was (and I still have mild PTSD from it), Japan was worse. In fact I believe it was Square who got infamous on Kotaku or Gamasutra at one point for installing desks with beds built into them. There were artists and engineers who hadn’t seen their families in months.
I suspect things are still not great, though perhaps not quite that bad now. I think this video is a puff piece signed off on by Square management.
The EASpouse incident made things better for a while because the US industry got a wave of very bad press, but then it died down and we went back to 100 hour weeks with no vacation time for six month stints. For about a year on one project, I went home at 3am every night and came in at 8am the next day.
I wish I’d seen the forest for the trees and left sooner. It’s like an abusive marriage. You’re in so deep that you don’t see how bad it is and you don’t think anything else could be better.
Fuck that whole industry and the horse it rode in on. I saw it ruin a lot of lives and a lot of families.
Looking forward to watching this video. I’m lucky to draw one picture a day, doing it sixty times a second is an unimaginable feat.
I vividly remember a Japanese developer talking about how he spent years living in front of his computer at work, near 24 hours a day - he’d sleep sitting at his desk, taking little cat-naps, eat his meals there, and once or twice a week he’d go to his apartment, in which he didn’t live, to get clean clothes. That was literally the only reason he ever went home, as he didn’t sleep or eat there. (I’m not sure if he didn’t take showers or just took them at work. Being the game industry, either is possible.)
The conditions actually managed to be worse than US studios, where so many people I know had their marriages and health destroyed. One studio, where a few people I know worked, not a single marriage survived the last two (highly successful) games they put out before being shut down. They laugh about it now - bitterly. (And studios they’ve subsequently gone on to manage have tried to do things very differently.) I know people who worked at EA before and after the “EA spouse” lawsuit, and it seemed like the biggest impact it had was to turn a bunch of salaried jobs into freelance positions, with no benefits, contracts ending before the end of the year (so no one had to be paid for holidays), and not-so-veiled threats that if they didn’t come into the office at least six days a week, their contracts wouldn’t be renewed. So things got measurably worse rather than better, at EA at least - though some of their strategy got adopted by other studios.
Still, I’ve been heartened by what I’ve seen in recent years - people are pushing back, finally, against abusive work conditions, getting unionized (or at least thinking about it, which is a big change in itself), and management is finally realizing that working fewer hours actually improves productivity. Which seems like something that the industry really should have figured out a long time ago, as it was an established fact that they seemed to be doing everything it could to just ignore, for whatever reason. (I suspect mostly ignorance - game devs end up in management just because they survived brutal attrition, with most experienced game devs quitting, not because they had the knowledge or skills necessary.)
I suspect this coincided with the closing of the Creative Work loophole in California, which I believe came about partly from the EA Spouse “movement”.
Most people don’t know this, but California requires salaried employees to be paid overtime for more than 40 hours a week. However there’s always been a loophole for so-called (and poorly defined) “creative work”. The idea being if your business is creative, it’s too difficult to predict schedules so you get a pass on paying overtime. I believe this loophole was carved out for the film industry, but the game industry cruised right through it also.
California finally closed that loophole (mostly) by saying it only applies to management. So what happened? Everyone got magically promoted. In the company I was working at, every single engineer and artist was now a manager of something. The only exception was QA because they couldn’t work it with them. The law defines “management” as including ownership in the company so they gave everyone token stock options. They wouldn’t do that with QA though, so those folks (bless them*) started getting real overtime and loved it. That made life a lot harder for engineering because having real time access to QA is a big part of the job, and they kept sending the QA team home at 5 o’clock.
Anyways, the game companies still got their way and we all kept working our insane hours. It was such a transparent dodge of the intent of the law that the scales started to fall from my eyes and the end of my gaming career had begun. I remember sitting in the meeting where they explained we were all being fake-promoted and thinking, “ooooooh…they don’t give a single fuck about us. We are meat to them”. Most other people in the room were excited about the promotion and their new stock options. It was like mass Stockholm Syndrome.
Anyways, as you say, things are slowly getting better, but I would not counsel anyone enter that industry yet.
*all hail QA, the overworked and under-sung heroes of all software development. Everything we all have that is good is because of them tirelessly doing a terrible job for poor money and no credit
I recollect a result was that programmers were defined as “non-creative” work, which rankled as a designer, as the best-paid game devs were now the only ones getting overtime. QA seemed to almost universally get switched over to contract, so they’d be exempt as well, which is just super-shitty. But then California changed the salary requirements for exemption from overtime, to below that of the average programmer salary, so all dev positions were not qualified for overtime again.
The whole thing is so supremely dumb, given that labor studies show that the kind of routine work hours in the game industry are terrible for productivity, and the kind of overtime done for crunch causes less work to get done. I’ve always been shocked that game studios couldn’t figure this out, as I heard of/saw situation after situation where a studio would crunch and just get further and further behind schedule as a result, and never put 2 and 2 together. We know the whole 40 hour workweek is arbitrary and inefficient to begin with, but the game industry proves, without acknowledging it, that the overtime is counterproductive. I think, to some degree, it is known, however - there’s always been an element of deliberate hazing with abusive work conditions. But now I’m finally seeing some acknowledgement that these practices are both abusive and also counterproductive, with even a smattering of indie studios experimenting - very successfully - with 4 day work-weeks, something that would have been absolutely unthinkable previously. So it makes me hopeful.
There really was no excuse for this. Entire books are written about it. Study after study has been done about it. Articles are all over the trade press about it.
The reason why they never learn is quite simple- it’s a failure of management culture. The people managing these projects are not qualified to do it, and they have no management training. They have those jobs because they were college roommates with the CEO or because they’ve been around for a long time. I saw it in on every team at every company.
When I switched to the mobile industry, the contrast was dramatic. All senior management took management seriously. They read the books and the literature. They were up on the latest research about project management. All new managers got training. A lot of it. It was taken as a given that people being happy and well rested is job one because everything else falls apart otherwise. I wish I’d known how different other software industries were sooner.
I’ve often thought that many of the game industry’s problems could be directly traced back to the fact that managers usually were just the developers who ended up in that position for no other reason than because they were the most experienced, but that was just because they were the ones willing and able to put up with the abuse long enough to survive extremely high industry attrition rates.
My experience was that most of the time it wasn’t even that noble. The really brutal project I referred to upthread with the 100 hour weeks was headed by a guy ten years younger than me who was an old drinking buddy of one of the executives and had no management or large project experience. He had only been in the industry for a couple of years and hadn’t really done anything of note. It was like being managed by a five year old. He had no plan, no resource strategy, no long term thinking, nothing. He would just have everyone do the next thing that popped into his head, he made up deadlines, and when we miss them he’d order everyone to work more and more hours. This went on for five years. Five years of 250 peoples’ lives ruined by this clown.
This sort of thing is very very common in AAA. I think outside people generally know now that it’s a fucked up industry, but they don’t know how bad it really is.
Oh gods. Yeah, the whole problem of people getting jobs because of personal connections has been a huge problem from day 1 of the industry. I think the problem has actually gotten somewhat better, as the industry has grown enormously, is developing professional standards, and there’s a lot of competition for positions, etc., but the issue remains.
I just happen to know a bunch of people who have survived the industry long enough that they all fell into management positions, despite not knowing what they were doing in that regard. (And this is true for pretty much all their early coworkers who stayed in the industry as well.) They got into the industry at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of skill requirements and it was more about personal connections, and kind of got stuck in those positions even, as their already outdated development skills atrophied, leaving them with a lot of skill and knowledge gaps even compared to new hires.
But the number of management positions has probably grown far more than the growing industry has retained workers, so there’s lot of management positions open even after filling them with experienced devs…
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