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My [husband] works for Electronic Arts, I'm ... a disgruntled spouse. (2004) (ea-spouse.livejournal.com)
139 points by staunch 2709 days ago | hide | past | web | 105 comments | favorite

EA's practices described in this article make me angry, but I'm also baffled. Why the hell would you stay in this situation longer than about 48 hours?

I can't imagine working for a place that told me it was mandatory that I work 12 hours a day, seven days a week with no extra compensation. Ummm...go fuck yourself? Companies don't own their employees. Especially as a programmer, why would you put up with something so ridiculous? It's not that hard to find work doing development elsewhere.

I used to work there a few years ago and now I work at a 'big, boring organization', as some might call it.

Having interacted with people who've been at EA most / all of their careers, I can enumerate the following reasons why they stick around and put up with crazy overtime:

1. Glamour: being in the credits of a multi-million dollar game that millions of players will play worldwide is pretty cool.

2. Love for gaming: I have not met a single developer there who wasn't a regular gamer.

3. Love for sports: EA is the biggest developer of AAA sports titles out there. If, for example, you love gaming and basketball, can you think of a more enjoyable way to earn a living than being one of the developers on a AAA basketball title like NBA Live?

4. Guilt: This might come as a surprise to some but when you actually enjoy what you do so much and when 'reproing a bug' to you means playing through five minutes of the game with the debugger attached to your Xbox, you kind-of start feeling like you're cheating the organization for money. As a result, you start overcompensating by staying later and doing more work even when overtime is not mandated.

1. Glamour: "I want to be recognized"

2. Love for gaming: "I love gaming, why would I leave?"

3. Love for sports: "I love sports, I enjoy it."

4. Guilt: "I feel like I'm cheating the company"

What a great list of selfish bull-crap. The woman in the article ended with how much it effects not just the person - but your family and the people who care about you. Sure, you have a handful of reasons to stay, but what about your kids who have grown up for the last 4 years without you? What about your wife that hasn't had a romantic, stressless dinner and a night out in 5 months? What about your parents, who never get to even talk to you on the phone anymore?

Staying for any other reason in an environment like that, whatever your interests are, is piggish, self-centered, and short sighted.

What makes you think your family would stick around for that? They don't get the glamor, they probably don't love gaming as much, sports is a hit or miss, and you'd have another thing coming if you really believed the "guilt" option.

There are many career paths which are pretty bad for family. By that logic something like a job in the defence force or as a sports star or travelling reporter would all end up in the same boat. Their families have every right to decide it's not for them and leave but equally the person being employed has ever right to choose what they want to do, it's their life.

Their families have every right to decide it's not for them and leave but equally the person being employed has ever right to choose what they want to do, it's their life.

This encompasses my point perfectly: you are acknowledging no one can tell you what to do, at blind disregard to consequences outside of yourself. This is the definition of self-centered.

"As long as I'm happy and my family puts up with it, its OK" is being a mediocre person. If you want to live that lifestyle, don't have a family. Otherwise, get your act together and behave like you actually want the responsibilities you've signed up for.

Having a family isn't based on "logic." What you do up until the point you get married or have kids is 100% your prerogative, and I agree with you on that. The minute you sign up for that extra life-stuff, you are changing your "logic." It becomes emotional, it becomes about others. Having a family and continuing to act like you don't is immature.

The down votes I'm receiving reflects the young nature of Hacker News and I accept that. Some of you will get married and have kids and eventually understand where I'm coming from, the rest of you may have wives like the OP.

You're right, and you shouldn't be getting downvoted for that post.

We all know that the levels of overtime described in the EA Spouse post are both unproductive and unhealthy, so it's a case of sacrificing one's health, the quality of one's work, AND one's family FOR AN EXECUTIVE. NO ONE wins in that situation. NO ONE. The company loses, because morale is in the toilet and the code quality is crap. The employee loses because he's sitting in an office 12+ hours a day and doesn't have time or energy to stay healthy. The family loses because they're missing a parent.

On top of everything else, the customer loses because they end up with a buggy and non-innovative title implemented by people too burned out to enjoy or care about it.

(For a number of years, EA had a reputation for producing clones of its own products. It's hardly any wonder why.)

I'm guessing you're not married and don't have kids? In general, children don't have the right to decide that their parents' lifestyle isn't for them and leave.

But the bigger point is that the kind of mindset you're espousing ("It's my life, I'll do whatever I want without regard for my family") doesn't really work.

I agree, but just wanted to point out that the opposite approach (allowing the needs of your family to completely subjugate all of your own lifestyle/work dreams) is also an awful mistake that doesn't work either.

As with most things, a balance is what's needed.

I'm really disappointed that you're getting voted down so far. You're absolutely right, and hopefully the people who don't get that aren't married with kids. My wife and I both grew up in families where our parents gave a damn, and I can't begin to express how grateful I am. Living in a family where my parents both just thought they could do whatever they wanted without regard for anyone else would have been hell, and probably wouldn't have survived long.

Ever heard of compersion?

In grad school, a friend told me he wanted to go into videogame programming, so I described this post to him. His response was immediate and unwavering: "I don't care, I want to do game programming so much that I'll do whatever it takes."

I suspect that enough people like this graduate every year that EA can maintain their high employee turnover indefinitely.

Sadly, you're probably correct.

The games industry might be a bit on the extreme side of this, but I don't think it's limited to game programmers.

Computer game programming is a glamorous industry, like fashion. If your boss told you to give sexual favors to a client, you'd probably quit, and hopefully press charges; but it's rumored to have happened in the movie / modeling industries (which are also glamorous industries).

I worked in the talent booking industry for years and saw people put up with the same endless shit stream because ultimately they are using their jobs to give them self-worth. If you want to maintain your dignity there are always other companies or you can just leave the industry. It's not at all easy to do once you've invested so many years of your life, but the decision is still up to you.

I think it rings true for any industry that is about arts, design, or entertainment.

I do wonder though why these industries have such an attraction on many people. Sure, I'd love to work on a Hollywood movie in a plush office but I love my dignity even more.

Humans are predisposed to seek high social status positions. In our culture, those are people whose name everyone knows, even if they're only "famous for being famous".

The foot in the door principle.

They don't spring the hours on you, they increase them gradually.

First its - well 45 hours a week isnt so bad. Then after a few weeks its 55, and eventually, you get to working 85 hour weeks and not really knowing how you got there.

What I have seen in advertising industry, is that people just stay longer. Nothing is ever said, there aren't even any dirty looks if you leave at 5 or 5:30, it is just that you will be first to leave. Then, when someone else does it once, they make an excuse, and you feel like you need to make an excuse.

Fine if you are a contractor, that is the way to work at those places.

I've heard that that is the way the Japanese salarymen put in their long hours. A lot of them end up just sticking around at the end of the day doing nothing. They are just waiting for other people and/or 'the boss' to leave so that it looks like they are being very productive.

Let's hypothetically say we have a young turk in a Japanese engineering department, where the unspoken departmental standard is 6 hours of work in a 16 hour day. If he works 10 hours in a 16 hour day, he is going to quickly draw the ire of his older colleagues, because he is making them look bad. The boss will start cracking the whip and get them to meet or exceed his productivity, and then an arms race ensues. If, on the other hand, he works 10 hours in a 10 hour day, he is going to quickly draw the ire of his boss, because he is leaving six hours before everyone else, despite the project being horrifically behind schedule.

There is an entire genre of aphorisms to tell our young turk. Let's see: the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. The clever hawk hides his claws. etc, etc.

Work diligently, but with sufficient deliberation to achieve the company's exacting quality standards. Document your steps religiously. Hammer out hundreds or thousands of pages of specification documents, since specs always resemble forward progress. Teach your junior employees, who might be ignorant in the way of the world, how things are actually done, and most particularly how they are actually done here. With due deliberation.

Now, of course, my company was totally different, because we would never slack off like that. But, you know, I've heard stories of how things are done at places I don't have near-feudal loyalty towards.

Neal Stephenson nails this game of "Don't go too fast; don't go too slow." perfectly in Snow Crash.

The context there is a US gov employee who has a huge tedious memo in her email. (It's an acceptable use policy on toilet paper use and the prohibited sharing of that precious resource.) We get treated to a long Stephenson treatise on how to properly handle such a memo (skim at a rate that suggests reading rather than skimming, go back occasionally at random intervals - as if rereading details, etc.). It's very well done.

     Y.T.'s mom pulls up  the new memo, checks the  time, and starts reading
  it. The estimated  reading time  is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does
  her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office  at  9:00
  P.M.,  she will see the name  of each employee and next to it, the amount of
  time spent  reading this memo, and  her reaction,  based on the time  spent,
  will go something like this:

     Less than 10 min. Time for an employee conference and possible attitude
     10-14 min. Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing
       slipshod attitude.
     14-15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss
       important details.
     Exactly 15.62 min. Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
     15.63-16 min. Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
     16-18 min. Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung
       up on minor details.
     More than 18 min. Check the security videotape, see just what this
       employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized restroom break).

    Y.T.'s mom  decides  to  spend  between  fourteen and  fifteen  minutes
  reading the memo. It's better for younger workers to spend too long, to show
  that they're careful,  not  cocky. It's better for  older  workers  to go  a
  little  fast, to  show good management  potential. She's pushing forty. She
  scans through the memo,  hitting the  Page Down button at reasonably regular
  intervals,  occasionally  paging back up  to  pretend to reread some earlier
  section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading.
  It's  a small  thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really  shows up on
  your work-habits summary.

The sup even times how long it takes each employee to read the email, and makes various character judgements of them based on this time. It was an awesome scene.

there's an old cliche about a frog being slowly boiled to death here ;)

Amusingly, it doesn't work on actual frogs. People have tried, I think (though can't source).

So you're saying that frogs are smarter than people? ;)

"They don't spring the hours on you, they increase them gradually."

More like the frog in the pot principal.

You'd be surprised what people will put up with due to subtle manipulations of people in charge, peer pressure (of others working similarly, especially if your boss works harder than you do) and the promise of future reward for slog now. It sounds like the working hours started out fine, with the emphasis on it being temporary, and then the realisation started to dawn much later that although they said it was temporary it was anything but.

I've been in a similar situation and didn't realise how badly it was destroying me until I was complaining one day to my SO and it suddenly dawned on me that this was not something I could continue doing.

In the startup world the carrots called stock options. Having been a consultant at a few dotcoms during the boom, I have seen many a developer work themselves to death because "their stock would be worth a lot" someday. Unfortunately that day never came for my colleagues.

Yeah. I was promised days in lieu, but these were conveniently forgotten or "unable to be taken" due to other, new deadlines. I'm actually surprised I got any holidays at all, apart from the fact that HR got involved. My boss certainly wouldn't have let me have holidays, and I was terrified of losing my job at the time so I didn't want to question it.

> Especially as a programmer, why would you put up with something so ridiculous? It's not that hard to find work doing development elsewhere.

I think this is partly because they feel specialized in what they are doing and their feeling of specialization sort of binds them to the game industry.

The other part being the glamour wisty is writing about.

Sometimes you just keep going on doing something that makes you unhappy because it actually seems safer than trying to change it. You have a paycheck, you have something dependable, you have something to talk about...

Just this weekend I had a dinner with a friend of mine who works for (a Canadian office of) EA. I mentioned this exact blogpost and he said he read it. And then he added that nothing had changed.

Overtime is factored into the development plan from the very beginning, and the overtime period typically starts 6 months before the project deadline. They will compensate with an occasional day off and the work schedule will be lax after the release, but people are really squeezed out before that.

I guess it must be working for them business-wise, but it's had a pretty negative effect on retaining even top talent, who also feel burned out by the constant crunch times / ridiculous overtime / etc. I mean Will Wright can probably do whatever he wants, but basically anyone who isn't him seems to feel harried. I've talked to designers at conferences who got dragged back from the middle of a conference where they were actually presenting because of some "emergency" or "crunch". I mean sure, sometimes there are emergencies and crunches, but EA seems to use them constantly as a normal development process (if your company's having 20 emergencies a year, either it's crashing and burning, or you misdefined "emergency").

Most people don't like to burn bridges and go public with why they left, but if you look at top designers, programmers, etc. at EA over the past 10 years, a large number have left, and often without even having new jobs lined up--- basically went indie or went to start consulting firms rather than continue under those working conditions.

I'd been wondering. EA claimed they were cleaning stuff up, if I remember right, but I never really heard much follow-up on whether the game industry (and EA in particular) had improved. Thanks for telling.

The thing I can't understand is that this goes against almost every productivity study I've come across. Most productivity articles I've read seem to state that yes, you can productivity work more than 40 hours but only for a few weeks. After that time, you start getting burned out and the gain in productivity starts to nosedive until it is worse than if you just worked normal hours.

Is there something I'm missing? Is there an actual business benefit for having people work all the time?

If you're an incompetent manager looking for a way to advance, then you WANT people working overtime. It means to your (incompetent) superiors that you are a good leader, and that you need more people, which means more responsibility, and therefore a raise -- if not where you are now, then at your next job (I managed a team of 40 poeple!).

Yeah, that makes sense. Give people the illusion of productivity rather than actual productivity.

Keep in mind your friend is at one studio of many under the EA umbrella. Just like the entire game industry, some studios are a mess. Unfortunately (and probably unfairly) EA takes the brunt of the bad PR.

However, EA and most other studios industry wide have taken great strides to improve the treatment of employees since the EA Spouse ordeal. There will probably forever remain bad/overworked studios, but I see plenty of those outside of the game industry as well in environments even less enjoyable/creative/fun.

It's quite possible it's improved, but it seems there's still a culture of: developing this game will be your life. Almost every single acceptance speech at this year's Game Developer's Choice awards involved the team thanking their family for their understanding / apologizing for not being around for the past 6 months / etc. After hearing that over and over from the acceptance speeches in succession, it gave a pretty strong impression of the industry still being a pretty oppressive place to work.

(The IGF segment, for indie-game awards, seemed to involve much happier devs, except that many thanked their families for indulging their unfunded, nonsalaried quest.)

And I don't think the apologizing to families and stupid hours will ever completely go away because working in games for many is a big part of their life/identify/pride for better or worse. Given 1 year or infinite years, some people will choose to make their current project their life. Just as many choose to make their startup/band/sport/passion their life.

The only problem comes when the studios, like EA Spouse, get abusive and ridiculous due to incompetent management. However, over the last 5 years of being tangentially and directly involved in games, I see this happening less and less.

> Keep in mind your friend is at one studio of many under the EA umbrella.

No, he is not. He works directly for EA.

There is no "works directly for EA" unless you're a high-level executive or possibly marketing (not sure on that one). EA is split into studios and cross-studio departments, each with very different cultures.

EA was once well-known for acquiring companies and then assimilating them into the EA machine, often with disastrous results. In the years since my studio was acquired, it's been entirely different, with the executives having a hands-off-by-default position, only intervening when there's trouble of one sort or another. While EA HR takes standard of living issues seriously, each studio is given a lot of latitude in how they manage projects and employees. One place that the organization as a whole did improve thing was moving the bulk of the employees (at least all entry-level ones) over to hourly wages, so the company has to pay overtime.

In my experience, EA's not bad about overtime and such, but I can't speak for every studio, and neither can your friend.

> There is no "works directly for EA" unless you're a high-level executive or possibly marketing (not sure on that one). EA is split into studios and cross-studio departments, each with very different cultures.

If you're working at one of the newly acquired studios like Bioware, that's probably true. The older studios like EAC in Burnaby or EARS are so close to the EA corporate that it's hard to say that his friend doesn't "work directly for EA".

> In my experience, EA's not bad about overtime and such, but I can't speak for every studio, and neither can your friend

It's still quite bad at their largest studios.

> If you're working at one of the newly acquired studios like Bioware, that's probably true. The older studios like EAC in Burnaby or EARS are so close to the EA corporate that it's hard to say that his friend doesn't "work directly for EA".

But the whole point is that EA is made up of many studios, not all of which share a monolithic culture. If you want to argue EARS and EAC have a similar culture, that's fine, but it still doesn't mean that the majority of us share it.

My own assessment is that the games industry is perhaps as much as several decades behind the software industry in coming to grips with the process and culture changes necessary for sustainable high-quality development efforts. There are a few companies that seem to do it right (Valve, for example), but the vast majority of companies seem to be living by rules determined more by fantasy and speculation than by actual experience. Much of this is due to the relatively young age of modern game-making (the efforts behind making, say, Modern Warfare 2 are utterly dissimilar to the process of making, say, the original Doom). Some of it is exacerbated by the exponential revenue growth of the gaming industry.

When you can half-ass your way into making a multi-million dollar return on investment while doing it wrong, it can be challenging to find the motivation to do it right.

Hopefully, as the industry matures it'll settle down into more sensible standard processes.

Valve have had a philosophy of not shipping until it is perfect. (see TF2, HL2:EP3, etc). This might be changing (L4D2), but I'm still waiting for HL2:EP3, and games like HL2 had a 6 year development cycle.

I may not be informed on Valve's ship-philosophy, but is Valve really the best example of shipping at perfection?

Hasn't TF2 experienced well over 100+ updates by this point?

If Valve is doing something right, it seems to be incremental improvement -- not vitrification and release of a finalized product.

Don't be fooled by the high number of updates for TF2 - it was already a quality product upon release. The updates aren't just fixes; many include genuine new features, maps and game modes. I think the idea is to keep community interest high, since the game dies if its fanbase deserts it for pastures new.

TF2 was perfect on release. It was fun, exciting, and offered many hours of enjoyment, and still does because Valve is constantly going back in and tweaking and adding content based on community feedback.

Those 100+ updates are fixes to something broken. They are improvements on perfection. I think only Valve can get away with something like that, though.

If every company modeled it's game production the same way Valve does, I think gaming would be better off, even if we had to wait longer between releases.

Having played TF2 from day 1, I have to agree with your description of enjoyable gameplay, but there were bugs, massive blunders both in map design or character interaction. Who can forget the infinite uber exploit or sentries located below map grounds. In valve's defense, the game was always user-centric. Fun, very friendly to community and a great value for the dollar.

We were administrating 4 TF2 servers and updates to the servers were almost a weekly occurrence. Was it worth the hassle : yes. Valve knew how to handle community issues and provide a product that players wanted. I don't think it's easy to hold a lot of game companies in this high regard.

"When you can half-ass your way into making a multi-million dollar return on investment while doing it wrong, it can be challenging to find the motivation to do it right."

I thought you were talking about deep-sea offshore oil drilling, but then I realized you only said "multi-million".

there's something seriously fucked up with the game industry. A uni friend with a reasonably good theoretical CS degree tried to get a junior gameplay programming job last year and was told/signalled his knowledge and experience is not game-specific enough. So what I suspect is that the people who manage to get in have spent some sweet time getting there (perhaps even on specialized uni courses) and keep telling themselves this is what they really wanted (wasn't it just yesterday here on HN someone posted the wiki article about cognitive dissonance?). And it's the same across large portion of game companies at least, most notably those crunching out MMO games (there's a great blog about that that I can't find right now).

From a hiring standpoint, the industry is very inbred. Most new hires (except maybe in QA) in my company come from other companies. Our industry can bet that there are a fair deal of experienced (if only slightly) people out there who were either fired after a project ended, quit because of burnout, or are otherwise available on the market, so it's not very common to look beyond this pool.

Academic preparation will usually get you nowhere, and for a programming job it will only help in a secondary way, or for a more "generic programming" job like tools programming. We generally only pay attention if you've done "cool stuff", usually written games in your own time or as class projects, or have experience at other gaming companies. Gaming degrees or gaming schools (DigiPen, Full Sail) will help, but only insofar as it provides you with an environment where you can easily make "cool stuff". We don't care about your gaming degree; we care about what you accomplished in class.

Now, one thing to point out is that there's not as much of an iron curtain in European companies. Based on anecdotal chats with some programmers from these companies, it seems much more common that they formerly worked in a "boring" industry.

I never studied anything game-industry specific (I was a math major) & I'm working as a game developer now (albeit in a small company that does casual games, not EA and their ilk) and only worked in 'normal' programming jobs before that (doing mostly semantic-web and "enterprise" stuff).

Of the ~20 people working here only one (the youngest and most junior, probably also earns a lot less than most of us) studied in a games-specific program.

I think many people here don't have a degree or have one in an unrelated field (I have yet to find a CS-program graduate, the ones I know of mostly studied stuff like physics and math).

What you refer to might be AAA specific, or just untrue.

One thing to bear in mind is that the games programming domain is quite different from the typical web/application programming domain that many here on Hacker News are used to.

In much of Games Development there is a greater focus on optimization and efficiency, the programming is a lot lower level and you need to be able to squeeze as much as you can out of the hardware. All the Games Developers I have worked for and interviewed for always look for certain skills, like pointer arithmetic and bit manipulation, that might not be an issue if you're building a social network or e-commerce site.


But in my experience my work here is remarkably similar to previous jobs I've had that weren't in games.

Casual games are more web programming. He's talking about the multi-million dollar productions that tax the top consoles to their limits.

From what I've seen, casual (iPhone, Facebook) game companies are far more open to hiring general programming talent than the mainstream. (Which, IMO, can only be a good thing for the industry.)

Online/flash games here.

And yes, they do seem a bit more open and also a bit more laid-back.

The latter is probably at least in part because it's easier to make money in the casual space.

There is also a bit of a problem the other way to, I know people who would be much happier doing games development subjects at uni but are reluctant because future employers may not give them non games dev jobs. I'd say a lot of people working in the industry are quiet specialised or at least they appear that way to employers, plus there love of games development is used against them.

Couldnt agree more.

>I know people who would be much happier doing games >development subjects at uni but are reluctant because >future employers may not give them non games dev jobs

This is a good thing in my opinion, it could help regulate the talent flowing into the industry so the companies wake up and start making better environment for the engineers.

hm. just red that. let me tell you something. i was working for outsource companies (sorry to admit, but i'm from Ukraine) for more than 5 years. i can tell that the average hourly rate of the programmer here is still around 15USD for an hour.

it's an extremely rare occasion when project goes "right". When you work in outsource, you get tight time schedules promised by the people who have no idea about the development process, and teams inevitably kill themselves for the sake of project. it's most of time not any less than 10 hours a day, with often working weekends. if you don't like it - just go ahead and leave.

but if you leave, you just find another head of the same beast. afterall, if you switch jobs way too often, they claim that you're not trustworthy.

well, i'm sorry about the guys who work for EA. they're brilliant people who got possessed by managers. but there are places, where whole industry is possessed, and owned. most of the time less skilled people are being taken for the job just because they could be easily fired, they won't take the ownership of anything. they'll just do whatever you tell them to do. maybe EA should do the same? :)

> sorry to admit, but i'm from Ukraine

Why are you sorry?

good question... well, probably because of the current status of IT industry here...

Couple of "WHYYYY?" comments on here, mostly with good answers, but one more piece that hasn't been mentioned: since the industry is very competitive, having experience on a shipping game is a huge benefit to your resume. I'm sure many of those programmers/artists thought "OK, just make it through this game and then I'll actually have something on my resume."

I mean, could you imagine quitting a startup before they shipped a product?

> I mean, could you imagine quitting a startup before they shipped a product?

I did. (Granted, the product changed every month and the website I was working on changed every week.)

> ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business

Not really. Resident physicians were only very recently restricted to 80-hour work weeks. And even many of the residents bemoan the lost patient-contact time.

What's the average start-up work-week?

Conditions like this were enjoyed by 19th century industrial workers - and still go on in some of the poorer countries today. It's the result of unregulated working conditions and inadequate or non-existent labour laws. If the factory owner's only motivation is making money at the fastest possible rate, and there is an abundant supply of workers of a similar standard then labour can essentially be treated as a consumable.

I want to know what happened! Did they stay? Has EA's approach changed?

I'm hoping no, and yes, in that order. Anyone have any more recent experience in EA's "sweatshops"?

Ahh, thanks! That's good to hear. I hope it changed a few things there!

Ah okay, I saw that but in my half-asleep state only concentrated on the link to the watchdog site which now seems to be just a forum to talk about game companies. I've now read the FAQ and all of that too! Cheers.

Even in 2004 why work $40/hr if you are a good programmer. If you like game programming make one for yourself while relaxing in a boring Big Corporation.

A lot of good programmers are not good graphics designers or good artists or marketers but want to get into the games industry because they like the idea of working on games. There are (in Australia at least) even entire bachelors degree streams on game programming (for more complicated games that require lots of people), so it would probably seem natural to those graduates to seek employment there too, since they really have specialised in game programming.

Like someone mentioned above, it's a glamour job, kinda like working in the film industry. You'd be surprised what people will do to "get in".

Yeah, I've talked to people in the game industry about where they see their careers going, and the idea of leaving it entirely to go work at some "normal" software job is almost horrifying to many: give up their dream of making games, and settle for being in the credits to like, Microsoft Office 2013, or working on a search engine at Google or something?

The "plan B" seems almost invariably to be to accumulate enough money/connections to start an indie-game studio, at least a ramen-profitable one--- much more often than a plan-B of working a "normal" programming job, anyway. Partly this might be because many of the game programmers really want to be game designers, and hope to work their way up to that. From that perspective, moving from game programming to "normal" programming is sort of a step in the wrong direction, since it's even further from game design than game programming is.

I have to agree, that's the way I see it. I'm just finishing a computer animation / games programming degree and I'm about to start looking for work.

The only other thing I'd add, from my point of view, is my games (and graphics) programming skills and training have always seemed completely separate to traditional software development. For instance, there is a computer software course at my university but it's in a different department (in engineering, mine is in 'media').

I think, at least from the point of view of a graduate, traditional and games programming seem like two different industries...

"The only other thing I'd add, from my point of view, is my games (and graphics) programming skills and training have always seemed completely separate to traditional software development"

What kind of programming role do you think you'd have in a team?

I ask because, as a generalist programmer, I think that I could write you any kind of program, including a game engine, at a professional level. I'm just wondering what the difference between my training and yours is.

What I said below:

> [I had] a lack of formal education in software development. I've had quite a lot of programming lectures but everything beyond C++ inheritance has been off my own back.

I think the more I've learnt, the more I'm coming to a similar opinion that I could probably write any kind of program I got asked to.

In film effects, I'd probably end up working within an R&D or pipeline department. In games, maybe working on the engine? In true though, I've a very poor knowledge or the structure of a software or games team (though I know most of the inner workings of film effects).

I suppose I label myself as games / graphics programmer because I've always been making/learning about games or effects...

I'm currently working on a computer science & 'games technology' double major, so maybe I can add a little to your question as well.

Although it will inevitably vary from uni to uni, games tech at my uni is a BSc. with similar core units to CS, with added graphics programming/games programming units. In the CS units we're dealing with algorithms, data structures, databases, systems design and so on, while the games tech major is dealing with graphics APIs (OpenGL), Euclidean geometry and game physics, and concentrating totally around C++.

We also create graphics demos and games for end of semester individual and group assignments, which is really the thing that would help people looking to get into the games industry. Games tech at my uni is really just an advanced coding course.

Personally, I'm only doing it for the coding. I doubt I will look for a job in the games industry because it's unlikely I'd land a job at a company I'd want to work for straight out of uni (I'm picky). Besides, I'd rather work at Google, although working at Valve or id would be nice :)

Ah yeah, that's an issue I've been doing a lot of thinking about--- I'm finishing up a games-and-AI PhD and, gods willing, going to start soonish as a prof in a cs-and-games program. They vary a lot from school to school, and I think we're still working out how they should be taught, and where they should go relative to other departments. Some are basically CS programs with a bit of an applied twist, some are basically media-studies programs, some are very art-heavy, some are more like a vocational degree, and many are some mixture of those.

Some of the variation is based on institutional politics, I think (probably more than it should be), but some is a fundamental disagreement over what games "really" are. The two endpoints of the spectrum of views are: 1) games are a specific type of software, like search engines or word processors or operating systems; or 2) games are a specific type of media, like films or cartoons or novels.

Mind sharing where you went? I have some first-hand knowledge of Georgia Tech's and UC Santa Cruz's programs, and am curious how others compare.

I'm at Bournemouth Uni in the UK. I think it works quite well here for most of the courses (which more of a focus on film effect and game content) to be under the media umbrella, but for outliers like me it feels a bit odd receiving a Bachelor of Art for writing a (simple) games engine. Now I'm finishing an MSc which has a focus on programming for film effects.

One of the downsides I've felt from my experience is a lack of formal education in software development. I've had quite a lot of programming lectures but everything beyond C++ inheritance has been off my own back.

Another factor with Bournemouth is there is a strong (and positive) influence from the London film effects houses. There is almost an assumption that on finishing, you go work for someone in films which (going back to the original point) just adds to the separation from traditional CS.

Is 40$/hr generally a low salary for a programmer?

If you're counting it as 45h/week that would be 92,880$/year.

Why work for 8 hours a day on something that bores you senseless and a further 4 hours on something that you love, instead of 12 hours on something that you enjoy (most of the time)?

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but most of the people who work in games love games and it does compensate a bit (though not enough) for the long hours and comparatively low pay.

Going to work overtired is the same as going to work drunk -> http://theweek.com/article/index/202658/going-to-work-sleepy...

EA has grown so large they will "Challenge Everything" in their path that goes against their profit margin.

However I find it hard to believe its hard for small studios to have success. If the studio develops a good product and releases it to the masses on the internet or xbox live arcade, or the number of homebrew scenes, you will get attention. You just have to make a good product.

IMHO, some of the best games lately are free or not the latest and greatest. Corporate big wigs are pushing mainstream games into a corner and beating them a lead pipe for every bit of control over the flow of money and players. Activision and EA Corporate Big Wigs have fubared Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (tm) and Bad Company 2. Both games will suffer in the long run with lack of an SDK for the modding community. There is also a lack of dedicated server files, which remove the option for hosting your own game servers. The communities have spoken loud, and the developers do here this. Infinity Ward and Dice have already lost employees because they disagree with EA and Activision's control and greed.

In the end I am very loyal to the companies which remain respectful to its fans and work with the people, and not for the money.

Valve, iD, 3dRealms, are just a number of companies that are more concerned with producing a good game, and sharing the success all around. Love to 3rd party developers with SDK's, love to the players for not charging massive amounts of money for DLC, just good old love for developers.

In retrospect, I'm sorry for the abused developers all over. But they have a choice, and they choose to endure that reality. But some will choose to break off and make a startup. Valve was created by 2 former Microsoft employees, and they started small, and look at them now. They have produced games, software, and contributed to the community with massive amounts of information, and content to award the player, and the developers (both in house and 3rd party). Same goes for Epic Megagames, which continue to release Unreal Tournement games, with updated fresh engines. Id Software will continue to produce the next Doom and Quake. (Where it all began.) 3dRealms if I remember correctly has gone under, but I pray to god someone buys the Duke Nukem Forever project and finishes it soon. To quote Steve Ballmer: "Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers Developers"

Now I need to get back to my job... as a developer. [I apologize if I was unorganized or off topic]

   However I find it hard to believe its hard for small
   studios to have success. If the studio develops a good 
   product and releases it to the masses on the internet or 
   xbox live arcade, or the number of homebrew scenes, you 
   will get attention. You just have to make a good product.
Do you have resources/links to support this rather bold statement?

First thing that comes to mind is James Silva and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dishwasher

James Silva has won recognition from Microsoft, has co-authored books on XNA game development. He's another kid that in the middle of no where upstate NY that did a great job, made a good product and is doing well for himself.

Also if you just look for indie game developers -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_indie_game_developers alot of these games appear on STEAM (steampowered.com) and are distributed to many customers successfully for Win/Mac/Linux.

In fact most game developers started out as mod teams. Back in the Quake days, Team Fortress was made, and now the same people that made that made TF2. Left 4 Dead started out as a mod for HL2, and turned into a full fledged game on the OrangeBox engine.

Last thing that comes to mind is -> "http://sandboxgamemaker.com/ which is another production that has been very successful. My friend who's on the dev team has had stories come back from teachers in Europe and California that use this software with kids, and has helped them learn and find passion in their work.

If it pleases the court, I'd like to end with this. If you wish for me, I ask for a brief recess to prepare material. :-)

Sure, there are some successes.

There are also some rock bands that are financially successful.

That doesn't mean it's not hard to find success by starting a rock band or a small studio as long as you make good music/games.

Man.. I'm sorry if this isn't the response you're looking for, but the only thing that comes to mind now is that if you enjoy what you do, you'll be more successful then the person who is only looking for success and not enjoying what they do. All the people I listed were people that do this out of passion, and have become successful over time.

I dunno man, I admire them, they don't have a daily job, they have a daily dream.

Yes there are hard times, but everybody has their own difficulties, and when there is failure, you learn and try again towards success. I believe any entrepreneur will tell you that to win, you are going to lose, you are going to learn, and you will eventually be successful.

You don't have to convince me in any of that.

All I'm saying is that unfortunately "if you build it they will come" does not a good business plan make.

You will probably need to market your stuff even if you've produced something awesome, and it's not particularly easy to find success in the indie-gaming market in large part because it is attractive to so many other people.

I once had someone ask me I was willing to work overtime in an interview. I said "It depends....!".

And so it went:

dumb-ass company> What do you mean it depends?

me> Well, if it's a reasonable amount and I am compensated for it, then I'm game, but otherwise I'm not.

dumb-ass company> We don't pay for overtime, it's expected in our industry to put in some overtime.

me> That's ok, as long as I can take time in lieu.

dumb-ass company> We don't do that either.

me> Well my priorities are different than yours. I put my family first and my employment after. So each hour of overtime I would work for you would be an hour stolen from my family.

dumb-ass company> When you work overtime you do so because having a job lets you pay for you family. So working overtime and having a job really is putting your family first - right?

me> Sometimes, but truthfully if I took this job I would only work only long enough to find a job where I am not required to work uncompensated overtime and the company has a "families first" value system. However, in reality, working for you would probably leave me with little to no time to look for work, so I feel I am better off to pass and invest my time wisely........


You folks working at places like EA are caught in that same cycle: the company is working you so hard your not able to effectively look for work.

I recommend two options:

1. Stop working overtime. Show up for regular work hours and let them get mad at you. Let them threaten you. Let them fire you, but until they fire you spend your time looking for a better job.


2. Quit. And understand your sacrifice is an investment. Have confidence in yourself to succeed. Empower yourself to better both yours' and/or your family's lives.

If your going to spend the rest of you life being manipulated your life is going to suck.

Have or Have not!

Live or Live not!

It's up to you! Not your company.

I've heard before that EA forces employees to work long hours and for low pay but this part got me:

"The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm)"

Saturday evening off for good behavior....

After reading this and the comments here I can't help but think of the extreme opposite case of DNF. It's an extreme example but shows the opposite end of the spectrum. At least EA actually ships games (ducks)

Sounds like the workers in the game industry need to unionize.

In many countries outside of the US they are. However that hasn't done much to significantly change the working conditions. As long as it remains a 'glamorous' industry that kids aspire to work in, then they know they'll never have trouble hiring new workers. The other aspect is that EA, the mother company, doesn't actually program games. They own IP and publish games. The games are written by various studios with various ties and connections to EA. This means that if a studio gets too troublesome, it is quite easy for EA to cut all dealings with that studio and simply shift its IP from that studio to another studio.

or programmers in general. i'm baffled why this hasn't happened yet.

Unions typically protect workers who belong to industries where there are more employees than there is demand.

Programming is a highly-skilled profession that is constantly in demand. We don't need protection because companies compete for the good ones, not the reverse.

Because the people most in demand in the industry are the ones who have the most to lose in collective wage bargaining.

Unions by design are democratic institutions, and thus protect the average worker. Good programmers will be hurt by a union more than they will be helped, so the union shops will be stuck with lousy programmers and lose in the market.

Wow. How on earth do these people not sack up, tell their boss to diaf, and walk out the door? Because honestly, if you allow people to use you like a punk, stop whining when they do. At will employment works both ways.

It's not that I never work on weekends, but when I think it's excessive, and particularly when it's not due to my own bugs, I just implement a personal comp time policy. I email my boss and say, "I'm taking a mental health day because I worked too much this weekend." This has only gotten a negative response once and replying, "If this is a problem I'll find another job where it isn't" shit him up. I suggest you all do this. Employment is a two way street, and if you aren't happy in your situation, do something about it.

Wow. How on earth do these people not sack up, tell their boss to diaf, and walk out the door? Because honestly, if you allow people to use you like a punk, stop whining when they do. At will employment works both ways.

From the article:

EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.

But can they?

The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)

Love it, but it has one problem. Your argument is basically that it's a free market.

So, assuming the market is bad and jobs are hard to find, is it then ok to work nights and weekends like the article describes? Or should there be some kind of limit to "slavery"?

If it's a free market and "jobs are hard to find", or in other words "the supply of quality employees is lower than the demand" then it's the perfect time to start a business. You can get a good deal hiring good people. You don't even need an awesome business strategy, just make reasonable, productive use of their talents and there's plenty of room for you to come out ahead.

To the extent it's hard to do this -- there aren't many talented, underutilized people floating around unable to find work -- that's the extent to which it's not actually hard to find a job.

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