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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
As with most things, a balance is what's needed.
I suspect that enough people like this graduate every year that EA can maintain their high employee turnover indefinitely.
The games industry might be a bit on the extreme side of this, but I don't think it's limited to game programmers.
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.
Fine if you are a contractor, that is the way to work at those places.
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.
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
14-15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss
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.
More like the frog in the pot principal.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is there something I'm missing? Is there an actual business benefit for having people work all the time?
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.
(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.)
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.
No, he is not. He works directly for EA.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought you were talking about deep-sea offshore oil drilling, but then I realized you only said "multi-million".
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.
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.
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.
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.
>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.
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? :)
Why are you sorry?
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.)
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?
I'm hoping no, and yes, in that order. Anyone have any more recent experience in EA's "sweatshops"?
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".
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.
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...
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.
> [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...
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 :)
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.
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.
If you're counting it as 45h/week that would be 92,880$/year.
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.
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.
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. :-)
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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....
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.
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.
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.)
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"?
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.