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Rockstar Employees Badly Overworked, Say Wives 633

Posted by Soulskill
from the sleep-is-for-the-weak dept.
juicegg writes "Wives of Rockstar Games employees in San Diego recently published an open letter on their Gamasutra blog. The authors say that Rockstar employees are seriously strained by unending crunch periods of 12-hour work days and 6-day weeks. High levels of stress are leading to serious psychological and physical problems for some of the employees. They charge that studio management uses arbitrary, deceptive and manipulative practices to get employees to work more unpaid overtime hours at greater intensity — despite over $1 billion in Grand Theft Auto revenue. Among the blog comments, some current and past Rockstar employees are confirming problems with the studio. 'Ex Rocker' writes: 'What makes R* crunch periods different then any other studio is that they tell you the game has to be finished in 6 months, so let's start our final push to get this awesome game out there! 6 months turns into 1 year, 1 year turns into 2.' Other comments reveal worker hopelessness and general mismanagement at the San Diego studio. This turmoil is affecting development on upcoming games as well." Read on for responses from Rockstar itself and other members of the industry.
An anonymous reader adds, "Everyone is talking about the fact Rockstar Games has addressed the accusations that it has forced developers at Rockstar San Diego into unpaid overtime to finish imminent titles. But I've noticed that a former GTA3/Manhunt designer (Chris Kruger) has a comment in this piece published Thursday about crunch in studios, suggesting the problem goes beyond Rockstar San Diego and is company-wide.

He says in Develop's Jury-style debate that the damage caused by excessive overtime can upend the out-of-work relationships developers have: 'Crunch is totally damaging, but much more so to the individuals involved. An almost failed marriage in my case. To the company the cost of crunch is very hard to define but any benefit at all is easy to measure. That's why it's such an easy decision to make for most companies. Unless there is a push back and the cost is made clear, it won't change. In my view self regulation doesn't work, and the only real solution is external regulation or utter agreement from the vast majority of staff on how to approach the matter.'

There's no easy way around the topic, but crunch is clearly damaging. When will the management at game studios address this troubling issue properly?"
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Rockstar Employees Badly Overworked, Say Wives

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:15PM (#30870978)

    Slackers. That still leaves you half the day for sleeping and eating!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:27PM (#30871652)

      I only need a good 5 minutes with the wife.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by creimer (824291)
      That's why I got out of the video game industry after six years. I traded in an 80 hour work week lead game tester position for a 40 hour work week help desk position where I make the same amount of money. That allows me to enjoy the remaining 16 hours each day and the full 48 hours of the weekend. What's the point of making money if you can't enjoy it?
  • This is ridiculous. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:19PM (#30870998)

    'What makes R* crunch periods different then any other studio is that they tell you the game has to be finished in 6 months, so let's start our final push to get this awesome game out there! 6 months turns into 1 year, 1 year turns into 2.' Other comments reveal worker hopelessness and general mismanagement at the San Diego studio. This turmoil is affecting development on upcoming games as well."

    He could be describing Electronic Arts. Look, the game industry has been run this way for the better part of thirty years. I worked as a coder for a couple of game companies back in the mid-eighties ... and I left for the reasons described in the summary. Never looked back. As much as I enjoyed that line of work, management practices were abusive even then. The irony is that there's no real reason for it other than poor management. We know how to manage software projects well, we know that pushing programmers too hard does not result in any real savings. The problem is managers that use simple metrics like lines of code written per day to determine a developer's value. That's how you treat piece workers in a factory ... and guess what, piece work is generally illegal. There's a reason for that.

    Jam up your development staff the way these outfits do, and you get poor quality code. It is inevitable, Mr. Anderson. The usual chain of events involves increased QA costs, continual rework, missed deadlines and lost customers. Yet they persist in this obviously defective approach, which to me indicates that upper management is hiring sadists to run their development teams.

    • by AtomicSnarl (549626) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:37PM (#30871176) Homepage

      The problem is managers that use simple metrics like lines of code written per day to determine a developer's value.

      Hear hear! For all the "Management Science" out there, what actually does work? The Waterfall method is hugely limited in software development, and upper management without a clear view is crippling. I was once part of a project where six teams had each developed their own printer drivers for their modules because management neither thought of it or noticed the duplication. Team isolation prevented sharing as well, so six freshly re-invented wheels.

      What is it they are crunching on anyway? Did somebody's new skin break the display engine? Did fixing a wall error crump edge detection or LOS calculations? Did a weapons tweak make the ballistics engine puke? Was there a pent-up demand for crawling ants lighting on a display instead of just a glow? Where are the edges of accountability for these things, and which manager is (not) paying for their miscues?

      Granted, starting with a well behaved engine or other project module is always going to be risky when you push it to do new or different things. The upper echelons should be aware of this in their design plans. But flogging the oarsmen when you're completely off course is the wrong way to go -- fix the navigator!

    • by MemoryDragon (544441) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:25PM (#30871640)

      Actually that attitude was exactly the reason why I never even considered going into games development.
      I refuse to work in an industry which has a history of abusing its own employees up to levels where it becomes dangerous for your live.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:40PM (#30871790)

      I think part of the problem is that you will have a crunch time on a game. Because of the way game development works, you are almost certainly going to have a crunch time, and probalby a pretty heavy crunch time near the end. The long part of game development, where you are getting together idea, assets, an engine and such can take a number of years and be pretty normal. However, once you've got everything ready and it is time to put a game together, you are on the clock. You can't spend years in actual development, or your game will be dated when it comes out. You've got to get it all put together in short order.

      Ok well that leads to some crunching. Also, in most cases you probably have a commitment to distributors and such to be ready on a certain date, and as such may have to crunch even harder near the end.

      That's all well and good, and many jobs have short crunch times. My job has a crunch time at the beginning of every semester when students are coming back and professors are finally getting around to asking for software for classes.

      The problem then comes in that management sees the amount of work that gets done in a crunch and says "Man, we could get so much done if we worked like that ALL THE TIME!" Of course there are tons of problems with this that are easy to see, but they ignore that.

    • by xaxa (988988) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:49PM (#30871886)

      piece work is generally illegal. There's a reason for that.

      Piece work is legal in the UK, so long as the worker is still paid the minimum wage.

      It was easy enough to find that the same applies in the USA: Employers may pay employees on a piecerate basis, as long as they receive at least the equivalent of the required minimum hourly wage rate and overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. (Link) [dol.gov]

    • by eulernet (1132389) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:26PM (#30872658)

      He could be describing Electronic Arts. Look, the game industry has been run this way for the better part of thirty years. I worked as a coder for a couple of game companies back in the mid-eighties ... and I left for the reasons described in the summary.

      I totally agree: I worked for several companies during 20 years in France, and this behavior can be found in 50% of the companies.
      But it's the fault of the employees, because they don't know how to set limits.

      Since most of the developers are young or inexperienced, they don't have a life outside of their work.
      Once I realized this trick, I told them that I will start at a given hour, and will return home at another given hour, and I was probably the only one in my company to do that, and I became their most efficient coder.

      I also remember a job interview, where the project leader told me that doing an all-nighter occasionally was very beneficial for the group (WTF !).

      As much as I enjoyed that line of work, management practices were abusive even then.

      It's true, but it's because:
        - the managers don't know how to lead a project (90% of the cases)
        - the managers are not coders themselves (95% of the cases)
        - the managers never finished a game before (99% of the cases)
        - the managers never encountered another way of work (100% of the cases)

      The problem is managers that use simple metrics like lines of code written per day to determine a developer's value.

      No, this is not true.
      What is valued is the number of hours you do every day. It doesn't matter if you do something or not !!! I worked 8 hours a day, but was less considered than some other guys who were working 2 hours, but been present 10 hours.
      Also, socializing is an important part if you are ambitious and want to be paid more, so it's necessary to spend your time chatting with the management, otherwise you'll be ignored (of course, I never did that and my salary stagnated).

      In general, any project is already late as soon as it begins.
      Working 12 hours every day won't help the game finish in time (and in general, it does the opposite by draining the energy out of the team).

      The problem is that the games start with too much elements, instead of building progressively.
      So, you have to code everything from the beginning, and that's very bad.
      And worse, the final goal changes constantly.
      Also, when a game is really on time (by some miracle), managers tend to add even more features, because they suppose that the programmers will easily code them.

      The real solution is to stop building large games at the very beginning, and simply add one feature after another.
      When the time runs out, you'll have at least something to deliver, not incomplete parts everywhere.

      upper management is hiring sadists to run their development teams

      No, it's just that everybody only knows this bad way of working, and nobody intends to change that: they don't have the time to try other ways !!!

      This work process is so bad that 30% of the coders leave the company at the end of an exhausting project.
      That's why there is so much turnover in game companies.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Chelloveck (14643)

        What is valued is the number of hours you do every day. It doesn't matter if you do something or not !!! I worked 8 hours a day, but was less considered than some other guys who were working 2 hours, but been present 10 hours.

        Amen. I found the same thing when I worked at Konami in the late '90s. The guys on schedule who went home at a reasonable hour were looked down upon; the guys behind schedule but who were in the office all night got the praise. One guy had a cot under his desk and went home about twice

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:44PM (#30872800) Homepage Journal

      Look, the game industry has been run this way for the better part of thirty years.

      Not just the game industry. I'm betting everybody who's reading this who has a job is working longer hours under worsening conditions.

      There's been an all-out attack on workers since 1980. Little by little, every bit of progress that was fought for by organized labor in the first 3/4 of the 20th century is being destroyed.

      The years when organized labor was strongest in the US were also our years of greatest economic growth. It's not accidental that Germany, which is one of the countries where organized labor and labor protection laws are the strongest, is also the number one exporting/manufacturing country, with exports valued at about 300% of China's.

      It's also interesting that the years when we had upper-bracket tax rates over 75% were also the years that we had the greatest increase in GDP and the greatest growth in the middle-class.

      Remember this the next time someone tries to tell you that labor unions and taxes on the rich are bad for the economy and jobs.

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @06:20PM (#30873090) Homepage Journal

        Remember this the next time someone tries to tell you that labor unions and taxes on the rich are bad for the economy and jobs.

        Taxes on the rich are good; let's make capital gains count with all income, and there will be plenty in the general fund. Never happen though, because the rich buy the legislation. Labor unions were good, but now are a drain because they are almost all almost entirely corrupt. How many unions in the USA are run by the Mafia? I know of at least one for sure. I personally know of at least three incompetents working for one junior college who should have been canned long ago so that someone competent could take the work and serve the students by serving the faculty, but it's virtually impossible to be rid of them because they're union employees. And, I might add, I'd have had one of those jobs if they could be fired, and I discussed this situation with their manager.

        Unions are the employment equivalent of feminism; it was a good thing until women got rights. Now it's just sexism. We need humanism rather than feminism, and we need labor laws for all people rather than Union protection for a few.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @07:59PM (#30873884) Homepage Journal

          and we need labor laws for all people rather than Union protection for a few.

          The problem is that the corporations aren't going to give you those rights out of the goodness of their hearts.

          We got the five-day work week, and sick days, and safe workplaces, and fair pay because people fought for it and bled for it. A lot of working people trying to organize got their heads broken by off-duty cops working for the corporations.

          I'm not saying that there aren't people who are doing bad jobs and not getting fired. Some are protected by unions. Some are protected by being the boss' nephew. Some are protected by having even more incompetent managers.

          But every, single American worker has benefited directly from the labor movement. There's not one improvement to wages or working conditions that would have happened without unions. Even in "right to work" (sic) states, it's the union contracts that serve as the model for employment standards.

          And most important, organized labor is good for business. As I said above, Germany is one of the most labor friendly countries in the world, and they've had tremendous success in the world economy, exporting more goods than even China, which has no protection for workers.

          Men didn't just decide one day to give women the right to vote. The US government didn't just decide one day to be fair and end slavery. And corporations aren't going to give you fair wages or decent working conditions out of the goodness of their hearts. Somebody had to go out and fight, and bleed and get their head beaten in to get them for you.

          Finally, you shouldn't expect the government to pass any "labor laws for all people", especially now that corporations will have unfettered ability to use their profits to influence elections.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nursie (632944)

        You'd lose that bet.
         
        I work 37 hours a week. A few more (up to 50) when absolutely necessary. I think there were four weeks I did that last year.
         
        Our software is doing great, the company is doing great and I'm getting paid well, raises and a promotion last year.
         
        I'd recommend you find other work. Or maybe move to europe :)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:20PM (#30871000)

    When will the management at game studios address this troubling issue properly?

    They'll address it when people stop standing for it. If their developers quit, and they can't find replacements, then things will change.

    Unfortunately, my experience in the industry has taught me that most developers are willing to put up with enormous amounts of crap so as "not to rock the boat".

    • Unfortunately, my experience in the industry has taught me that most developers are willing to put up with enormous amounts of crap so as "not to rock the boat".

      Unfortunately, most developers are too brainwashed | chickenshit | dysfunctional to unionize. "Oh, but our job is different." "We're not blue-collar workers!" "We'd lose our independence!"

      There, fixed it for you.

      There's nothing stopping workers from unionizing except themselves.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:44PM (#30871242) Journal
        No way man, not this developer. Unions just give you someone else who is 'in charge' of you. Not only do you have to pay union dues, half the time those union dues are spent on political purposes you don't agree with and have no say over.

        Unions are about power-struggles. Unions are great in industries where workers have no way to answer the power of the boss. It gives them a chance to end on equal footing. In the programming industry, I DO have a way to answer the power of the boss: I find another job. And it works way better for me than a union ever would.

        Now, you may not like that solution and would prefer a union; that's fine. But some of us have our own reasons to not want a union, and just because we disagree with you doesn't mean we are brainwashed | chickenshit | dysfunctional.
        • by Anpheus (908711) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:07PM (#30871458)

          You find another job? You make it sound so easy!

          The auto-workers can do the same thing. They can just "find another job", and it's so easy anyone can do it!

          Unions have a place, but they too can become a monopoly. Would you be OK with joining a union as long as there were multiple programming unions, competing in how they represented employees and negotiated contracts? IMO, Unions should be subject to the same anti-trust laws that corporations are. There's too little competition.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Unlike auto workers, IT workers do NOT need huge factories and massive teams. Little studios of 2 or 3 developers have created commercially successful applications, including games. Yes, it won't sell like GTA, but neither do you need GTA's total income to support 2 developers. You pull down a few hundred grand a year and you're in business - that just isn't that hard to do.

            The only reason to stay with a situation is because you believe you're better off than *not* staying with it. If you don't think yo

        • by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:17PM (#30871548)

          If you're going to effectively refute the charge of being brainwashed, perhaps you should cite some of your actual experience with unions.

          My experience with unions doesn't jibe with your description of them. I was a union member in a west coast school system that I developed software for, and the dues were trivial and I never once had a union official telling me what to do. About the only thing you got right was that the union did attempt to influence local politics, but guess what? Most companies do that as well, and they sure as hell don't ask their employees what they think about it.

          What I got out of the deal was decent pay, decent hours, and full health care coverage and a really nice pension plan.

          This is not to say that unions don't have drawbacks as well, but everything involves a tradeoff. For a good picture of what life was like without unions, see the 19th century. Or, apparently, Rockstar.

          • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:48PM (#30871876)

            Ok, so you had a good experience with unions. That's wonderful, not everyone does. Take my roommate, he's in a plumber's union. Well for starters they take a significant amount in union dues, over a hundred a month. For that he gets apparently jack and shit. They ran out of work during the recession and basically told all their employees "Sorry, nothing we can do." None of those dues were used for savings for unemployment help, they didn't reduce rates to try and get more work. For that matter he got a "raise" because he'd been with them long enough. Of course additional money per hour times zero hours equals useless. Also he's not allowed to take non-union jobs while they don't have a job for him. He is more or less expected to sit around and go broke because they can't find work. Of course he's broken the rules and gotten a job, but there you go.

            Or there's me. I work in a non-union place. Hours are pretty much 8-5 unless there's an emergency which there rarely is. Plenty of paid time off, fairly low stress work environment overall. Pay isn't stellar, but then you do have to trade some pay if you want higher quality of life, and it is still plenty to own a house and all that jazz.

            Unions can be good, but they also can be extremely bad. If you had a good experience, fine, but don't assume it is all great. With my roommate's union, it was fairly good when economic times were good, but then so was most work. However in the down time their members are even more fucked than non-members.

            • by mdarksbane (587589) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:08PM (#30872038)

              My mom is in a teacher's union in Ohio. She freely admits that the union keeps incompetent people from being let go in favor of those who are better teachers. They also remove your ability to bargain for your own wages - they bargain for you, and sometimes that means you get something better, and sometimes it means they ignore what areas of compensation you care about in favor of others (see increasing pensions to the point where the state will go bankrupt if they ever have to pay them, instead of money you are sure you'll actually get). They will fight for you if management tries to get rid of you... of course, they'll also fight for people who have no business being teachers, increasing the antagonism between you and administration. She firmly believes that no useful reform is going to come to the education system until you make a system that sidesteps the union and existing organizational structure. She also doesn't really want this to happen, because it will likely cost her a large portion of the benefits she has in her contract in lieu of decent pay.

              There are a lot of people who, given the option, would take higher pay over a higher pension. However, if you've been working twenty years for that pension, it's not like you're going to be in favor of changing the system now. Unions pretty much remove your ability to have a choice there if you're going into a union-dominated field - you don't really have an option as a public school teacher - either you're in the union, or you pay the union dues anyway and don't get a say in what they negotiate for your salary.

              Game developers get away with bad business practice because probably 3/4 of people going into computer science started out wanting to make video games. They are one of the few areas in CS where people just love the work they're doing enough to put up with poor management and horrible hours. Even if people try to unionize, there are so many scabs ready and willing to do the work instead, that I doubt there would be much success to it.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                A union is as bad as the people within it. It's a democracy and the people are voted into it by people like your mom. So she no one but herself and her fellow teachers to blame.

                Since everyone in here is so certain that they're so perfect and don't need a union then they'll vote for good people only and the IT union will be perfect.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by PPalmgren (1009823)

            Unions can be good or bad, but in general, with the labor laws in the US, they do more harm than good in this age. Back in the early 1900s when labor laws were in their infancy, they were necessary. Currently all most unions do is destroy the business they work in by hindering innovation (auto, port, and teacher's unions come to mind).

            In the ports industry, it took a company 5 years to negotiate the use of remote operated dock machinery because it could reduce the necessary staff...even though its 10x saf

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Machtyn (759119)
              The labor laws exist because the unions were successful. But like a bad politician, they don't go away when the job is done.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              There is not just one union. There are many of them and they're only as bad as the people who join the union and vote for the people running the union.

              If so many developers are so perfect and anti-bloated union then when they start their own it will be perfect.

              The fact is it is wrong that people work so many hours for free and risk not having a relationship just to make shitty game sequels. Over working employees most likely contributes to poor software too. People just don't function well without a d
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by igadget78 (1698420)

          No way man, not this developer. Unions just give you someone else who is 'in charge' of you. Not only do you have to pay union dues, half the time those union dues are spent on political purposes you don't agree with and have no say over.

          I work as one of 6 developers inside a huge 20000+ corporation. To keep it simple, our corporation decided that we were to move from salary to hourly and it turned up a huge stink, clocking in and such, and people began a movement to unionize which thankfully went nowhere.

          When my wife and I got married, she was part of a food workers union which went on strike during winter while she was prego. She lost 15 lbs (she started at 108 lbs) and the Doctors forced her to go on leave 5 months before the baby was

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I was a union member for 10 years in a different industry. Money spent by unions for political purposes is money you DO have a say over. If you'd ever been a member in a union, you would know that. You are allowed to be exempted from dues that would otherwise be spent for political purposes. You are simply required to inform your steward and (probably) fill out a form rescinding consent for political spending. I say "probably" because in 10 years in the union (5 as a steward) I have never had one membe

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Blakey Rat (99501)

        I know I can personally negotiate a much better contract than any union can on my behalf.

        The *only* time I'll support unionization if it joining the union is not a condition of employment-- i.e. if it's completely voluntary. Anything else I see as un-American and despicable.

        (Of course, unions would never allow that since it would demonstrate my first point very nicely.)

    • by 91degrees (207121) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:37PM (#30871180) Journal
      They don't even need to quit! Just refuse to work the overtime!

      Most places require some reason to fire people. Not working overtime for free isn't a valid reason. Nor will most managers be willing to have to go to the effort of finding a replacement and dealing with ramp up time.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by geekmux (1040042)

        They don't even need to quit! Just refuse to work the overtime! Most places require some reason to fire people. Not working overtime for free isn't a valid reason. Nor will most managers be willing to have to go to the effort of finding a replacement and dealing with ramp up time.

        Uh, after reading about an Army of Wives performing a "mass attack" on a blog about these issues, I seriously doubt the solution is THAT easy.

        I mean, when was the last time your spouse went off on a rant to your boss about work ethics? Seriously.

    • by Angst Badger (8636) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:21PM (#30871588)

      They'll address it when people stop standing for it. If their developers quit, and they can't find replacements, then things will change. Unfortunately, my experience in the industry has taught me that most developers are willing to put up with enormous amounts of crap so as "not to rock the boat".

      It's not just developers. This is why we have unions and labor regulations. They can always find replacements: even in good times, one person in twenty is unemployed at any given time, a figure that the Federal Reserve works very hard to maintain lest it create upward pressure on wages. And most people prefer shitty working conditions to the uncertainty of finding another job, never mind actual unemployment.

    • by ClosedSource (238333) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:04PM (#30872008)

      For some reason engineers and software developers got the idea years ago that they were "professionals" and thus should have pride in finishing no matter the cost.

      Of course, the jobs that are really considered "professional" by most people (lawyers, doctors, etc) don't operate this way.

  • by realmolo (574068) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:20PM (#30871006)

    Why don't these programmers just QUIT? I can't imagine that those guys would have a problem getting essentially ANY programming job they wanted. "Member of Grand Theft Auto programming team" looks pretty good on a resume.

    They should quit and get into creating applications instead of games. Yeah, it's not nearly as sexy, but the pressure is MUCH lower. And the pay is probably better, too.

    • by jjohnson (62583) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:26PM (#30871062) Homepage

      There's a reason EA and Rockstar take young 20 year olds just out of school, and expect them to be gone by 30. Kids buy into the myth of 'work hard, play hard', don't know what quality of life is, and haven't yet had a shitty work experience to stand up for themselves.

    • Agreed, they are being ripped off. Thing is, a celebrity company looks good on your CV... the problem is that celebrity companies know that, and exploit it. It's harder to write "Member of GTA programming team" on your CV if you didn't leave on amiable terms - and they may not let you do that.

    • by rennerik (1256370) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:34PM (#30871148)
      Why don't they just quit? In this economic climate I think many people are thankful they *have* a job. Thinking about quitting is the last thing on their minds.

      But that's not necessarily just it. It's actually the same reason the don't become application developers as you mentioned: they love games. Absolutely LOVE them. They live by them, they breathe by them. Game developers are a special breed... game development is complicated in and of itself, when compared to just regular application development. It takes dedicated, hard-working people under an enormous amount of stress to bring a title to fruition.

      And many developers, regardless of workforce pressures, will continue to work for a studio because that's how much they love games.

      There are a few articles on this written by some ex game devs who lost/came close to losing their marriages/home life/etc because of stuff that EA was doing. I can't find a link to them so if someone can it may help to understand the point-of-view of many game devs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tmesis892 (781077)
        Why don't they just quit? In this economic climate I think many people are thankful they *have* a job. Thinking about quitting is the last thing on their minds.

        I used to think like that and stayed with Oracle much too long putting up with management's BS. Now I work for Google for a few months and couldn't be happier. Google is hiring developers aggressively "in this economic climate". Opportunities are there, you just need to look for them.
      • by DigitalJanitor (21725) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:53PM (#30871932)

        The problem really isn't R* or EA (not that they're faultless here), it's the employees. If you LOVE games so much that you're willing to sell you soul to a studio, then who's fault is it? It's like the battered wife that LOVE the man so much that she'll keep going back no matter how badly he beats her. Is the man faultless? Absolutely NOT! But it isn't he who continues to go back for more abuse.

        Hey Devs, wake up! Stop putting up with the abuse! No need for a union, just stop taking it.

        Oh yeah, and if it's true that studios hire 20-somethings and expect them gone by 30, let me tell you something... your 20-something. You have you're whole life in front of you. Quit. Move. Stand up and say, "NO!" Whatever you want, you're 20-something. The night is still young!! Once you get to be 40-something, you'll understand what I'm saying here.

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:52PM (#30871306)

      Why don't these programmers just QUIT?

      They're so overworked THEY DON'T HAVE TIME!!! Most are working on their letters of resignation, but they only have enough break period type one letter, and most weeks that's taken up by going to the bathroom or eating.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jabjoe (1042100)
      Thing is, games has a really casual atmosphere, and most of the programmers are C or C++ programmers, and don't suffer from the "can only think in objects, not instructions and data/bytes". Better still most are there because it's more than just a job to them, they are interested in the technology and how it works. It's why so many are self-taught. I've spend most of my time in tools (and some engine), in central departments, so I've avoided the horrors that is common. Every time I've looked outside of game
  • by Akido37 (1473009) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:22PM (#30871030)
    That's the way it is - it's profitable for the company with no downside.

    The only option is for employees to show that it will cost them in the long run through turnover and training new employees.

    Alternately, unionization or government regulation are the only other options.
  • Maybe they'll go on a killing spree with a supercar they got from their mobile phone.
    • Maybe they'll go on a killing spree with a supercar they got from their mobile phone.

      I don;'t know about any supercar, but you push an unstable personality too hard in this society and you're taking your life in your hands.

  • programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:24PM (#30871054)

    > When will the management at game studios address this troubling issue properly?

    The day that programmers stop being yes-men and saying to their managers they can do it. I've been with EA 5 years. I know the drill. Once your team wises up and only signs up for what it can deliver, the crunch goes away.

    Step 1: Be upfront and straightforward. Don't promise what you can't deliver.
    Step 2: Dont' work more than 40 hours. Just leave after that.
    Step 3: Profit.

    • Re:programmers (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsmyt h e . com> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:41PM (#30871218) Homepage Journal

          That not only applies to game development. That applies everywhere. Don't promise deadlines that you can't comfortably achieve.

          I've been pushed to give impractical goals. I can't even count the number of times that I've been thrown an idea (not a plan), and been pushed for a deadline. "Will this be done in a month?" You simply can't give an answer to that. One job, it was with some unusual hardware. The pieces slowly rolled in, and each one presented it's own set of problems that set my personal timeline back. I keep my own personal set of expectations, but I won't promise these as a real life timeline. The expected timeline is usually 3x as long, with a list of caveats attached. If everything goes smooth, great. It'll be finished in 1/3 the promised time. If it doesn't? Well, you should have enough room to work in (hopefully). Sometimes a hard problem becomes an impossible one. A recent one involved a hardware fault, and the vendor reproduced it, but wasn't able to solve it. That required going another route, which pushed that step back to the beginning.

          You have to work what is practical for you. If you can do 50 hours/week, do it. If you may want to actually have a social life and not get burnt out before you're 30, do the 40 hours and go home. Unfortunately, this can give the sign that you aren't willing to work hard enough.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:25PM (#30871058)
    What the heck? I was logged in and it posted me A.C. Anyway ...

    He could be describing Electronic Arts. Look, the game industry has been run this way for the better part of thirty years. I worked as a coder for a couple of game companies back in the mid-eighties ... and I left for the reasons described in the summary. Never looked back. As much as I enjoyed that line of work, management practices were abusive even then. The irony is that there's no real reason for it other than poor management. We know how to manage software projects well, we know that pushing programmers too hard does not result in any real savings. The problem is managers that use simple metrics like lines of code written per day to determine a developer's value. That's how you treat piece workers in a factory ... and guess what, piece work is generally illegal. There's a reason for that.

    Jam up your development staff the way these outfits do, and you get poor quality code. It is inevitable, Mr. Anderson. The usual chain of events involves increased QA costs, continual rework, missed deadlines and lost customers. Yet they persist in this obviously defective approach, which to me indicates that upper management is hiring sadists to run their development teams.
  • When they say they want to get involved in the games industry.

  • EA still like this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jjohnson (62583) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:28PM (#30871094) Homepage

    A friend of mine was, at 29, a 10 year veteran of EA and in team management position. He left when his boss met him coming in one morning and said "Hey! Look, we redid your office! Isn't it awesome? Look, the couch folds out into a bed!" He said this sort of thing was well understood at EA to mean that he wasn't spending enough time in the office, and quit.

  • by rimcrazy (146022) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:30PM (#30871108)

    Having worked 28 some years in the semiconductor industry grinding out chips for PC's the story sounds SOOOooooo familiar.

    "It's just this time...honest....just give up your entire personal life.... your wife and kids will love you for it cause we are just going to rain cash and kudo's on you"

    Fast forward 2 years later...

    "Ok, so my wife left me, my kids hate me and now your telling me my bonus went to the CEO and his butt buddies on the board because they needed something to light their cigars with and now your laying me off because we missed the market because you couldn't make up your friggin mind what you wanted and we all killed ourselves for you for nothing? Do I understand this right?"

    Sux don't it?

    I feel fortunate to have stashed just enough away to moon them all Ace Ventura style and walk away. Those in this kind of mess really have to ask themselves what is REALLY important. Those that run places like this which is 90% of corporate business these days don't give a rat's ass about you. Employees are an expense to be reduced not an asset to be valued. Think you are not replaceable. Put you hand into a bucket of water and pull it out and see how fast that hole fills up. That is the reality. If you really like that work more than life itself, then that is what you should do but if not..... you might just want to look around.

  • by dissy (172727) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:31PM (#30871120)

    Only one of those over stressed people would need to report that to the DOJ. The laws on over time pay are laid out pretty clear, and this if true is not at all legal.

    The employee that reports it is guaranteed to get 300% of the income they legally are entitled to, as will all the others that come out in the DOJ investigation who wish to join.

    Then there will be tons of fines towards the company measuring in the tens of millions of dollars.

    I always love to see the excuses why particular members of management are allowed to remain on the payroll after costing the company tens of millions of dollars in illegal activities.

    Unless the employees do not wish to start legal action. Which means there is no problem at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Only one of those over stressed people would need to report that to the DOJ. The laws on over time pay are laid out pretty clear, and this if true is not at all legal.

      Except that those laws unfortunately don't apply to programmers [flsa.com].

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:58PM (#30871362)

      Uh, are you an idiot? Hourly paid employees do have rights. The DOJ cares about them. Do you work at Walmart?

      "Exempt" employees are deemed "management" and therefore have to "do what it takes" to get the job done. This is typical for software developers, but most office workers too. If the exempt employee doesn't like the conditions, it is up the him/her to solve the problem - talk to your boss, figure out comp time (usually illegal), work out a bonus structure that doubles your salary on completion, or quit.

      It really is that simple. The DOJ doesn't care.

      When I left "employee" and became a contractor, my client implied that I should work more hours than I billed. I raised my rates and still billed every hour. I was hoping they would fire me, but they didn't. When that contract was up, I raised my rates for the new contract, they paid it, so I guess I was worth it. I hardly ever worked/billed more than 45 hours a week. For a few weeks, during "crunch time", I would work and bill 60 hours, but never more than twice a year. After crunch, I took a 2 week vacation.

      Finally, after 10 years of raising my rates, they demanded I become an employee or my contract wouldn't be renewed. I left. Thanks for all the "f0ck you money, guys!"

  • Union, Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:32PM (#30871130) Homepage

    Those guys need to unionize. They need The Animation Guild [animationguild.org], Local 839, IATSE. The Animation Guild represents Hollywood cartoonists at Cartoon Network, Fox, Disney, ILM, MGM, Universal, Warner, etc. Here's their current standard contract. [animationguild.org] They get the traditional time and a half for overtime after 8 hours or five days, double time after 6 days.

    That's what prevents "crunches". The film industry has "crunches", but they cost the production money, so considerable effort is made by producers to avoid them.

    The jobs performed by Animation Guild and IATSE members are very similar to those of many game developers, especially on the art side.

    The best time to organize is during a "crunch". Management isn't in a good position to face a strike.

  • by 91degrees (207121) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:33PM (#30871144) Journal
    It's not just Rockstar. They're all the same.

    I worked in games for years before I finally managed to get out and get a job as a freelance contractor. The last company I worked for was the worst - not through malice; just incompetence.

    Now, one particular time we were overloaded with projects. I put in my hours. I put in extra time when I decided it was needed. The result was that I got criticised at appraisal for not putting in stupid amounts of overtime.

    They did apologise for the heavy workload and promised they'd do somethign about it for futiure projects. Next project there were demands to work every weekend and work late every night.

    They gave lip service to work-life balance, but if anyone actually wants to apply this policy, they get nervous.
  • Organize stupid (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    When people are overworked to the point of collapsing, when you put in 80 hour weeks and still can't feed yourself properly. When your boss does his best to make you feel small, you organize.

    The conditions these jerk offs are working under are 1 million times better than anything industrial works get. They are being greedy little shits themselves. If they weren't so greedy, they would all just walk out. They would organize. They however, won't do that. They want that shiny car, they want that big hous

  • by cyberfunk2 (656339) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:50PM (#30871296)
    That's funny.. working at R* sounds just like being a grad student.
  • by alen (225700) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:51PM (#30871302)

    Take Two the parent company is losing money for 2009. a lot of money. revenues are down and there is a big loss for the year. and the company is burning a lot of cash. at the current burn rate there is a good chance of Chapter 11 in 2010.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimicus (737525)

      There's a big secret that some managers don't seem to get. (It's mercifully less common here in the UK, but I have seen it).

      Now, this is a huge secret. I'm not sure I should be posting it here. But anyway - listen closely...

      A man working for 60 hours per week will not necessarily produce 50% more than a man working for 40 hours per week. In fact, it's very likely that once he gets tired, he'll make mistakes which he'll then have to fix once rested - and time spent fixing mistakes made through exhaustion

  • by rbrander (73222) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:07PM (#30871460) Homepage

    Required reading for the Period It All Changed is Steven Levy's book "Hackers". He focused on Sierra On-Line, which started off programming Apple ][ games in assembler, with founder Ken Williams as programmer/guru to houseloads of teenage programmers that were making up to a quarter-mill a year (in 1983 dollars) for inventing Frogger and the like, because Williams gave percentages of what the game made to the developers.

    This changed at remarkable speed to a market where the owners of capital got everything but "what the traffic will bear" in terms of how little programmers would work for.

    And young people doing something that gives them a buzz (and, let's face it, fellow addicts, writing an elegant algorithm, solving a knotty problem, producing a slick-looking result on-screen, especially in a problem area where the output is intensely visual...there's no buzz like it) will work for pretty much nothing.

    And, no, my "owners of capital" term isn't the start of some socialist screed. The critics are right: the workers can just walk away any time they come to their senses. The profit split may resemble a 19th-century company town by a coal mine, but "Labour" here isn't some hapless bunch of illiterates with no options; they just have to accept that they're being "paid" in buzz, and any time they want to switch over to money, they can go program payroll systems.

    There's some buzz there, too, believe it or not, you find elegant algorithms, and user interfaces that match the human intuition and expectations hand-in-glove, in lots of places. And you're home by six, good paycheque warm in your pocket.

    There are satisfactions, too, in being part of actually building the Real World, not just amusing people with fantasy ones.

  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:22PM (#30871606)

    Most of the larger companies are trying to get away from this practice, though not always with much success. I do know that even within a single company, things can vary greatly from one team to the next, so I wonder if this is due to the management at a particular studio, or if it is a problem that affects all of Rockstar. The article mentions 'despite over $1 billion in Grand Theft Auto revenue', which is deeply misleading. That was made at Rockstar North, in Scotland. There is no reason to assume that just because one studio is printing its own money that the revenues will be distributed evenly across all partner studios.

    I have worked for two of the largest companies in this industry, Ubisoft and EA. At those companies, I can tell you that as far as the CEO / corporate level management are concerned, they just want to see a game get done on time and on budget, and for it to hit the sales estimates. This is because those things will have a direct affect on the quarterly and annual statements. For a game to be a hit depends on many factors that cannot be directly influenced; ie: the design, gameplay, story (if applicable), the license and the marketing campaign all have to hit the right notes to result in a hit. Most pressure that a typical developer sees, especially if there are not any direct design responsibilities, is to get stuff done On Time and On / Under budget. The incentive used is a bonus. And this is where good intentions start to break down.

    The producers on a project are typically given a bonus that depends mostly on the game being done on time and on budget. They are given a budget, and after that, the rest of the company does not look at anything beyond various demo's done for the editorial boards. The CEO types would like for the employees to be happy (no one wants bad press), but they leave that up to the studio HR and project leads / producers. What most people do not realize is that even within the same company, the work experience can vary greatly from one team to the next. One team might be using wise development practices, be carefully deciding which employees work on the title, and doing what they can to keep the scope of the game manageable given their time constraints. Other teams might simply pour on the crunch hours and death march the employees to meet the goal. But if the game is done on time and on budget, the producers always get their bonus.

    What I see as being a big part of the problem is that there is no incentive at any point for those who run the projects to keep their employees happy. At a company like Ubisoft, you can finish your project, and have 70% of the staff quit, burn out, or just refuse to work on the sequel. But if you got it done on time and on budget, you get the same bonus.

    Getting back to the article at hand, it is entirely possible that the people running Rockstar North have great development practices and have happy employees, but for the Rockstar San Diego studio to be helmed by Captain Bligh.

    END COMMUNICATION

    • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @03:50PM (#30871900)

      Mod this up--I'm no way involved in even a related field of work, but this is pretty close to the reality of how corporations run.

      I'm sick of the "CEOs are evil sociopaths" mentality simply because it implies that the rich are some evil exploitative faction of society while everyone else are halo-wearing do-gooders. Everyone is the same, and often the greatest evil is really just assholes in middle-management. My point here is that malice is far less common than simple incompetence.

      The only way to fix this is for employees to work together. Unionize? Maybe, maybe not, but in any business the lowest common denominator can affect business if they work together.

  • by jason.sweet (1272826) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @06:11PM (#30873024)
    If you regularly work more than 45 hours a week, you are doing it wrong. There are exceptions, but they should be rare. Get your priorities straight!
    If your job sucks, you are doing it wrong. Fix it or get out!
    If your wife talks to your boss for you, you are doing it wrong. Grow a pair for christ's sake!

"More software projects have gone awry for lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined." -- Fred Brooks, Jr., _The Mythical Man Month_

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