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Game Development Conditions Could Drive Devs East 87

Kotaku has up a feature piece looking at the opening of a new studio in mainland China. Staffed by expatriate Western game developers, it represents something that founders Chris Pfeiffer and Max Garber see as a future trend: developing games in the west is soul-crushing. The two participated in the grind to get Resistance: Fall of Man out in time for the PlayStation 3 launch, and have now opened a studio with the goal of 'making great games while living a good life.' Lower costs in China allow for a higher standard of living, while labour laws will force game studios to stick to rational work-weeks. Pfeiffer also suggests that the overwhelming costs involved in making games will force U.S. studios to outsource development work to Asian nations. When that happens, Pfeiffer's studio and compatriots will be ready.
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Game Development Conditions Could Drive Devs East

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  • Funny. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EveryNickIsTaken ( 1054794 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @03:56PM (#18071138)
    I could've sworn I just read an article the other day about how Japanese video game companies were trying to make the social aspects and work schedule of their employees more in tune with the West so that they would be able to retain their programmers. Japan's work week + work conditions = 10 x worse than the West's.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Ant P. ( 974313 )

      Japan's work week + work conditions = 10 x worse than the West's.

      Japanese game programmers work 800 hour weeks?
    • by Frumply ( 999178 )
      They probably need to do something about their animators as well, where a significant portion get below-minimum wage pay [animenewsnetwork.com]. (I've seen much better breakdowns of the pay scheme, though they were in Japanese)
    • Re:Funny. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 19, 2007 @08:17PM (#18075280)
      I've been in the industry for about 8 years now (I'm a programmer). In my years I've worked for several US companies, a British company, and a Japanese company.

      The US companies had a wide range of policies. Some were not too bad, others were outright criminal. Working for a PC game outfit, my hours averaged about 60 a week - of course that company no longer exists. At another company I did only tech and tool work for about 45-50 hours a week (was a really nice job but my department was closed). The console developer I worked for was run "poorly". I averaged 120 hours a week there and I have the scars to prove it.

      The British company I worked for enforces quite reasonable rules on thier GB based employees. Unfortunately for us we were a new studio based in LA. That meant that some of the people in charge were from the US and therefore when our development contract was signed they used US think. We ended up having 1 years worth of work to do in about 3 months. I ended up working 90-120 hour weeks again, and after the project was complete (the contract was renegotiated to roughly 10 months), I bailed.

      The Japanese company was my most recent. I was there for 2 years. The studio was based in the US, but more than 1/2 the employees were Japanese. I was working 10am-2am hours most of the time I was there, but the Japanese employees arrived before me and were still working when I would leave. I rarely saw any of them on weekends however. I'm really not sure if the Japanese workers worked so much due to their work ethic, or if they were asked to. I think it was a little of both.

      The moral of the story is the industry as a whole sucks. I was working crazy hours no matter who was in charge. My story is neither unique nor uncommon. Moving to China isn't going to make a difference unfortunately. They may be forced to set good working hours, but the company will not be able to survive that way. The problem boils down to schedule - Xmas season, Hardware launches, or License tie-ins. No games are made without one of these deadlines in mind. If a company cannot finish their work on schedule (outsorced or otherwise) they will not be hired for future projects and will die.
    • Japan's work week + work conditions = 10 x worse than the West's.

      Myth. Since 2001, Americans work longer hours than the Japanese [cnn.com].

  • The downside? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Canthros ( 5769 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @03:58PM (#18071156)
    You have to live in Red China.

    This is the same government that likes to filter the Internet for its citizens. I hope the reduced cost of living is worth it, guys!
    • Re:The downside? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @04:02PM (#18071224) Homepage
      Seconded. Some morons may think about how the government is spying on us and how everyone lies and all that crap (and they are right)

      But you know what? I would still rather live here than some other fucked up country. At least the way our country is fucked up allows me to think and feel how I please (and in many cases, expressing it as well. Again, many people think our free speech is fucked in this country, but I have proof that it is not. Go to any street corner in the USA and shout "I hate our leader we need a new one!"

      I can assure you there are far fewer countries you can do that in than there are countries that you can't.
      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        "Go to any street corner in the USA and shout "I hate our leader we need a new one!""

        True but the scary thing is some people might disagree with you.

      • But you know what? I would still rather live here than some other fucked up country. At least the way our country is fucked up allows me to think and feel how I please (and in many cases, expressing it as well. Again, many people think our free speech is fucked in this country, but I have proof that it is not. Go to any street corner in the USA and shout "I hate our leader we need a new one!"

        "Where else but in America - or perhaps Canada - could one do such a thing?"
        (Ob. Simpsons Reference)

  • Less is more? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Astarica ( 986098 )
    It seems to be just saying gaming companies work people too much, so if you work less it must be better! While I understand overworking hurts productivity, at some point addition by subtraction has to fail. If it's really such a great idea for programmer to work 8 or 6 or 4 hours a day while stll making a great game, someone would've done that by now. The fact that there hasn't been much success from not working much on the gaming industry seems to suggest that working really hard at least works. And if
    • No matter how much evidence there is to the contrary, working for 16-18 hours is always going to feel more like "hard work" to the psyche, even if it's completely unproductive work. And, from experience, working that long generally makes your project go backwards, not forwards.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      What these devs moving to China are missing is, what happens when a big company like EA outsources to you? They will expect RESULTS, and fast. If you don't do it, for low cost, they'll pick a different company. In short, those who longer, faster and cheaper will be more successful in China. It will be the same atmosphere as we have currently in the US.

      How long did they work on Halo, or Halo 2? Or what about Gears of War and Dark Sector (which, while not out, has been a work in progress and looks to b

    • The problem is, we are working programmers 10-18 hours a day. As a result, we are burning out programmers, increasing turnover, and getting crappy results.

  • by jchenx ( 267053 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @04:01PM (#18071202) Journal
    At DICE this year, Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games (developer of the Dungeon Siege games and the just-released Supreme Commander title) had a very intersting talk regarding improving work/life balance at his company. It appears that you don't really need a "work-till-you-drop" work schedule [next-gen.biz] to ship big games after all.

    I think it's an interesting, and necessary, shift in the game development culture. As the industry matures, so does its business practices. Understandably, there are lots of passionate folks who prefer to stay up late to work on their game, but that doesn't mean everyone wants to. Additionally, those who stay up late may actually be contributing negatively to the product (decisions and code generated at 2 AM may not be the best).

    So yeah, I agree that the typical hardcore work development schedules need to change ... but that doesn't mean you have to move your studio East to achieve them.
    • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @04:27PM (#18071538)
      That's the problem at had when I worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari for six years. One of my mentor told every new hire that they must prepare to sacrifice their personal life to the video game gods, get rid of the girlfriend/wife (prositutes are OK), and forgot about the kids. My current job is being a help desk specialist where I work only 40 hours a week but I make the same kind of money when I worked 80 hours a week in the video game industry. Now I have time to enjoy a personal life.
      • by jchenx ( 267053 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @05:01PM (#18072124) Journal
        I work in the games portion of MS, and we've always had a good work/life balance schedule in my group. Yeah, there are times where we do work late night, but that's surprisingly rare. I think it's a combination of both smart management, and also the fact that my team doesn't ship retail titles, but works on platforms. So there isn't really a periodic crunch schedule, the way there are for games. Rather, we're always hectic, but in a manageable way.

        But I have definitely heard the horror studios from friends who work in other companies and other parts of MS, which are really scary sounding.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )
        Believe it or not, I believe the game industry is actually growing up. Losing your life to the almighty schedule was the accepted norm a few years ago, but not so much today. I actually know of publishers routinely scheduling six-day workweeks for the latter half of the project, and seven-day workweeks for the final month or two.

        This is an issue I actually talked with my current employer about during the hiring process. I've now worked at a pretty well-known studio for the couple of years, and have shipp
    • If gamecompanies would spend less time on pushing the graphical boundaries but instead would focus more on providing innovative gameplay or interesting storylines we can keep the jobs here. I mean we don't outsource our hollywood scriptwriters to china do we?
      • I mean we don't outsource our hollywood scriptwriters to china do we?

        "The writer is king here at Capitol Pictures. You don't believe me, take a look at your paycheck at the end of every week - that's what we think of the writer."

        "Did you hear the one about the blond who went to Hollywood to get into the movies? She fucked a writer."

        "I was saying I've yet to meet a writer who could change water into wine and we have a tendency to treat them like that."
        "Not at this studio."

        "I was thinking what an interesting

      • Here we go again. Do you think you're "hardcore" because you complain about the entirely imaginary lack of gameplay and story in video games? There's nothing wrong with the gameplay of modern games, and I would say that Max Payne has a stronger storyline than Double Dragon.
  • by Tragek ( 772040 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @04:31PM (#18071592) Journal
    Man, it took me way too long to process that story. All I would think was "China is west of me".
    • Get yourself a globe. More than likely, China is East, North, South and Under you.
      • It depends on where you are.

        Take a look on a globe, starting here in Florida. If I go east on a globe I get Africa. You gave to go through that, the middle east, India, and then finally get to China.

        If I go west on the globe, I go through Mexico and then through China. In addition, it looks like a shorter distance going that way.
    • But duuuude, they're also east of you too! Whoaaaa.... Far out.
  • China?! Looking at the headline my first thought was Eastern US like Atlanta or Philly.
  • Game Development Conditions Could Drive Devs East... ...Nintendo fuels speculation by investing in fleet of yachts.
  • India (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frozen Void ( 831218 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @06:41PM (#18073932) Homepage
    Why not India? Its a democracy(albeit poor one)
    but you can live there as well as in China for the money.
    If they consider to stay there long-term it might be a factor.
  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @06:52PM (#18074100)
    When you hear about the huge budgets of modern video games, you rarely hear what percentage goes to actually paying developers. If more of the money went to the people actually doing the work, they could hire the developers they need to get the job done without working their developers to death. As it stands right now, no self respecting developer with a family can afford to take a job in games because the hours are crazy, and because if they're any good the pay in non-games work is as much as three times what a programmer can make in the games industry. No wonder they end up understaffed with inexperienced people, struggle to hit deadlines, and we're always hearing about how this or that experienced developer gets fed up and leaves the industry. Meanwhile, the publishers and marketers are living fat off these people's labor.

    One of two things will break this trend. Either publishers will become less relevant as self funded studios become common (who knows how this will turn out as Vista pushes game development off of open platforms into a console and portable only world), or the rest of the venture backed software industry will start to treat their employees poorly enough that game development doesn't look so bad anymore. Either way, it's likely to get worse before it gets any better.

    Regardless, it's hard to see how China has anything to do with this story other than to stir up the outrage of outsourcing and send hits to the website. So they opened an independent studio, and they did it in China because they have some delusion that their happiness there was due to geography and not the fact that they actually took a vacation... I wish them luck, really, but the geography of this story shouldn't be the focus. It's a red herring.
  • LoL (Score:2, Funny)

    by Brigade ( 974884 )
    They develop a launch title for PS3 that DOESN'T move PS3's .. then "Move to enjoy the good life" in China ...

    They didn't decide to relocate; Jack Tretton promptly shipped them off when Resistance didn't kill Gears/Wii like it was supposed to.
  • ...because it was developed using Chinese labour, and we all know how well that one turned out. No creative spark, no real connection with the audience, and a bunch of guys working to the rule without question or concern. That's fantastic for mass-producing (or knocking off) consumer goods, but rather less so when trying to develop something that appeals to emotion like game-play.
  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Monday February 19, 2007 @07:20PM (#18074506) Homepage Journal
    The article seems to be suggesting that labour laws in China prevent the kind of unpaid mega-crunch 60+ hour week hell that western developers demand... since when were we behind China in labour laws?!

    Saying that, the UK is behind a lot of Europe, and the US behind us...

    As for Japan, I'd gladly put with with the crunch there I think. It's hard for a while but the rewards are genuine.
    • by king-manic ( 409855 ) on Monday February 19, 2007 @07:51PM (#18074928)
      Having a lot of cousins working in tech in china, I can attest the labor laws do not prevent 85h weeks, 45 of which is unpaid overtime. As well they provide dorms and meals to reduce the possible need to be off site but they expect you to be at their beck and call. Although for an oppressive regime of tyrants I never witnessed any oppression. Or even seen any police that weren't directing traffic. They also don't pay income tax or have any retail taxes that I could see. The tyranny is all to those who rock the boat. To the average folk in china, the tyranny is benign. For those who tkae pride in how the state are different I'd like to point out if you rock the boat in the US you will also disappear. Much faster if your brown or black.
      • "Rocking the boat" and "terrorism" are not necessarily quite the same. As far as I know Michael Moore hasn't yet been shipped off to Guantanamo for "rocking the boat."
        • But Maher Arar was sent to syria for being brown. examples exist. not as numerous as China but they exist.
          • Yes. He was sent to Syria because he was brown. Meanwhile, the US continues to accept non-white immigrants, Keith Ellison became a congresman and Condoleezza Rice is Secretary of State.
      • For those who tkae pride in how the state are different I'd like to point out if you rock the boat in the US you will also disappear. Much faster if your brown or black.

        The men in black will be at your door in a moment.

        Your point is of course proven by the fact that all those anti-war protesters who come out all the time dissappear the next day and are never heard from again. Did you know there's a concentration camp in the desert for peacenik hippies?

        Seriously, they gather up all the rock-the-boat proteste
        • I'd like to bring your attention to Maher Arar. A computer program who is a canadian citizen. He was intercepted by the US while on a trip then sent to syria for torture. It turns out he was an innocent man with no links to terrorism and was denied due proccess and the right to a trial or freedom from cruel or unussual punishment.

          There are other examples such as marijauna activist Todd McCormick and Steve Kubby. Proponents of medical marijauana who were arrested on drug charges stemming from their use of ma
          • Yeah, but we can still vote :-)

            Voting for a bunch of bad choices is still infinitely better than not voting at all.
            • The point wasn't that China = US. It was the difference between those two is not as great as many american demigogues would have you beleive. And the gap is closing. The US is getting more authoritarian and china is getting more free market if not democratic. I doubt they will ever be equivalent but the US is pretty low for liberty when compared to the other western powers.
              • by Raenex ( 947668 )

                I doubt they will ever be equivalent but the US is pretty low for liberty when compared to the other western powers.

                I think all the "anti-hate" speech laws in Europe and Canada aren't very libertarian. In France they banned religious dress in schools. In England you can go to jail for shooting a burglar that enters your house. So all countries have problems.

                However, your original statement that "if you rock the boat in the US you will also disappear. Much faster if your brown or black." is just fu

              • In what ways is the US "low for liberty?"
      • Corruption and being ignored are a form of tyranny also.
      • Not really. I am an American working at the Chinese branch on a Technology company.

        First of all, there is indeed income tax. Of course! The tendency is, it's compiled by the company and paid in regular installments (out of salary) for the workers, which is the system in Japan and other Asian nations as well. The Chinese tax code is uncomplicated, without deductions, and there isn't a capital gains tax, so for most people it's very simply a percentage of income.

        Secondly, live-work groups with dorms an

    • the UK is behind a lot of Europe

      Behind in what way? So France has a 35 hour work week. That's great, except that it's hurt the economy severely and has led to high unemployment. I have family members there constantly complaining about how the government and companies keep cutting back on benefits because they cant afford them. I have cousins moving elsewhere in Europe, specifically England and Ireland because they can't find work in France.

      There's a myth perpetuated amongst many French that English companie

  • More work hour doesn't mean higher productivity, have you guys forgot about the EA bride thing? Back when The Day After Tomorrow was made, Dreamworks treated their employees like crap, and I mean really like crap. They work almost every waking hour of their life for months, people would work until they can't take it anymore, crash under their desk for a couple hours, get up and get right back into working. It's a destructive way of life and many many people got sick physically and mentally. Immediately aft
    • ILM/Lucasfilm and Pixar are union shops, represented by the IATSE Animation Guild [animationguild.org]. EA is not.

      Some IATSE contract terms:

      • "All hours worked in excess of 8 hours per day shall be paid at one and one half times the employee's hourly rate".
      • "All hours worked in excess of 14 hours per day, including meal periods, from the time of reporting to work shall be Golden Hours and shall be paid at two times the applicable hourly rate".
      • "Time worked on the employee's sixth day of the workweek shall be paid at one
  • And here I was all excited because I thought more gaming companies would move or form here on the east coast. I'd love to stay in my native area near Philadelphia, and I'd also love to break into game development. I guess that's still going to be very hard - there are a few companies here and there, but it's nothing like Seattle where you can't throw a stick without hitting a few hiring game studios.
    • Me too. I thought, "Finally, those guys figured out the Bay Area is too expensive to operate out of." Anybody moving from California to China for better quality of life is kookoobananas. Think Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Texas -- places with established production or technology centers and plenty of fresh meat from local game development schools.
  • This is great news as I plan to live in Thailand instead of the UK (were I am from). I am hoping that I won't have to setup my own business to be able to work in the Games Industry there since I'm still in University. I'm working in Thailand (which is below china) right now as a web developer and am going back to my Games Programming course in England this year. I really hope more Game development companies come here as its a great place to work and live.
  • Lower costs in China allow for a higher standard of living, while labour laws will force game studios to stick to rational work-weeks.

    That's a funny statement to make. Virtually everyone I know who works in Asia, China, Taiwan and Japan, works insane hours. It's a way of life and they just accept it. Up until a few years ago in every second Saturday was a work day in Taiwan. Even for me, when I was out there getting out at 7pm or 8pm was early. And that was pretty much all year round; there were few lulls.

  • "Game Development Conditions Could Drive Devs East "

    I look forward to more game developers moving to the Boston area.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp