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Stress Is Driving Developers From the Video Game Industry 336

Nerval's Lobster writes: For video game developers, life can be tough. The working hours are long, with vicious bursts of so-called "crunch time," in which developers may pull consecutive all-nighters in order to finish a project—all without overtime pay. According to the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Developer Satisfaction Survey (PDF), many developers aren't enduring those work conditions for the money: Nearly 50 percent of respondents earned less than $50,000 annually. Faced with what many perceive as draconian working conditions, many developers are taking their skills and leaving video games for another technology sector. The hard and soft skills that go into producing video games—from knowledge of programming languages to aptitude for handling irate managers—will work just as well in many aspects of conventional software-building. Fortunately, leaving the video-game industry doesn't have to be a permanent exile; many developers find themselves pulled back in at some point, out of simple passion for the craft.
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Stress Is Driving Developers From the Video Game Industry

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  • Hah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:08PM (#49876263)

    Parallels with professional musicians and actors, who usually get little sympathy on this board. Supply and demand, etc.

    We'll see whether the game devs do any better.

  • STEM Shortage (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:09PM (#49876281) Homepage
    There's no STEM shortage, just a shortage of people willing to work 80 hours per week for under $50k per year.
    • Bingo.

    • There's no STEM shortage, just a shortage of people willing to work 80 hours per week for under $50k per year.

      I see. So what you are saying is that there is a large number of skilled engineers and scientists, sitting at home watching TV, while they wait for salaries to go up?

      • Re:STEM Shortage (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:45PM (#49876665) Homepage Journal

        I see. So what you are saying is that there is a large number of skilled engineers and scientists, sitting at home watching TV, while they wait for salaries to go up?

        No, they're doing something else in life. Working, teaching, studying, masturbating, whatever. Just not willing to work 80 hours a week for 50k a year.

        Job skills and careers aren't things you can acquire and shift around instantly, it takes time. It took decades of abuse to get to this point. If a sensible gov't disbanded H1B program and said "fuck you" to Bill Gates right now, salaries will rise but you're not gonna have a sudden flood of programmers entering the job market. It takes times to make programmers. What you will have is a lot more students interested in CS.

      • Re:STEM Shortage (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:48PM (#49876705)

        No, they are sitting at home or in a non-STEM profession because hiring in STEM (and everything else these days) sucks because employers are idiots. The structural unemployment and underemployment in the US proves that.

        Unemployed people are discriminated against, for one. And then there are the completely unreasonable requirements for jobs - and we've ALL see those.

        If one is an employer and has a problem finding qualified workers, I can say with 100 percent certainty, that it's their problem: their recruitment and hiring practices are horribly flawed.

        I have never - ever - seen an employer spell out exactly what skills are missing in the candidates that they get. And what kills me, in Silicon Valley I see a lot of complaints about new grads not having the right skills. Really? So Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley suck? Recruit from MIT or an Eastern school.

        Or how about telling universities what skills are required.

        But they don't do that; which tells me that they are all full of shit.

        For example, when Caterpillar needed welders, they helped the local trade schools to create a program and now, viola! plenty of qualified workers. The same can be done with engineering and programming talent.

        But they don't do that - actually the entire tech industry doesn't do that. Why? Because they are full of shit about STEM shortages.

        So, either STEM employers are really fucking stupid (they do ask retarded questions in interviews) or their motive for lying and saying there is a STEM shortage is all PR and politics to get cheap Third World labor and drive US wages down.

      • Re:STEM Shortage (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @01:16PM (#49876951)

        Salaries should go up if the demand cannot be met at the current salaries, or did I miss something?

        And don't tell me there's no money to up the salaries to attract personnel. Fire one or two of the useless VPs that should free up dough enough to hire a dozen engineers or two.

        • by BVis ( 267028 )

          That whole "supply-and-demand" thing is only OK if it works in the favor of the employer. The Invisible Hand doesn't seem to give a shit about in-demand skill sets. The bottom line is that they have the jobs and you need a job, and if they don't give you one, you don't eat. So the playing field isn't level.

      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        No, I'm saying if there was a STEM shortage, then these people would all be able to find better jobs, and the game companies would have to pay better and provide better working conditions.
    • Indeed.

  • ... If it wasn't for the horrific architecture and code produced by the steady stream of noobs hired to replace the burn outs.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:09PM (#49876291) Journal

    Stress is a reason to leave a lot of jobs/careers. If game companies can't get a supply of new suckers, they'll have to either do something to reduce the stress, or actually pay more. If they can get a supply of new suckers, I guess things stay the same and I recommend staying out of the industry. Either way, no real story.

    • In engineering I learned to just say screw you at crunch times beyond what I could handle. I'm still employed and getting raises at the same pace as my old work my tail off days.
      • Bingo! I've been a programmer for almost 20 years and have never done crunch time. It hasn't hurt my career at all.

    • by whh3 ( 450031 )

      Until people stop taking this very attitude toward the problem the situation will never change. It cannot be enough for the next sucker to take a burnt-out developer's place. There has to be a conscious effort by the developers to stop this situation.

      As younger developers move up it will only continue: "If I went through it as a developer, they can go through it." This is exactly what happens with young doctors who become attending physicians when they subject their students to long hours and harsh treatmen

    • If game companies can't get a supply of new suckers, they'll have to either do something to reduce the stress, or hire H1-Bs.

      There, fixed that for you.
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:11PM (#49876311)
    When I was a kid I always thought I wanted to be a game programmer. Turns out, I fucking love writing boring enterprise software. I write lots of code, solve lots of problems, make lots of money.

    The average game developer makes crap money writing spongebob or dora the explorer or some other licensed character crapware 16 hours a day for years in hopes they will be on one of the teams that gets to write the one good game their studio puts out each year/decade.

    The average enterprise software developer spends years working 8 hours a day fattening his 401k and, since you get to go home at 5pm, could spend the other 8 hours a day he would be working at the game company writing his own games... or more likely just playing games or having a family.

    I love games. I wish making games for a job wasn't the programming equivalent to grinding it out as an extra in Hollywood for years trying to be an actor, but that is exactly what it is.
    • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:18PM (#49876395) Homepage Journal

      Well, there's some saying about your career satisfaction being proportional to how much of your education you're able to use on the job.

      And I have to admit, I was happiest during a brief stint at a game development studio where I finally actually got to use The Calculus. But yeah, it's much more lucrative to do boring stuff and then have free time and money to actually pursue hobbies.

      The irony of course is having gone through college getting an aerospace engineering degree that I'd never really put to use while toying around with computers and Linux all night. Now I make all of my money dinking around with my Linux at work so I can use my aerospace degree to play with toy airplanes. At least I always feel like I'm playing, I suppose.

      • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @01:57PM (#49877351) Homepage
        Well I get to make use of all that computational theory stuff I learned in my degree frequently at my job and it does pay well even if it is boring work with SCADA systems. I did have one of those bosses who wanted every one to work crazy hours and be on call at all times even when on vacation. When I told him I would be unreachable on one vacation he didn't believe me and after a bit of back and forth I told him that if he really needed me where I was going to be leaving my car and walking into the woods and that he should hire a trained tracker and a team of dogs.
    • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:24PM (#49876453)

      The average enterprise software developer spends years working 8 hours a day fattening his 401k

      After three years of being a video game tester, I became a lead tester and I spent the next three years going to back to school to learn computer programming. Despite working 80 hours a week for two to four weeks at a time, I was branded as not a "team player" by management because I had an exit strategy. After I left the video game industry, I spent the last ten years in help desk and desktop support roles, making more money for less hours than I did as a game tester. I'm now a senior system admin in computer security.

      • After three years of being a video game tester, I became a lead tester and I spent the next three years going to back to school to learn computer programming. Despite working 80 hours a week for two to four weeks at a time, I was branded as not a "team player" by management because I had an exit strategy.

        And that right there is how you knew you were in a pile of shit*. True leaders create more leaders. False leaders only want followers.

        * There is a joke about this, and if you were happy there, perhaps I will relate it. But many of you, I imagine, already know the joke.

        • And that right there is how you knew you were in a pile of shit*.

          If you're a video game tester, you're always looking for a pony or unicorn to ride out of the muck.

  • I write drivers (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I write drivers for consumer electronics (tablets, STBs, some phones). I am paid significantly more than $50k/yr and I have a fairly predictable schedule. We have occasional long hours to fix the last few bugs at release. But everything is code complete when it is supposed to be, and we aren't designing new things near the end only cleaning up and making adjustments.

    So game devs, get out while you still can. There are other ways to apply your code-fu and still go home every night.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:14PM (#49876343)

    If you pay staff for what they do, they are happier. Expecting them to work 12 hours a day, and having to come in at weekends because your marketing department pulled a date from their arse is what pissed people off. "Free" food and drinks is no substitute for lost time with family and friends. Only those starting out are dumb enough to put up with it. Why? Because they've yet to start a family and work is all they have.

    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:45PM (#49876663)

      To be fair, many times the marketing folk pull dates out of actual requirements and not just out of the air. What's really happened is the requirements and the schedule to do them was too optimistic for the resources and time allowed. You see, release dates usually are VERY important for marketing and if you miss marketing's date it can mean the difference between success and failure for the game and the company.

      What the REAL problem happens to be is NOT what you claim, but the fact that management didn't recognize the schedule slippage when it was really happening and when they could do something about it, so in order to "make it" it turns into a orgy of late nights, pizza and caffeine energy drinks for that last development phase. When really what should have happened is the requirements should have been shaved back or more resources acquired a year ago. But that kind of management is rare in any of the engineering disciplines as is the processes necessary to collect the metrics and plan the work well enough to know when you are falling behind.

      Blame the management, not marketing for what ails you in this case. More than likely the deliver date was fixed a long time before anybody started coding...

  • Good for them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bennini ( 800479 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:14PM (#49876349) Homepage
    I am a software engineer and it's never made sense to me why people would be willing to put up with these types of conditions. Sure it's fun and way cooler that most other programming jobs but I wouldn't want to give up weekends and put up with asshole managers which inevitably make the job NOT fun.

    The employers like EA, Trion, and countless more are exploiting the people's willingness to get treated like slaves in exchange for working in the gaming industry. Engineers need to stop undermining each other by taking these shitty positions and it sounds like this might finally be starting to happen. And they shouldn't fear that the video game industry will go away because it won't. Execs will simply need to reset their profit expectations in light of paying the engineers more.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or unionize. This is a classic example of where unions make sense.

    • Re:Good for them (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:57PM (#49876797)

      All it takes is 2 or 3 key players to 'walk out at 5'

      I talked about 3 dudes into doing it. We went from 60-80 hour and lots of weekend grinds to 8-5 jobs. Everyone went along with it. EXCEPT the people who love burning it on both ends and the managers with the unrealistic schedules. They burned out in under 3 years. We caught tons of hell from the double end burners. But in the end our way worked. Because the quality shot thru the roof. Ideas went from 'lets half ass this' to 'lets prototype it and pick it up in the morning'.

      Also keep in mind all of the schedules were unrealistic. There was NO point in killing yourself to make them. They would push them ANYWAY.

      • Also keep in mind all of the schedules were unrealistic.

        Most schedules are tied to achieving a specific milestones AND bonus rewards. As a lead tester, I would add two months to the expected code release date and plan my testing schedule accordingly. Everyone screamed bloody murder that my code release dates were unrealistic because that often meant no one got bonuses. As I didn't get bonuses, I didn't care. My code release dates were the most accurate (+/- two weeks).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:21PM (#49876429)

    Just don't expect to be respected for pointing that out. I worked for Ubisoft a few years back on an utterly pathetic salary. When the crunch came along, I worked out the extra hours I was "requested" to work (unpaid, of course) would've effectively pushed my hourly salary below the national minimum wage (i.e. it was illegal) so I refused.

    Of course, my appraisal rolls round and I get an abysmal score - despite the fact that my output exceeded that of my colleagues slaving away into the late evening. One of the idiots who did my appraisal said that the studio producer had basically asked why they didn't just fire me for having such a low score, and that he'd "rescued" me by saying the work I was doing was invaluable... despite being responsible for the low score in the first place.

    Resigned shortly after and switched to web dev. Never looked back.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:26PM (#49876481)
    Video game industry is the canary in the pixel mine. This what ALL tech work will look like if suits succeed with over-saturating the market. So with each H1B, the rest of us getting closer to this hell. Make sure to write your congressman.
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      Video game industry is a bit special. It has nothing to to with H1Bs and suits.
      Working on video games is the dream of many young developers. They would sell their soul just to be able to work on the games they love... and companies are all to eager to take on the offer. But don't blame it solely on big names because if you decide to roll your own or join a small team, that's even more work for even less pay.
      When I left school, in the early 2000s, several friends tried the video game industry. They all came

      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        There is nothing special about over-supply of labor and the effects are predictable. Sure, in video game industry it is naive developers that are chasing a dream that create over-supply, but in some other boring case it could be glut of H1Bs.

        Both will lead to the same results.
      • by asdfman2000 ( 701851 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @03:11PM (#49878111)
        You're missing the point. GP was pointing out that many H1B holders would "sell their soul", as you put it, to work any tech job in USA making 5x what they make back home.

        When a job market is oversaturated (like video game development), wages and working conditions are driven down. It's not a coincidence that the abuses of the "robber baron" industrialists in the early 1900's coincided with huge waves of immigration from Europe and elsewhere.
  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @12:27PM (#49876487)

    I've shipped numerous games on consoles and PC. I exited the direct industry a few years back; I now make significantly more, have way less stress, and work stays at work. I also get to work on my indie game the first thing I wake up for a few hours and then start my normal day job which involves WebGL and Javascript.

    There are 4 major problems with games industry:

    * This industry was started by _hobbyists_ before the "suits" came in and tried to run it like a business. AAA games have become linear, repetitive, and formulaic narrative. This FPS map design 1993 vs 2010 [imgur.com] sums its up.
    * I slept under my cubicle in 1995 when I worked for EA because of "crunch time." The fact that crunch time *still* exists is a symptom of managers _failing_ to take responsibility. Why do they treat game devs as a resource to be consumed. Why did it take a lawsuit "EA Spouse" to make a dent in this problem??
    * Mobile has zero respect for gamer's time. They call people who spend the most on freemium "Whales." What's the problem with freemum? You keep using this word free, but it doesn't mean what you think it means. This image succinctly summarizes how they have hijacked the word free [baekdal.com] to mean Hurry-up-and-Wait.
    * The cost of content creation is spiraling out of control. Each year the budget and man-hours keep increasing. Something has to give.

    Indies have their own share of problems but what they bring to the table is innovation. Vote with your wallet and support indie games such as:

    * Limbo
    * Minecraft
    * Path of Exile
    * The Stanley Parable
    * Trine
    * The Vanshing of Ethan Carter
    * World of Goo

    If you continue to play grind fests that have zero respect for your time such as Defiance, Destiny, Warframe, World of Warcraft, then all you are is part of the problem.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iONiUM ( 530420 )

      Minecraft? Really? You do know Microsoft bought them [slashdot.org], right?

      Not that I have anything against Microsoft, but to call it indie is pretty miss-leading.

      • The game has not changed yet. I am still holding my breath.
      • I'm quite well aware that Notch had 2.5 billion reasons to sell Mojang to Microsoft.

        I too am concerned about _future_ versions but just because Notch "sold out" doesn't negate the fact that Minecraft _started_ out as indie back in 2009.

    • I'm another who has been both in and out of the industry several times.

      I only agree with one of your problems:

      I do absolutely agree that a crunch is entirely the failure of management. Of the published games I've been on, only one suffered from a moderate crunch. Everyone, including the management people involved, were able to identify the management problem of having more features than we could meet within the date. Unfortunately for the studio it was with a well-established global brand and few featur

    • I'm still waiting for http://www.asteroidbase.com/da... [asteroidbase.com]

      I'd also like to get my hands on the full music track used in their trailer. :p

  • People have been fleeing game development for years. [slashdot.org]

  • Crunch time comes with most (pretty much all to some degree) companies I've worked for with all new products. As a design engineer, I've seen it since the late 90s. Now days they are applying it to everything, by using unreasonable, arbitrary deadlines on all projects (cost-outs, sustaining, etc..). Exempt employee = lots of unpaid OT.
  • "Passion for the craft" is why they get paid less and have crappy working conditions. Because they're committed to being a video game developer. There's a certain cool factor that motivates some devs to continue to work in that industry despite sub-standard pay and/or working conditions. In other words, part of the compensation package is "the fact that you get to develop video games". And, apparently, for some folks that's worth a non-insignificant amount of cash.
  • On the one hand, the folks in charge seem to be a collegium of folks who believe death marches are the proper manner to develop software.

    On the other, the big companies wrote the rules (check out the US Labor Dept), so that all computer people, pretty much, are "in management", and so can't join, say, unions. And the companies don't need to pay overtime, because they're "salaried" (really? that used to mean that if you had a light week, and worked fewer hours, no biggie, since you were around enough to more

  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @01:59PM (#49877361)

    Any dev with a brain is going indie these days.

    There's an abundance of dirt cheap/free (beer) softwaretools.
    Hardware prices are negilible.
    Networking makes it possible to find co-devs all around the planet.
    Steam, Google Playstore and Apple Appstore are taking out the middle-men.

    All the big publishers can do these days is kill off good studios and churn out the bazillionth CoD clone. They've abandoned innovation.

    All major space games today come from teams of less than ten, such as No Mans Sky [youtube.com].

    Limit Theory [youtube.com], one of the most interesting prospects, is from a single guy!.

    Robertson is doing Star Citizen [robertsspa...stries.com] as a crowdfunded indie project - a big one, mind you.

    Koji Igarashi left Konami and started a Castlevania follow-up/Rip [kickstarter.com] on Kickstarter. The fans are drowning him in money and he has more creative freedom than ever.

    Bottom line:
    Indie is where the partys at nowadays. No one wants to work for EA and the likes.

  • by MrLint ( 519792 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @02:24PM (#49877633) Journal

    Well perhaps the IGDA will put their money where their mouth is and advocate for some form of unionization for these exploited workers?

  • by thetoadwarrior ( 1268702 ) on Tuesday June 09, 2015 @04:48PM (#49878953) Homepage
    That's nothing for a job where they'll expect you to have a degree. But I'm nor surprised, there are plenty of jobs around here that even without the degree debt just wouldn't allow you to live in this area. Even some big names in science who you'd think would want top people to get shit done right pay what I consider peanuts and often only offer fixed terms. So it's pay too low to buy a home, no job security to help secure a mortgage and enough of a wage to guarantee you'll need to pay your uni debt. It's no wonder so many good devs go down to London to fight over jobs in finance.

Hold on to the root.