Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Revisiting Quality of Life

Erin Hoffman | 29 May 2008 19:00
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Economics of Scale

Many of these considerations ultimately come down to top-level shifts in the industry.

"In the early days when companies were small and pioneering, putting in long hours was our sweat equity. But when a company grows up to managing larger groups and teams you have to balance the hours against profit. I always thought the long hours not only diluted a person's salary, it also diluted the value of the product. The company wasn't getting anything for free when they burn out their most valuable resource.

'Ah, more blood oil for the machine' as been my more caustic welcome to new graduates. I also know if you want to do games nothing is going to stop you, so I've made it a priority to let these new hires know their rights. I'm glad to see employees 'wise up'. No one should feel bullied into working obscene hours. If that's the case, let the managers up their skills and do the work."
--Maurine Starkey

Her last comment inevitably brings to mind Jonathan Coulton's "Code Monkey": "maybe manager want to write / goddamn login page himself..."

The problem, and the challenge, in this case is, as we can see from the comments presented, that the lines between management and development become thin venturing on invisible. Some of it is culture; some developers want to be in control of their destinies and have design and management input; others want competency at that level so that they can do what they're best at. These dynamics are nowhere near being sorted out, and ultimately come down to the decisions made for individual studios over time, but we can learn much by inspecting the long view of the industry's development and use that view to chart a course into the future - which comes back to the value of veterans.

Quality-of-Life-focused Niche Markets

Some developers are leaving the industry entirely:

"I left the commercial games industry because of the many issues detailed in the EA spouse letter as well as others stated in this article. I have moved into a Serious Games field where the hours are much more regulated due to the nature of govt[sic] contracting. Employees often work EXACTLY 40 hours a week; no more, no less. This is to maximize what they charge to the contract since overtime is unpaid by the govt unless explicitly approved....Working overtime in video games seems to have gone from a labor of love to just plain labor. A mandatory right-of-passage for anyone in this industry. I think that everyone should go through it once and witness just how bad their life could be; it puts your life into perspective. I would not however make a habit of it or even put up with it for long."

Another recent development and side effect of the expanding size and value of the industry is the insinuation of game development jobs into fields like education, research, and even corporate training. Game development experience is valued across a much wider array of professions than ever before, which means developers who care about quality of life can find that quality of life and still do what they love, if at a less "rock star" level. This is good for those individual developers, but bad in that it gives an impression that if you want good quality of life you just have to leave the industry - which ultimately leaves the business as a whole continuing to lag behind quality of life standards in the outside world.

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