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Crunch Tactics a Symptom of a Larger Problem?

CowboyNeal posted more than 10 years ago | from the game-management-and-long-hours dept.

Programming 63

An anonymous reader writes "One of the brave few: hot on the heels of the recent lawsuit filed against Vivendi Universal for back wages due to a developer who was allegedly asked to alter his timecard, Rob Fahey of gamesindustry.biz has taken the bold step of taking the position that the insane hours game developers are routinely asked to work are might not be in the industry's best interest, and in fact might be less profitable than planning projects well."

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This is, like, news? (5, Insightful)

grm_wnr (781219) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687189)

Yeah, who would have ever thought of that? The fact that this statement is seen as "bold" should be indication enough that something is amiss here.

Re:This is, like, news? (1)

Taulin (569009) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687943)

I never had crunch time while I worked in Japan for companies like Canon. Why? Everyone just worked extra hours anyway to impress the manager, so crunch time was just like any other day.

It's like this for any programming project. (5, Interesting)

JavaLord (680960) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687204)

Anyone who has ever worked as a programmer can tell you that as a deadline creeps up they usually end up working more hours. Spec's change, deadlines get moved up and back, other developers quit, etc. In the video game market, where you MUST hit certain deadlines such as christmas, or before a certain quater to make your company look good for stockholders this is always going to exist. Unless you give yourself an extra 6 months to a year of slack time, you are always going to have suicide hours near deadlines because shit always happens.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (5, Insightful)

egomaniac (105476) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687552)

Anyone who has ever worked as a programmer can tell you that as a deadline creeps up they usually end up working more hours. Spec's change, deadlines get moved up and back, other developers quit, etc.

...

Unless you give yourself an extra 6 months to a year of slack time, you are always going to have suicide hours near deadlines because shit always happens.


Then you plan for that and include it in the schedule. If it "always happens", then you'd better always include it in the schedule. There is no excuse for doing otherwise -- forty years of software engineering history gives us a pretty strong indication that the belief "maybe everything will go perfectly this time" is a horrible fallacy.

Things will go wrong. Specs will change. People will get sick. It happens every fucking time, and we all know it. So what the hell are we doing not building this time into the schedule? Not doing so is equivalent to jamming your fingers in your ears and yelling "la la la, I'm not listening!" at the top of your lungs. It might feel good for a little while, but it's bound to bite you in the ass later.

At my company (not games, but trust me, you've heard of us) we routinely double or triple all time estimates provided by engineers, to account for unforeseen eventualities. Wonder of wonders, my team has always hit our dates and we don't have insane crunch time near launches.

Obviously, truly earthshaking events -- building burns down, lead programmer hit by a bus -- can throw even the best schedule off. But surely we can be doing better than having the schedule thrown off every single time we build something, can't we?

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (1)

Baron_Yam (643147) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688087)

Perhaps the project managers in the industry tend to have the same issues as the coders... ie, being more involved in the idea of the project and what is 'cool' than in any sort of proper business practice.

It would be interesting to take an IT manager from a non-gaming firm known for getting projects done on time and drop them into a gaming firm and see what happens. Of course, if the root cause is insufficient budgets compensated for by abusing the labour pool, the results would end up being the same.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (2, Funny)

JavaLord (680960) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688156)

Then you plan for that and include it in the schedule. If it "always happens", then you'd better always include it in the schedule. There is no excuse for doing otherwise -- forty years of software engineering history gives us a pretty strong indication that the belief "maybe everything will go perfectly this time" is a horrible fallacy.

Think you could call my boss and have a talk with him? :) Maybe you could get him to schedule in some slashdot time also.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (1)

Mike Hawk (687615) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688298)

Wow, thats great. So you account and budget for the time. Whoopdiddydoo. Your proposal doesn't actually functionally change anything. When someone figures out how to make a deadline not a deadline, then crunch time will go away. Until then, its just another choice: deal with it or quit.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (1)

king-manic (409855) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688323)

On any given project: if you give yourself an extra 50% more time, the project will consume those 50 and still have crunch time. It's simply phychology. When a dead line is far away people work more slowly and on less vital things. As the deadline looms, the people frantically code the essentials, hoping beyond hoep to make the deadline.

bs (4, Insightful)

MarcoAtWork (28889) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688952)

'if you give yourself an extra 50% more time, the project will consume those 50 and still have crunch time'

this is bs, of COURSE if your staff is already burned out from the previous crunch time, for the first half of the schedule they'll 'recuperate' and not be very productive, which means that by the end they'll likely be a bit behind. Also a good project has a very 'tight' schedule (not tight = no time, tight = many meaningful milestones, possibly on a weekly basis)

If your work force is not exhausted, on the other hand, you'll see that if you do your scheduling well (adding buffers and so on) more often than not you'll be bang on or even early. In video games development you'll always likely be bang on because there are always a lot of 'nice to have' features you can work on if you're early.

The problem is how to go from an exhausted work force to a happy work force: you do this by having everybody basically take a month off after your last insane crunch spell and making it clear that from now on they will NOT BE ALLOWED to work more than 9 hours a day, and that if the deadline is not hit at the end they will NOT GET their bonus (which should be made a significant % of compensation).

All of this will definitely encourage people not to kill themselves, to have a life, and to be happy productive coders for many years to come. In the end it would also save the companies money, because they wouldn't have the staff turnover problems (with retraining costs etc.) they have now and so on and on.

Odds of this happening? pretty close to nil, also because there is some perverse 'you're not a tough guy coder unless you can go 48 hours on mt dew' psychology at work here as well...

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (2, Insightful)

egomaniac (105476) | more than 10 years ago | (#9689278)

On any given project: if you give yourself an extra 50% more time, the project will consume those 50 and still have crunch time. It's simply phychology. When a dead line is far away people work more slowly and on less vital things. As the deadline looms, the people frantically code the essentials, hoping beyond hoep to make the deadline.

Then my team is somehow miraculously immune to this effect, as we have A) never missed a ship date, and B) never had to work twelve-hour days to meet a deadline.

Most of the credit belongs to our project manager, actually. Good project managers make a hell of a lot of difference in matters like this, and are all-to-often neglected and underappreciated.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (1)

raygundan (16760) | more than 10 years ago | (#9689964)

All too often, they don't exist. The good ones are rare, and I have *truly* appreciated their help on projects. Sadly, I don't run into a lot of good ones.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (2, Interesting)

Ex Machina (10710) | more than 10 years ago | (#9689334)

Ever hear of Parkinson's Law?

-- Formula invented by the English political analyst Cyril Northcote Parkinson, which states that 'work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion'.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (1)

AllUsernamesAreGone (688381) | more than 10 years ago | (#9696464)

Then you plan for that and include it in the schedule. If it "always happens", then you'd better always include it in the schedule.

I direct you to Hofstadter's Law and the inevitable conclusion that, if you attempt to include the unforseen in your schedule, eventually you are going to be working on a project with an infinite budget requirement and no deadline.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (3, Insightful)

NanoGator (522640) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687915)

"Unless you give yourself an extra 6 months to a year of slack time, you are always going to have suicide hours near deadlines because shit always happens."

If it takes another 6 months, they should schedule another 6 months. That ain't slack time. If those dates are so important, they shouldn't be cutting it so close that Murphy's Law can derail the project.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9691330)

No it isn't like this for any programming project. I've worked on projects that were not like this, so have many others. Just becuase all of the projects you have worked on are like this, does not mean that all projects are necessarily like this. As a programmer you really should understand this point.

Re:It's like this for any programming project. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9692252)

Yes crunchtimes are usual - but having worked for several years in the games industry and some in other programming jobs, i'd say game companies are a lot worse than the average it-company. Currently i'm game programming once more and so far i hadn't had 2 free days in a row the whole year.

Wouldn't Be So Bad (1)

agraupe (769778) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687315)

I'm not a professional programmer, but EVERY book I've bought mentions the coders that stay up all night with coffee/jolt just so they can continue to code. Are you telling me that none of it is real???

I guess it's a job like any other, but it would be better working overtime coding a cool game than, say, the next version of MS Word.

Re:Wouldn't Be So Bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9687471)

As a programmer, I can say that the responsibility for the long work hours falls moreso on the developers then the administration.

The fact is that no developer out there really kicks it into high gear until he has the threat of the deadline looming over him like a black cloud.

If you extended the development time another 6 months, you would likely see the same crunch at the end of the dev cycle, but your product would be 6 months later hitting the market.

Re:Wouldn't Be So Bad (1)

Cecil (37810) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687947)

Perhaps there's a reason for that too. Does it happen because programmers are actually all lazy slobs? Maybe. Or maybe it's just that your mind and body know that 12 hours of programming a day isn't healthy for you, and won't do it unless forced to.

Re:Wouldn't Be So Bad (4, Insightful)

mausmalone (594185) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687760)

I'm not a professional programmer, but EVERY book I've bought mentions the coders that stay up all night with coffee/jolt just so they can continue to code.
Every book on coding (well, beyond beginner C/C++) I've ever read mentions the same, but it's always tried to put it in a positive light. It's like they're saying "they stay up all night coding because they love to do it so much! and you will too if you make it through this book!"

But I digress. Last night I stayed up all night to code. Any coder who has a project he or she enjoys to work on will want to stay up to work on it. But when it's work and you're there for like 15 hours a day and not getting overtime, then I have a real problem with that.
I guess it's a job like any other, but it would be better working overtime coding a cool game than, say, the next version of MS Word.
You'd think it would be, but game programming is sometimes completely mind-bending. There's lots of parsing, data management, bug-hunting, optimizing, and deadline-dodging that goes on. It's some of the hardest coding on the planet, as the entire thing has to have a good "feel" and "flow." It's not like you can say "thisGame.feel = great;" There are hours and hours of refinement and tweaking and debugging that go on, all in a very high-pressure environment (especially when you're under a release date or convention deadline). Game coders probably don't have it worse than any other coders, but I'd be hard pressed to say they have it much better.

As a coder. (1)

Retric (704075) | more than 10 years ago | (#9691035)

I find most non trivial coding tasks take somewhere between 2-8 uninterrupted hours of coding. Given a task I could accomplish this in say 6 hours. I could start at 10pm and work till 4AM or I could try to fit it in an 8am till 5pm day.

Now I get in at 8ish and start up my pc check my e-mail open the project read the documentation and wow it's 8:45 time for the morning meeting. Great now it's 9am and I am ready to go... Great work till 12:00 and hmm hungry time to grab some food. Cool well join a coworker or 2 and well it's 1:00 and I am back at my desk ready to finish up but... I only really worked from 3 hours but now I can't remember what I was doing ... Ok well great it's 4pm and things are once again flowing but suddenly coworker X shows up and would like to know what this speck means so... Ok great it's 4:15 and I am back at my desk but dammit the code is not compiling and I can't remember what that pointer was doing anyway. Hmm, well damm it's 6pm and I am still not done well it's close I could stay here and finish or go home.

Now I could go home come back the next day and spend the rest of the day hoping to finish. OR stay here till it's done in 3 more hours? Well if I go home chances are I will spend most of the day finishing up.

The real reason why coders code at night is they can spend as much time as they need coding while being left alone. WHY? Well think of it this way after every interruption you have to remember not just what you where doing but why you where doing it and more importantly why you where not doing something else. So 6 uninterrupted hours at night tend to be worth 20 normal workday hours.

I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (4, Insightful)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687328)

I don't think that poor management is the problem here like the author indicates. These companies are working at a backbreaking rate so that they can remain competitive. It's not like EA can afford to cut their development time per day and only put out a football game every two years. Software companies drop off the map very quickly if they don't keep putting out new products that are popular.

There might be ways via management and planning to reduce the time it takes to create a piece of software, but that won't lead to shorter work days for the programmers. It will merely lead to more projects being completed in a year with programmers still working 12 hour days. As long as the other guy has workers that are willing to work 12 hour days to achieve goals, you can bet that you will too.

Wrong (4, Interesting)

blunte (183182) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687570)

Software company failures are not typically due to the frequency of release of games.

The first and foremost reason a game company fails is that it failed to release its first game. This is often due to poor planning (business, game design, project management), and secondly to lack of resources/talent.

The second reason a game company fails is because it releases a bad product. This can be a product that's very unfinished (rushed out), very bug ridden, or just not what game players want.

Crunches usually happen because of external influences - trying to meet Christmas retail season, trying to get a playable demo ready for E3, or trying to meet a publisher deadline for a milestone.

Anyway, game developers I've worked with were usually as committed to their game development as they were to their spouses (those who were married), or sometimes more. They _want_ to get it done. It's not simply a boss behind them cracking a whip.

mailbox head (1)

I judge you (796415) | more than 10 years ago | (#9691610)

The first and foremost reason a game company fails is that it failed to release its first game. This is often due to poor planning (business, game design, project management), and secondly to lack of resources/talent.

For startup game dev houses making an original title, this is true.

The second reason a game company fails is because it releases a bad product.

yes, it all works through the amazing blue faeries that make sure that companies who release bad products go out of business. You can sleep well at night knowing that capitalism works.

Actually, for startup game dev houses making an original title, you are right. For the other 98% of game dev shops stuck working for the man, they fail because they don't bring in more business. Either they suck at delivering on time the shovelware crap that publishers order up, or they don't have good contacts, or can't close a deal, or don't have agents that grease the palm, or they haven't sucked enough dick.

Re:I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (2, Insightful)

ooby (729259) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688016)

The man is not suing because he was forced to work 12 hours a day, that's perfectly legal. The lawsuit contends that he was forced to falsify his timecards to say that he only worked 40 hours in a week. The unhappy part of it was that he wasn't compensated for the additional hours he worked. This may or may not be legal, but what isn't legal is falsifying your timecard. Falsifying timecards is a Federal Offense! If you are being forced to falsify your timecards, I suggest making a few phonecalls.

Re:I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9688192)

For your analysis to hold up, you have to believe that programmer's pay constitutes an overwhelming portion of the costs of a game company. In fact it doesn't, except for the small companies which are only programmer/owners. And those small companies are nicer to work for than the big guys.

What you are suggesting the simple, naive, "infinite competition" fallacy. According to the same argument, the janitors should be working 12 hr days, but only getting paid for 8, right ? In fact, if they work 12 days, they get time-and-a-half overtime, and their pay DOUBLES. Does the pressure of competeting with those other guys cause your company to fire half of the HR department and work the remaining ones on 12 hr days and Saturdays too ?

In fact, that's not what happens. For price of paying one janitor to work 12 hrs, your out-sourced janitorial firm can hire 2 more Janitors and work them 8 hrs, and they do better work, and have lower absenteeism and theft (the big problems with janitors). Why doesn't this happen with programmers ?

It's because they are stupid. Like the geeks who can't figure out that not wearing a smelly t-shirt might help them get laid, these narrow minded morons can't see the workings of the social structure they are in. The company may struggle to offer it's products for the lower price, but programmers and those who sell to the company also struggle to the get best deal for themselves, and it all balences out at a happy medium. Unless you have some slightly autistic programmer who forgot that he is a person and somehow identified himself with the abstract corporation and it's side of the game.

Re:I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (1)

LordPixie (780943) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690185)

Software companies drop off the map very quickly if they don't keep putting out new products that are popular.

Yeah, like Blizzard. Or Bungie. Both of them recognize that it's not the quality that matters, it's the frequency of their releases. It's also well known that most of their games are coded during crunchtime, in order to meet a pre-defined deadline.

Low-frequency quality releases is far from a worthless buisiness model. The problem is more related to the fact that people constantly buy crappy games, and inconsistantly purchase decent ones.


--LordPixie

Re:I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (1)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 10 years ago | (#9692983)

These companies are working at a backbreaking rate so that they can remain competitive. It's not like EA can afford to cut their development time per day and only put out a football game every two years.

If nothing else, this is a poor poor example. EA is a rich company to say the least (Madden series), so to say they can't afford to hold out an extra year is pure marketing by EA.

"Oh we can't hold out an extra year to fix all the lag and bugs in our games otherwise some other company will somehow manage to take away our near 50%+ control over the sports genre in the 1 year period of time."

Yeah, RIGHT.

Re:I don't think poor manangement is the problem. (1)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 10 years ago | (#9696890)

I think you're wrong about EA losing market share if they don't put out a yearly title. Most of the people I know who are Madden fans have not played it's now-biggest competitor, the ESPN football series. If football fans play and get used to the ESPN football engine one year due to the lack of a Madden title, it will be hard for Madden to get them to go back to a more Madden-style game engine (just as it is hard to go to the ESPN engine when Madden is all you've played for a year). I switched to the Dreamcast line of NFL2K, 2K1, etc when I bought my Dreamcast (only because EA wouldn't produce Dreamcast titles). Now I am much more comfortable with ESPN (2K series' successor) than I am with the Madden line of games. It's not like Madden is a terrible game now. I just prefer ESPN's control system control system now.

Already addressed; Solution proposed (5, Interesting)

Torgo's Pizza (547926) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687329)

I thought this was addressed in the Quality of Life white paper?

Anyway, this was brought up at the June Dallas IGDA meeting. Several producers discussed ways that they avoid crunch time. Tom Mustaine, a friend of mine, told about how he schedules three-day workweeks (!). While sounding totally insane, when crunch time rolls around, they just go to a normal five-day work week and finish what they need without killing themselves.

There's also much to be said for the effect on quality when quantity of hours are worked. In short, the longer you continually work, the more mistakes are made. What happens is that sometimes you lose more time fixing those mistakes than instead just going home and getting enough rest.

The game industry is finally coming to terms that the long work hours caused by inadequate planning and management is driving away many talented workers and programmers.

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (5, Insightful)

JavaLord (680960) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687498)

The game industry is finally coming to terms that the long work hours caused by inadequate planning and management is driving away many talented workers and programmers.

If you are a member of IGDA I'm sure you know that there is no lack of programmers that want to work in the game industry. The problem is the game industry has no method to bring in programmers who have experence programming, but not programming games. Basically you need a CS Degree, plus a hell of a working demo to get hired somewhere and the jobs are very limited. Once you are hired, and you are good enough then you can hang around, but most people in the gaming industry are very good programmers and at some point after working 80 hours a week they are going to say "I don't need this shit". Lack of programmers who want in isn't the problem, lack of an ability to keep them in might be.

Maybe if the gaming industry brought on more low level programmers at the start of a project, they would have enough people so insane crunch time wouldn't be as insane. Of course then they would have to pay their salaries, which gets in the way of Profit!

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688091)

You're comment hits the nail right on the head, unfortunately, after seeing this happen having shipped 3 games now. Within 5 years, most game programmers want OUT of the industry.

There is an interesting concept in Jim Collin's "Good to Great", which I'll paraphrase:

"It important to get the right people. Along with that, most companies think they need to motivate their employees, but it is MORE important NOT to DEMOTIVATE them."

Peace

--
Orignal, Fun Palm games by the Lead Designer of Majesty!
http://www.arcanejourneys.com/

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (1)

Mike Hawk (687615) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688387)

Weird, you described a problem that doesn't even exist. The "gaming industry" (as if there was one way of doing business) does cultivate its own talent. Yes, to get a senior position you have to have shipped titles, but junior programming jobs do exist. They do scripting, or menu implementation, or other such work. Hell, I know guys who started as testers with NO programming knowledge who knew games and were sharp enough that they got hired at developers as designers and learned the programming on the job. Guess what? They haven't quit despite the hours because they actually like their jobs.

But I guess in your simple view of the world, ALL companies only care about profits. Damn I wish I knew everything.

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9688602)

but junior programming jobs do exist. They do scripting, or menu implementation, or other such work. Hell, I know guys who started as testers with NO programming knowledge who knew games

And how long did they waste away as game testers making $10 an hour? I never see Junior programming jobs in the gaming industry advertised. Yes, maybe they are given to testers, but what do you expect someone who is a skilled professional programmer to do in order to "get in". Work as a tester for $10 an hour? That may be practical if you are like 20 years old. I hear about the practice of converting testers to programmers in the gaming world all the time, but wouldn't it be more effective just to hire good programmers?

Guess what? They haven't quit despite the hours because they actually like their jobs.

Wait until they are 30 and have a family.

But I guess in your simple view of the world, ALL companies only care about profits.

Nice borderline troll. Oh and yes, all companies care about profits, that is why they exist.

Damn I wish I knew everything.

Damn, I wish you knew something. Nice posting history by the way. Here is a hint, if you are a failure as a troll it's time to go kill yourself.

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (1)

Mike Hawk (687615) | more than 10 years ago | (#9713716)

And how long did they waste away as game testers making $10 an hour? I never see Junior programming jobs in the gaming industry advertised. Yes, maybe they are given to testers, but what do you expect someone who is a skilled professional programmer to do in order to "get in". Work as a tester for $10 an hour? That may be practical if you are like 20 years old. I hear about the practice of converting testers to programmers in the gaming world all the time, but wouldn't it be more effective just to hire good programmers?

How long did you waste away in college PAYING IN money only to come to slashdot and complain you couldn't break in? Seems like YOU made the wrong move. Its not more effective to hire junior programmers, they don't know shit about games. Like everyone else, they THINK they do, but they dont. You can teach programming, hell programming is easy, but you can't teach design and feel. Coming up through the ranks from within weeds out people like you who think they have the solution to everything.

Wait until they are 30 and have a family.

Ah, more assumptions. Man you're smart.

Nice borderline troll. Oh and yes, all companies care about profits, that is why they exist.

Well done. Nice mis-quote. You forgot to include "only" this time. I never argued that profits weren't a motive.

Damn, I wish you knew something. Nice posting history by the way. Here is a hint, if you are a failure as a troll it's time to go kill yourself.

Wow, just attacking the messenger now. Look, I'm sure you are frustrated because you aren't getting your dream job. Maybe you should change career paths. I know you went to college hoping to ride the dotcom bubble, but it burst. There aren't alot of tech jobs left. I hear home depot has plenty of attractive women working there. You should consider that.

And even if it is a troll, its a success since you responded.

moulah (1)

I judge you (796415) | more than 10 years ago | (#9689904)

I will leave alone the idea of someone named "JavaLord" commenting on programming in the game industry.

Lack of programmers who want in isn't the problem, lack of an ability to keep them in might be.

You are touching on an important point, but are missing the core: The pay is crap. Game programmers work startup-type crunches (sometimes for years) without the same dream of a payout as a reward. Working in the industry is supposed to be it's own reward, but that doesn't do it after you get a good idea of just how fucked up the biz is.

And so the best programmers are payed crap, despite being in a very competitive field with not nearly enough qualified people, because there is always some young fool behind you who is willing to pick up your rifle when you fall...

It'd be a lot better if:

1)there weren't so many hard core game idiots (with dreams of turning out more crap) dying to get into the industry in much the same fashion as the girls from oklahoma getting off the bus in hollywood.

2)game programming wasn't regarded as the most manly of the programming fields (along with kernel programming among slashdot losers) - then those macho retards would go somewhere else.

Re:moulah (1)

JavaLord (680960) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690377)

I will leave alone the idea of someone named "JavaLord" commenting on programming in the game industry.

And what exactly is wrong with the name "JavaLord"? Do you have some kind of preconsieved notion that Java can't be used to make games? If you do, it's sad you are basing assumptions on what Java was in 1997-1998.

You are touching on an important point, but are missing the core: The pay is crap.Game programmers work startup-type crunches (sometimes for years) without the same dream of a payout as a reward.

I wouldn't say the pay is "crap", game programmers make good money, especially when compaired to business application developers. I would say the pay is crap when it comes to pay vs work accompished and skill.

Working in the industry is supposed to be it's own reward, but that doesn't do it after you get a good idea of just how fucked up the biz is.

Agreed, I think people have this grand idea of game programming and how cool it will be until they end up writing some small piece of code in a game that no one will ever see or care about.

And so the best programmers are payed crap,

I don't think all the best programmers are paid crap, certanly the ones who are "name" programmers aren't paid crap, although most of them own their own companies.

despite being in a very competitive field with not nearly enough qualified people, because there is always some young fool behind you who is willing to pick up your rifle when you fall...

I'll agree with you there, I think game devolpers who work death schedules are underpaid, and that there aren't enough people qualified in the field.

1)there weren't so many hard core game idiots (with dreams of turning out more crap) dying to get into the industry in much the same fashion as the girls from oklahoma getting off the bus in hollywood.

It's kind of silly to think you are going to turn out "more crap" as a programmer nowadays odds are you won't be on the design team also unless you work in a small company. I don't think it's bad that "hardcore" gamers want in, I think it's bad when hardcore gamers want in that have no idea how to program. I learned how to program on the Apple IIC by taking apart other programs and learning from them. Was I able to program myself? Yes. Where my programs utter shit? Yes. There really is something to be said for learning to do things the right way.

2)game programming wasn't regarded as the most manly of the programming fields (along with kernel programming among slashdot losers) - then those macho retards would go somewhere else.

Geez, today is borderline troll day. :) Game programming is highly regarded, but in reality it depends on what you are working on. Sure if you are doing AI for some complex game, or writing a 3d engine it's hard. If you are making 'breakout' for a mobile phone, it's really not. You are right though, there is a notion that game programmers are 'the brightest' programmers.

java (1)

I judge you (796415) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690721)

And what exactly is wrong with the name "JavaLord"? Do you have some kind of preconsieved notion that Java can't be used to make games? If you do, it's sad you are basing assumptions on what Java was in 1997-1998.

A bit touchy are we? Java people are so damn defensive you'd think they are a minority. Now granted there *are* a lot of stereotypes... Unfortantely for you, most of them are pretty correct.

Before, I was unconsciously was thinking console and A-title PC game industry...

Re:java (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9692371)

A bit touchy are we? Java people are so damn defensive you'd think they are a minority. Now granted there *are* a lot of stereotypes... Unfortantely for you, most of them are pretty correct.

1/2 star troll on a 4 star system. You really need to work on your technique if you want to troll correctly.

Re:moulah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9694288)

Hm, where can i find a game company that pays me as much a i'd get as an application programmer? Not here in germany for certain!

Re:moulah (2, Insightful)

Joe5678 (135227) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690472)

The best programmers are not paid crap. Maybe by crappy companies, but most of the companies know what the really good programmers are worth, and the best programmers aren't going to stick around crappy companies for very long.

Mediocre programmers are paid a decent amount of money, but not when compared to some of the hours they have to work. Most of these are people who THINK they are the best programmers, but in reality only know basic data structures and algorithms and probably write code that is not reusable or documented well (although they THINK that it is both).

A lot of this stems from current Computer Science departments in Universities. These classes are 75% full of people who don't and probably won't get it. The other 25% (the mediocre programmers) look around and see how much better they are than everybody else, and assume they are friggin savants or something.

The unfortunate thing is that many of these mediocre programmers have the potential to be good/great programmers but they don't get the education and training they need. Instead they just get the idea that they are great and have no need to really learn anything advanced. In fact, most of them don't even know that advanced topics exist.

Re:Already addressed; Solution proposed (1)

Torgo's Pizza (547926) | more than 10 years ago | (#9691257)

Actually, I think if the the industry brought on more people from outside the gaming world, things might improve. I think that maturity and experience in other fields would influence the way management deals with programmers to a certain extent.

For example, it's no secret that management prefers to hire young programmers because they're single, cheap and for some reason like to work insanely long hours. Older programmers (from my time working in the industry) have families want to get their work done as soon as possible and get the heck out of Dodge and go home. Rather than goof-off playing games... er, doing research or surfing the web, more mature programmers are actively seeking ways to be more productive.

If I were starting a game company from scratch, I'd hire a good mix of younger talent and older programmers. At least there would be some sanity to spread around.

Yes about time (4, Interesting)

BlightThePower (663950) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687608)

I notice already a few comments along the lines of "thats just how software development is; specs change, shit happens". But this is true of any venture in engineering, even the arts. Its about time more emphasis was placed on trying to change things for the better. The software industries need for change is great; 80% of software is either late or fails to meet the initial specification. Its clearly unacceptable, as are the crazy hours demanded. Hopefully as we in the 2nd wave (really) of software development get a bit older it will be increasingly less than acceptable for team leaders to tell us we are 'flying to Australia' (presumably Aussie coders fly to Europe or else have a relatively cushy time!). What has to be lost is the frankly self-defeating and immature hostility towards management. Sure, bad 'PHB' management is the pits. But as anyone who has worked on a project overseen by a skilled leader will know, good management makes things an awful lot better than would otherwise be the case. A bad manager makes you work, a good manager works for you. Sounds trite, but I really do believe that.

Don't mistake this for crunch-time (2, Interesting)

quantax (12175) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687621)

The author's point is not that the games industry needs to eliminate crunchtime; crunchtime exists in almost any product-based situation, especially when it comes to computer products. Software development, games, and 3D animation are three that come to mind in that catagory and all of these require crunchtime when the deadline looms near. The issue here is mis-management from the start to finish, in which the project manager actually plans 12 hour shifts for everyone which naturally spills over sometimes to 14 - 16 hour shifts, that extra 2 - 4 hours going unpaid. We've all played video games and I think we can all tell when a video game was rushed to completion, Driv3r being a newer example; rushed games are obvious and the resulting morale drop from not only having busted your ass for the last 3 - 6 months on a game, only to be pressured by the publisher into a release date, then releasing an incomplete game which proceeds to bomb with reviewers as well as in sales. Whats the drive to really make an innovative game next time, knowing your publisher is going to knuckle you into the same situation again and again?

The big game publishers are reaching the point big music publishers reached about a decade or so back with music: their very presence hurts the overall industry due to their pump-em-out-n-release-an-expansion attitude, EA especially. Perhaps it is nearing a time where like-minded people need to stop buying games and their expansion packs from companies such as EA, Vivendi, etc. Now that it has become as popular as its music & movie siblings, we can expect more and more re-releases of games redone for new engines & systems, more (potentially crappy) sequels, and more branding (street fighter, resident evil, etc).

Re:Don't mistake this for crunch-time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9688003)

I think you are wrong.

Crunch-time exists because of deadlines. Who makes the deadlines ? You aren't farmers, who have to get the crops in by a certain week or they rot; you aren't fishermen, who have to catch their pay while the weather is good and the fish are there; you are entertainment publishers. There is no deadline in your business that you don't ultimately set yourself.

This even applies to the Christmas shopping season, to a certain extent. The companies referred to in the article don't come up with a great idea in June and bust ass to get it on the shelf by December; they work in time frame that allows them to obtain the "idea" ( movie tie-in, or other rights ) a good three years before they ship.

The solution is to make clear to your managers that after 8 or 9 hours of work in a day, your time is worth twice as much to you, and you are half as efficient. Of course, given the economy and other real world constraints, one can't often go about making demands. However, you have to figure out a way to communicate that to your managers, whether it is in an exit interview, or in a tactful conversation over beers, or whatever. Even if you decide you can't stop being an Organization Man, that doesn't absolve you of responsibility to make your Organization as good as possible.

Unpopular view. (4, Insightful)

PhoenixOne (674466) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687642)

By the post before me, I guess I'm the only game programmer who doesn't like working 90+ hour weeks.

Yes, I understand that overtime is needed at time. I really do love what I do, so I don't mind the all night code jams (which are only fun when you look back on them). What I don't like is the fact that many companies take advantage of this fact to set absurd timelines (I'm not going to name names, but they know who they are).

Add the extra 6 months. Need a new NFL game every year? Then hire two teams and give each a the time they need to make a good game. Not only will your employees live longer (and be happy), the end product will improve (remember less returns == more money).

Re:Unpopular view. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9702233)

Less returns!?!? Where can you do that? No company around here lets you do that anymore....

In other news... (-1, Offtopic)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687660)

The sky is blue.

IE has a new vulnerability.

Someone on ./ repeated the same joke.

Far more widespread.... (3, Insightful)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687883)


The problem is much more common and much more widespread than this.

A good friend of mine works for Motorola as a developer.
He is expected to work more hours than I would believe if he wasn't at work every time I call him.
He works nearly every weekend, all weekend, frequently comes home around 2-3am (gets to work 8:30am I think) on any day, etc.
ALL WITHOUT ANY OVERTIME OF ANY KIND!
He likes to say he's "allowed to work all the time".
I tell him it sounds more like he's forced to, but he corrects me on that saying it isn't true. When I ask him if he'd get fired if he didn't work those hours they're "asking" him to work, he says "yes" without hesitation.
Sounds forced to me.

He says that Florida has some law that allows this behaviour of "non-exempt" employees. Yeah, stupid term - I have no idea where they came up with it or what they are not "exempt" from.

Another example is my uncle... who works for NCR as a hardware field tech.
He works 2-4 COUNTIES away from his home, while people in those counties work in HIS.
He has also been forced (for years) to falsify his timsheets to show 40 hours, even though he typically works 70-90.
He also is forced to work 10 days, then take 4 days off (this would drive me nuts, but at least they give him time off, unlike my friend above).

Both situations are 100% due to poor planning by idiotic management (I worked in one of these companies for 8 years, I know).

This also shows that it is not only not limited to the game-developement world, but not limited to program developers.
This is a growing problem in this country, and it is due to our rewarding people based on their B.S. skills rather than their _real_ skills.
It's that way in big companies, and it's that way in our government.

Unfortunately, I have yet to hear of a way to remedy the situation... it's in our culture.

Re:Far more widespread.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9687981)

There is a solution. It's called unions.

"union member" doesn't have the cool vibe of "game developer" but, hey, they get home at 5:30 and raises every year.

There's a reason they were invented...

Re:Far more widespread.... (4, Insightful)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690505)


That might fly in Michigan (big union state, where I grew up), but Florida is a non-union state and very much a republican state... making such a thing practically impossible.

Unions go in both directions, so I have mixed feelings about them.

If there's work, great for every employee.
You always get a raise for hard work, but then so do the slackers that barely get their job done, so there's hardly an incentive to be the best.

If there isn't work, you are NOT allowed to compete and you starve.

My brother is an electrician in Michigan, and royally screwed lately due to the drastic cutbacks in construction up there.
He has to put himself on a waiting list... first-come, first-served.
If he tries to get a job without going through the union's waiting list, he can get blacklisted and will either have to change carreers or move to a non-union state.

At the same time, unions are practically required to keep giga-corporations from abusing their employees... hence the United Auto Workers.

I'm not sure where to find the "happy medium" on that topic.

Re:Far more widespread.... (1)

deanj (519759) | more than 10 years ago | (#9698990)

The biggest downside for really good employees is that they're reduced to the least common denominator when it comes to Unions. Did a really great job? Well, too bad...here's your Union negotiated raise, instead of the one you WOULD have gotten, which was much higher.

Not to mention that it'd be damn near impossible to fire anyone, for cause or not.

As for the giga-corps, I'd say there was abuse on both sides. Employees CAN because of unions, and they DO. They get CRAZY salaries, and short of commiting a crime they CAN NOT BE FIRED. If they stand around all day and you call 'em on it, the union stands on THEIR side, not on the side of "hey, actually do your job".

Either way, it sucks.

Re:Far more widespread.... (1)

CarrionBird (589738) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688393)

Does FL really have such a law? Or, is that just what the co. lawyers tell him?

Re:Far more widespread.... (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 10 years ago | (#9689921)

Yes, it really has such a law. In my company (medical field), all salaried employees are "Exempt" from getting OT...

Re:Far more widespread.... (1)

ronfar (52216) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690852)

Exempt is equivalent to salaried. Hourly workers must be paid for their time. (of course, they could be asked to falsify time cards, but that would actually be illegal.)

I'm only rarely called on to do massive unpaid overtime at my current job (here in Florida). Overtime pay doesn't exist as a concept at this company, but it is a comfortable job compared to many others in the area. At least here it only happens when somebody screws up and it will affect revenue. My old job was overtime every day, my manager expected it... of course I was getting paid better money (it was a boom, after all). I'm happier now.

Otherwise, I'd be thinking of a career change.

Re:Far more widespread.... (1)

deanj (519759) | more than 10 years ago | (#9698898)

You must be talking about Motorola in Plantation. They've done this for at least the last 20 years. No lie. You'd think with the change of upper management over the last couple of years, and the change of direction that particular plant has taken would have made a difference by now, but apparently it hasn't.

The thing is, back in the day, they tended to hire kids right out of college and work 'em to death just like you describe. After a few years, they figure out they're being taken advantage of, and most move on. I'd be curious if they're still using the same tactics.

Game development is very popular (4, Insightful)

EatenByAGrue (210447) | more than 10 years ago | (#9687902)

The real problem is supply and demand for workers. Many, many young programmers really want a career in game development. It sounds fun, exciting and creative. So there's always other programmers willing to step in and work for lower wages than what they'd be making doing mainframe apps or something. This creates some problems - wages are held down by huge labor supply, and the most experienced qualified programmers and project managers go to some other field where they can make real money.

Re:Game development is very popular (2, Insightful)

Jerf (17166) | more than 10 years ago | (#9690448)

Agreed; this is the root cause. Without the overwhelming supply, none of the other effects could ever happen.

For some reason, people think programming games must be fun, because playing games is fun. Really bad logic, and it leads a lot of people into career choices they will regret in ten years.

Yes, it is fun for some people, but as a job it isn't half of what it is cracked up to be. Part of keeping all your programmers working 80 hour weeks is so they never have a sane moment to realize how brutally they are being exploited.

If you really think you want a job programming games, may I suggest that you take a harder look at articles like these? They aren't flukes. That stuff will happen to you. Are you sure some other job wouldn't be nicer, one that might leave you enough time to work on a game on the side... or even allow you to find reasons not to want to work on games at all? (Squeeky squeeky squeeky...) If the only type of program you think you will be happy writing is a game, you aren't a programmer... and you're nearly 100% likely to learn that the hard way.

I hate the games:movies analogy, but (2, Interesting)

Colazar (707548) | more than 10 years ago | (#9691582)

this is one of the areas where it makes sense. Both indutries are intensely project oriented, and both are "cool" and "fun" , so workers are willing to work for peanuts to get into it.

What's interesting is that the movie biz is heavily unionized, so the movie studios can't really take advantage of the impulse to hire cheap labor and work them to death.

In response to that, the movie studios have had to develop project management down to a fine art, because that's the only way they had to cut labor costs. It has the pleasant side-effect of making it more cost-effective to hire talented workers and treat them well.

Things will only get better for game programmers when the gaming companies can organize their projects as well as the studios do. What will be interesting to see is what it takes to make that happen. Inefficient companies going out of business, and successful ones leading by example? Or external pressures from workers suing or organizing themselves? I'd believe either.

Call me crazy but (1)

Moo Moo Cow of Death (778623) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688126)

Isn't a good solution to most of these problems to hire more good quality people? The game industry JUST seems to be pulling out of the old "hire straight out of college" binge because with all the competition they're starting to see games flop...horribly. Does it cost more money? Probably. Will it save you money in the longrun? My crystal ball points to "You bet your ass it will". Quantity + Low Quality + Crunch Time Quantity + Good Quality + No Crunch Time

Game industry is the new record industry (2, Interesting)

CarrionBird (589738) | more than 10 years ago | (#9688448)

All the players being bought up by big labels. Dubious quality, workers and artists getting the shaft as a rule. Competition with the big boys near impossible.

Could apply to the music business or the game business. It's the conglomerates(sp?) utopia.

Isn't this OBVIOUS?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9689288)

" ...the insane hours game developers are routinely asked to work are might not be in the industry's best interest, and in fact might be less profitable than planning projects well."

Well DUH!!!

OMG! Member of games industry reads a book! (1)

startled (144833) | more than 10 years ago | (#9694182)

Looks like this guy, and some members of IGDA, might have read the Mythical Man Month, and perhaps even The Deadline [amazon.com] .

Come on. We should all know this by now. The extra hours are turning into people too tired to notice obvious defects, just plain crappy games, and an exodus of experienced people from the industry. It's not a shock-- the entire computer software industry knows this except, apparently, the people who run game companies.

Hell, they know it too. But then they fuck up their schedules, fail to design, hire rookies on the cheap, and try to make up for it all at the last minute when they realize "oh crap-- how am I going to make up for the dozens of major mistakes I made over the past 2 years, in only 4 months?".

The video games industry is notoriously bad at what it does. Eventually, it will stop sucking. It's clearly going to take a while.
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