Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Game Industry Overtime

“Don’t you know we’re trying to burn the candle at both ends?”

It’s ridiculous how producers seem to think they can get away with torturing their own development team, and then somehow, miraculously they’ll make a great game from nothing. It starts with them telling people to get their work done, no matter what it takes. In most cases, getting your work done just means fixing bugs and “completing” tasks, but as everyone in the industry is aware, this does not usually equate to a fun game. So any game developer with a conscience who doesn’t want their name going on a box filled with steaming dog shit will make some extra effort to perfect whatever it is they’re working on. This takes some extra hours and though in most cases the production staff will never SAY you should work late, you inevitably MUST work late, and they know this (and abuse it).

They don’t seem to understand that it’s against the law because those very same developers almost never get paid overtime. You would think the EA and Blizzard lawsuits would have shored up this little bit of industry idiocy, yet it still continues. Perhaps a few more lawsuits are in order? Maybe so…

Regardless, the development team puts in the extra effort, stays the extra hours and gets the job done (usually right depending upon how late they had to stay up to do it). Now when you stay up late, you’re going to sleep late, it’s only natural to assume this. Unless you happen to be a complete moron, or in this case, a producer on a video game. You see, they seem to think that despite your many hours of unpaid overtime working late into the night and occasionally early morning, you must still get to work on time the next day (sometimes the same day) and warm your damn chair even though your zombie like visage would clearly indicate that no productive work could possibly get done without another 2-3 hours of sleep.

Yes, back in “the day(TM)” the development team might crank through work for 48 hours straight by drinking mountain dew and eating twinkies, but as it turns out it’s NOT HEALTHY nor does it necessarily make for a good game. As anyone with half a brain knows, working late into the night stimmed up on caffeine makes you more likely to make POOR decisions as opposed to good ones. Is it any surprise that work checked in past midnight rarely ever comes through without some sort of grievous error that wrecks the game horribly? It shouldn’t be… And of course because they were out so late, the developer is sleeping in now and everyone is held up unless someone else knows how to fix that error. It’s a vicious cycle because the later you stay, the more mistakes you’ll make, and the earlier you’re required to come in the next day, the worse those mistakes will be. People need sleep to function well, it’s a fucking fact.

Wouldn’t it be smarter to schedule things out such that no one ever needs to work any overtime? I’ll pause here for the collective nodding of heads from anyone who is an actual developer of video games, were it to make a sound, no matter how slight, the world would have just been deafened.

Of course, there’s always the naysayers who will tell us that you can’t possibly plan for everything, but the fact of the matter is that the JOB OF PRODUCTION IS TO PLAN FOR EVERYTHING! Yes, your job, as a producer is to PLAN OUT EVERY ASPECT OF PRODUCTION! If you do not do this, the failing is not on the development team for not working ridiculous hours, it is YOUR failing for not producing a proper schedule for them to follow. That’s why I’m of the personal belief that overtime pay should come from the producer’s salary… You know, incentive… I suppose that’s a foreign concept to a lot of game studios, but incentive is what you want to give people so that they will want to work overtime to make a great game. Taking away game playing during lunch and after work does not make a gamer want to make a great game (and it can actually reduce their ability to make a great game as they fall behind on the latest and greatest titles). Of course, taking away their SLEEP is fundamentally retarded from any perspective and a sure sign that you won’t have to worry about their schedule for too much longer as they’re probably staying up extra late now to work on their resume…

What I find most ridiculous on the production side of things is how they can never seem to take your word for how long it takes to do something. Unless I am mistaken, a producer is not an artist, a programmer, or a designer so they really should be relying on people in those fields for the time line on how long it takes to complete their own tasks. Right?

Yet, inevitably, they always take whatever time they are told by those experts of their own fields, cut it in half, shave off a few hours to make it fit on their excel sheet, push it a week forward so it lines up properly with their subheading title, and then make sure to overlap it with 5 other tasks that are all dependent on the same group of people such that even with a time machine and an instantaneous cloning device there is little to no hope of ever completing any of the tasks by the date they have been set for completion.

Add on to this the producer’s inability to complete the calendar chart of work tasks before the tasks are set to begin and you have to wonder how they ever thought that the developer would be able to complete a 12 day task they just learned was due three weeks ago.

It seems so simple, yet it’s rarely done (I’ve personally seen it done once, maybe twice in almost 10 years of game development), but when you are building your schedule, use the time estimates that the people who must complete the tasks gave you. Do not “adjust” them based on your idea of how long it “should” take because you really don’t have any idea or you’d be doing their job. In fact, if anything, you should be ADDING time to their tasks because as we all know, those times will blow out as unforeseen factors come to light (broken tools, broken computers, broken hopes and dreams).

Even if you are one of those producers who happens to have some experience in another field, you still must trust their estimates because between tool changes and everyone’s individuality (that’s right, individuals can take different amounts of time to complete the same task) they still know better than you how long it will take to do their work.

posted by CommanderHate at 2:52 pm  

4 Comments »

  1. I do miss you and your constant hate. This blog represents EVERY single game developer and thus, they all should “applaud in your general direction”… and like you suggested, line up their resumes and lawyers…

    Comment by Holly Jacobs — January 23, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  2. Interesting that it’s always the Producers fault! Even the best laid plans, and schedules, can be torn to bits when the designers realize their designs are bad! Or worse yet, when others realize the designs that were implemented turned out terrible and a complete rework is required. How many times have designers created their own crunch periods because what they thought would work, didn’t? I think a designer who makes something crappy, then complains about working overtime to fix it, deserves to have to pay for their mistakes, not the Producer.

    Comment by The Evil Producer — January 31, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  3. “Or worse yet, when others realize the designs that were implemented turned out terrible and a complete rework is required. How many times have designers created their own crunch periods because what they thought would work, didn’t? I think a designer who makes something crappy, then complains about working overtime to fix it, deserves to have to pay for their mistakes, not the Producer.”

    The mentality that “the best laid plans” will yield the same results once they are implemented shows a lack of understanding how games are actually built. Game design is an iterative process, schedules and plans should account for this and steps should be taken to ensure that plans are proven in game before being fully committed to just because they look good on paper, anything else is putting the cart before the horse and setting yourself up for failure.

    Comment by Trowsa Snake — January 31, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  4. This is not so black and white, and trying to find “fault” just makes things worse, on both sides of the fence.

    During development it becomes the designer’s responsibility to make a good game, and in order to do that multiple iterations are always required. On the other hand, it falls to the producers to get the game out on time and on budget. Note the suspicious lack of “on time” in the designer’s role, and “good” in the producers role. This creates an adversarial relationship, and production suddenly becomes The Man. As this continues you start to see trends of more dishonesty between the two camps. Design will grossly pad their time estimates, because they expect the producers to halve those times when they schedule. Production pushes “internal deadlines” up weeks before the actual deadline, expecting design (or the team at large) to slip. All of this results in no one truly trusting anyone else’s word, and the cycle spirals downward.

    I see this over and over, and I don’t know exactly how to fix it. One thing I think needs to happen is that schedule makers need to learn that game development is fundamentally chaotic. To create anything will always take longer than it appears at first. The reasons for this are vast, but are largely tied to the whims of technology, and the elusive nature of ‘fun.’ Add to that the fact that the most solid, proven way of making something good is to iterate on it, a lot. That means tearing to shreds work that was already done, but it is required if you truly want to make anything of quality. To make a schedule that has any hope of looking realistic for longer than 78 hours these things need to be much better understood than they generally are. And on the design side, I imagine a little more professionalism would no doubt pave the way for more civil relations. Designers need to realize that the project has to move forward at a certain rate, or the whole team is in jeopardy. When things get bad and production is acting like The Man, then design no doubt starts to see itself as The Talent. But no matter how much we would like to think so, we are not rock stars, but paid professionals, and could probably try acting like it.

    Comment by Blackshirt — February 1, 2008 @ 2:14 am

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