Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: How Much Work and How Much Play?

Erin Hoffman | 21 Sep 2007 21:00
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In defining company culture and separating quality of work from quality of life, one of the sharpest issues of contention is the subject of internet access, and what level is optimal.

My first encounter with the internet issue was, it might seem strangely enough, via one of the "Kudos" posts on Gamewatch. The thread was titled "Big Up for Relentless Software," Relentless being one of the new growing game houses out of Brighton, U.K. Contrary to their name, if there was one thing the studio wasn't relentless about, it was work hours; according to the poster, these were the studio "rules":

  1. You check in at 9, we kick you out at 5. Have a life.
  2. When you're at work, you give us 100% of your time.
  3. No internet in the office, except through public "research" terminals. And honestly, exactly how much research do you really need to do in a working day, hmmm?
  4. Real bonuses, real time off, real tangible rewards for success, partners always included.
  5. Teams ship regularly on hard, 6-week milestones, defect free, delivered in person to the publisher.
  6. Don't take the piss.

This was the first of the Gamewatch forum posts discussing the internet issue, and it unwittingly set off a quick series of discussions not just in that thread but in others across the site as to how much internet access was the right amount.

Fundamentally, this issue gets down to the question of how much "culture" we as game developers want in the workplace. Project managers understand that this is a slippery issue, because the more time people spend on personal stuff at work, the grayer the area between work time and off time becomes, and therefore not only is productivity more difficult to track, it's more difficult to enforce. The slippage works both ways, and one of the major dangers of descent into deathmarch is the then necessary intrusion of personal activities - paying bills, doing laundry - into development time.

Game studios run into this problem more squarely than other forms of software development, both because the very creative nature of what we do requires a certain pull from real life (frequently filtered through the internet) and because many game programmers will argue that being able to stop and take a break actually assists in productivity.

How much of this is legitimate theory, and how much is malleable habit? Studios that have tried the all-work style have found it effective, and some of their developers have been among the most vocal in speaking up in favor of their employers.

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