Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

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

Erin Hoffman | 29 May 2008 23:00
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Fear Culture and Blacklisting

"No one would take legal action out of fear really. It's a small world in video games and no company wants to hire someone who's been splattered over the news papers for taking legal action against a developer for doing exactly what everyone else is already doing; overworking their staff...In truth, it would take a massive joint effort which (in these days) could easily be done virally online. Though most developers would sooner just replace you with the next hungry sucker than listen to what you have to say."

There have been, in fact, been numerous lawsuits concerning overtime against all of the major developer-publishers, but this comment reflects a very common perception among developers that still hasn't changed. What I would say to these developers is that a company that will refrain from hiring you because you've defended your legal rights is not one that you want to go anywhere near with a twelve foot clown pole. If anyone should have been blacklisted from the industry over troublemaking, it's me, and the job offers didn't cease or even trickle once I went public. It is still the case that talent and skill trump politics in this industry, and I hope it always is.

Despite the overall litigious nature of the American public as compared to the populations of other companies, an unfair stigma against filing labor-related lawsuits exists in this country. The facts of the matter are simple: Businesses rely on the law in order to function, society to provide their marketplace, and labor to generate their product. EA, Sony, Microsoft, and all of the rest rely on legal protection to safeguard their businesses, protection that they are not at all shy in seeking when it comes to defending what is legally theirs. It is simple hypocrisy for them to resent game developers, or anyone else, for doing the same.

Company Culture

Discussion of company culture is a core quality of life issue, and arguably, from a developer standpoint, a question of finding your perfect game culture match; the Inside Job has previously discussed a theory toward cultural 'types' in development studios.

"I work in the "trenches". I think the games industry as a whole has a lot of really unprofessional people working in it across all disciplines. On one side of the coin we might say it helps us to be creative if we keep extreme flex hours, have lots of toys in the office, play games at lunch that regularly extend back into work hours, etc.. But the other side of the coin is that these things make us all less efficient. They set up an environment where it seems ok to come unprepared to meetings, or even show up late. I'm not saying Soviet era strictness needs to be the norm, but we should definitely be making more efficient use of our time. If we set up a professional work environment we'll not only be more efficient, but we'll taken more seriously by production, and management."

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"Interesting article.. Anonymous (above). You mentioned your 'not popular' opinion but in some ways I might agree. I've always been a, 'sit down, work, then go home' type of person. I don't even smoke to cut out those wasted 15 minutes on the hour spent away from my work. Though I enjoy gaming immensely, I don't think it's the most productive in a workplace. I actually have no problems with the younger guys gaming through lunch (and often a little over) because they stay in the offices til 2am to make up for their lack of experience and wasted time in the day. What bothers me only is when management will group guys like me with guys like them and expects me to work til 2am even though I've been at my desk for 9hrs already."
-- Benjamin Quintero

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"In response to the 12:45 anonymous and Benjamin:

You're both right, there is a lot of unprofessional behavior from people in games. But does the chicken come before the egg? Maybe some people don't put their nose to the grindstone because they know that no matter how hard they push themselves or how ahead of their schedules they get, they're still going to be asked by management to come in on Saturday?"

The discussions on company culture continue and will continue into the future. Mainly, from a broad standpoint, this is an issue of identification. What's important is not that different methods work for different folks, but that we currently lack a clean means of identifying company culture prior to entering into that work environment. Ideally, this is done during interviews with the company one is wooing, but frequently developers find themselves surprised by company culture and standards once they begin the actual work. Too much of the gauging of a variety of company attributes is done through word-of-mouth, and this is one reason why most industry jobs are achieved through connections; there's a certain effectiveness in allowing the social networks of individuals to shape hiring, because it utilizes the intuitive engine of individual personalities to determine compatibility. In short, if I like a work environment, and we're close friends, chances are higher that you will like my work environment.

The problem with this is that it is both xenophobic - oppressive to those breaking in and to parallel talents from outside the industry deepening our pool - and inefficient. There's no pat solution now, no way of categorizing game studio cultures - but it's a direction worth considering.

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