"I could make more money, live in areas with a better cost of living, and work less in another industry," says Stephen House, a Software Engineer who works for game titan EA in Los Angeles. "It's fair, no doubt, but I turned down money to be here."

The average entry-level programmer in 2005 was paid $52,989. According to a similar report on the mainstream from Computerworld, a low-level mainstream system programmer started at $59,658 in 2001.

Programming is also far and away the highest paid entry-level position in the game industry. New artists can expect a salary of $45,675.

Game developers also have to deal with the reality of deadlines and large overtime demands.

Michael Kimball, an Emmy- and Academy Award-winning sound editor, currently serves as the Studio Audio Director for Midway Games Los Angeles. He explained how typically people at his studio work 45-hour weeks, at least until "crunch time."

Crunch time is an industry term for the last few weeks, or months, before a product ships to stores. This is when the title has to be completed by a certain date no matter what. To ship an incomplete or bug-ridden product could sink a game. In an industry where many smaller studios rely on success to fund the next project, crunch time means job security.

"It takes what it takes to get it done," Kimball said simply.

While most developers would not say exactly how much extra time is typically required, Sanya Weathers summed it up. "Everyone puts in overtime. Sometimes a lot of overtime."

The amount of time the typical videogame production demands can be a major hurdle for new recruits. What's more, almost all industry jobs are salaried, with no extra dollars for those who stay late. All they earn is their continued employment.

In 2004, the issue of extreme work hours became national news when the spouse of an EA employee posted an anonymous online blog that explained exactly what was expected of her husband.

"The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm - seven days a week - with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm)," wrote the blogger who went by the pen-name "ea_spouse". [Read "EA Spouse" Erin Hoffman's followup on working in the industry in this week's Escapist HERE]

A few weeks before, EA had been accused of similar abuses in a class action lawsuit filed by some of its employees. The suit was eventually settled.

Despite the drawbacks, no one interviewed was unhappy with the career path they'd taken.

"It's work, and a lot of it, but Jesus, I talk about elves all day," laughed Weathers. "I'm surrounded by people who like all of the stuff I like."

Comments on