Dead giveaway

I noticed something fairly obvious the other day. When interviewing at a company you may want to get an impression if that employer demands lots of unpaid overtime from his employees. Usually you won’t get a tour of the studio; that doesn’t seem to be the done thing in Japan. But if you’re lucky the way to the meeting room brings you along the work floor, in which case you should take the opportunity to take a quick peek at the desks of your possible future colleagues.

Don’t look out for bedrolls. They are quite common but not always used. I worked with a guy once who, in the three years he was my colleague, never once unrolled the sleeping bag that was permanently lodged under his desk, along with stacks of manga and empty Cup Noodle containers. No, check for mobile phone chargers!

A mobile phone battery, even if it’s gone wonky over the years of use, can at the very least last two and a bit days. Myself, as someone who makes a point of never staying overnight, always put my phone in its little cradle as soon as I come home and take it out the next morning before going to work. Game developers are not known for their social skills so it’s unlikely the younger employees will have a lot of people to talk to. These people you can ignore anyway. These are the ones who mistakenly believe working all hours of the night is acceptable, just because it’s the done thing and they don’t have wives to scold them when, or indeed if, they come home. No, you want to check the desks of married people, preferably with kids. From a quick headcount, a count I did in my head, I’d say roughly 30% of any average company falls in this bracket.

If these married people, people who theoretically have actual lives outside of work, are not home often enough to stop their mobile phones from copping out, they will be the ones with chargers on their desks, if overnight or late night stays are commonplace in that company. If you manage to catch a glimpse of the work floor try and spot these chargers. If of, say, for example, a 100 desks there are more than, on average, 10 or 20 chargers it means good people stay late or overnight far too often,

I checked this at our own company and the mathematics work out. Most of the colleagues that I know stay overnight on occasion had chargers on their desks. Some didn’t, but the people that never stayed overnight invariably did not have these devices. Thus, my theory goes, counting telephone chargers is a very effective way of gauging if your future employer will have unreasonable expectations regarding your working hours.

Alternatively you can try this easier method: ask yourself the question “is this a Japanese company?” If the answer is “yes” then expect to work silly hours. And buy yourself a second mobile phone charger.


  1. Good idea (very good idea), but not foolproof. In my company, communications within the building are all done on company-provided internal PHS (done, I believe, because cell-phone reception is bad, but companies can easily install antennas for internal PHS use). As such, everyone's phones (which look to the untrained eye like keitais) stay at work 24 hours a day (they are internal only PHS, with no outside number, so they'd be useless if you took them out of the building), and hence most people have a phone charger on their desk.

  2. Damn! Such an elegant and simple idea and already proven to be unworkable. :(

  3. Nope, won't work here either. I'm over 30, I have a kid (and life outside the office), I rarely stay at the office past 20:00, I spent maybe two or three Saturdays at work over the two years of our last shipped game. Yet my _only_ phone charger is in the office, not at home - the batteries can live through the weekend, and I'm much more likely to remember to charge it during the office hours when it rings more frequently.

  4. I have two chargers, one at the office and another one at home so I don't have to worry about when my mobile phone is going to run out of battery.
    We too have company-provided internal PHS so...

    sorry mate, :(

  5. Ha! This is really funny, but looking at the weeks that I've worked long hours, absolutely true. I always bring my charger in to work during these times, especially because it's an old 2001 phone and the battery goes dead easily. I never thought of it that way, but I'm one of those people. I'm single, but this is at a company that's focused on creating an environment for people who have families. God forbid we crunch again, I'll keep my eyes out.