The IGDA and QoL

Few subjects are as contentious amongst developers, staff and management alike, than “unpaid overtime”; it’s sadly an issue that still divides, and about which more has been written, argued the toss about and discussed with less possible hope of an outcome than the Israeli-Palestine question. Game development being a highly creative industry staffed by motivated and, frankly, obsessive talent the idea that overtime is absolutely required if one is to develop a decent game is sadly still prevalent. Ignore scheduling issues, if the staff isn’t willing to kill themselves for the good of the project no good games, some say, can ever be made. Management obviously thinks unpaid overtime is great for business, squeezing free man months out of staff while conveniently ignoring century-old research that pretty much proves that overtime turns to negative productivity. My personal views on the matter should be obvious by this opening paragraph alone, but for every lefty liberal socialist like myself there is a raving workaholic who will come with plenty of counter-arguments. So, we look at some representative body to take up the issue, and as game developers we have, sadly, only one of those: the IGDA.

Recently somewhat of a storm has erupted when the IGDA, which claims it champions “QoL” (Quality of Life) for its members, ostensibly developers, had a roundtable discussion at the IGDA Leadership Forum 08, “Studio Heads Hotseat”, where a board member, at the time, boldly claimed:

there's a lot of talk, "oh you can make great games working 8 hours a day 5 days a week, it's management's fault if they work more than that," fuck, it's management's fault for hiring people who want to leave at 5pm every day is the way I look at it
-- Mike Capps, President, Epic Games
Video here.

This, in turn caused somewhat of an uproar on the IGDA feedback forums and a very lackluster, non-committal response from the board.

The story drags on quite a bit, and rather than recounting it here I suggest readers to watch the videos and follow all the links in the forums and the IGDA website. The long and short of it, though, is that the IGDA, the only spokesgroup our industry has really managed to create basically has very little it does for the lowly developer, seeming to be more in line with the management ideas for which us developers exactly need an organisation to protect us from.

The overall usefulness of the IGDA is also an issue many developers can’t seem to agree on, with some local chapters actually being well-run and offering a lot to the local members, yet others being pretty much useless. So far I have been a paid member, a token of support for the idea alone, as I was never in a real position to devote myself to the organisation in the form of tangible help and commitment; sadly a common situation for many developers. After this QoL debacle, though, I have decided to let my subscription run out after which it shan’t be renewed. We desperately need an organisation to protect the interests of developers, and the IGDA has sadly proven itself to be somewhat of a lame duck in this regard, peppering their site with splendid ideas and research, yet not being able to even stand up to its own board of directors when they blatantly and openly defy the very principles it is supposed to uphold.

These mundane issues, readers, are what keep developers awake at night. I’m sorry it’s not as sexy and academic as ludological narrative philosophy, but we are people after all, people stuck in a industry so mired in the 80s bedroom coding scene that it never found the time to grow up.

7 comments:

  1. In my games biz career the number one cause of overtime (unpaid, of course) has been avoidable management screwups by middle or senior people. Things like not assigning enough programmers to a project, so it can't be finished in normal hours.

    Maybe Epic Games only recruit people who want to do a lot of overtime and maybe they pay their staff proper compensation. That doesn't mean everyone else should work the same way.

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  2. I've seen overtime happen for many reasons. Sometimes its management screw ups... sometimes its employees taking it easy between 9 and 5... sometimes employees bite off more than they can chew, and commit to things that cannot be delivered.... sometimes management just pushes too hard for new features... sometimes hardware turns up too late.

    There are many reasons why overtime happens, and I can't fix all the problems that will ever be encountered on my team.

    But I can tell you one thing. I won't be working for Epic Games or joining the IGDA any time soon.

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  3. I would sign up for Epic in a second except I don't want to live in North Carolina.

    They make great products. They pay awesomely.

    The problem is not Epic or their attitude. If you read the Gamasutra interview with Mark Capps, the guy that made those statements, he points out that the bonuses at Epic are more than salary. So, the rant above is irrelevant. Epic doesn't have "unpaid overtime" they have "highly paid overtime".

    My take on the topic is there are 2 classes of overtime and the people arguing for less are generally of type 1 and the people arguing that it's needed are generally of type 2.

    Type 1 is JC Barnett's experience. In the past he's on projects he really doesn't care about. He's not being paid well for his time and certainly not for overtime. His manager makes bad decisions that waste his time as well and expect him to give overtime for free to make it up.

    I have another friend that worked at a company that pretty much just made licensed products for movies much of it arguably shovelware. There products were okay but they weren't products of the team, they were products of "we need to have something by the time this movie ships so stuff the main character in a generic platformer and ship it" type of thing.

    For people in that situation, overtime sucks.

    Type 2 is people like those at Epic. They are working on great products they personally care about. They love spending time working on them. They make often personally make the commitments, not management. They are personally responsibly for the design and they could cut the design to ship with less work but they, the team, not management decide that they want all these features or xx number of levels and so they bust their ass to get it all done.

    Those people have much less issue with overtime if at all.

    Then the two come to forums or conferences and duke it out effectively speaking right past each other.

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