Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Longer Hours, Threat of Unemployment - Welcome to IT

The NYT reports on Silicon Valley game programmers who are rethinking their place in the modern workplace. Long hours to complete projects, loss of benefits, and threats to relocate their careers overseas have raised the ire of employees, and caused some to ponder the effects of unionization. One Director of HR was quoted as saying that overtime pay will take employees, "out of a culture that emphasizes entrepreneurialism and ownership and into a clock-watching mentality," but the game industry itself is no longer the risk-rewarding entrepreneurial zone that needed bright and energetic programmers:

With few exceptions, industry executives and employees agree, crunching is part of a video game's life cycle - often a very painful part. Workers say they put in 60, 70, even 80 hours a week, with no days off, throwing themselves body and mind into the long march and in many cases fueled by caffeine or even stronger stimulants.

"It's soul crushing," said a senior executive at a small public video game company who has spent 10 years in the business. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he had watched developers become increasingly disillusioned. "This is much more of a mass-market industry."

Such toil is not unique to the video game industry. Lawyers crunch on the eve of a trial, as do investment bankers in the midst of a deal. But lawyers and bankers tend to be better compensated for their efforts than $70,000-a-year game programmers.

Game developers, though, once worked in relatively small companies and took enormous pride in the products they created. Now, amid a consolidation that has put the video game business in the hands of a few big public companies like Electronic Arts and Activision, and in which best-selling titles can cost $10 million to $20 million to create, many developers say they feel like cogs in someone else's machine.

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