Itâ??s been almost five years since EA_spouse first cast the games industryâ??s working practices into the spotlight, but how have things changed since then?

Burn out: The Develop Quality of Life survey

Almost every person reading these words won’t need much of an introduction to the working woes of today’s game developer. Making a game takes a hell of a lot of time, money, and hard work – more so than ever before.

The spotlight has been thrown on the quality of life debate more so in the past few years than ever before, thanks in part to the passionate plea of ea_spouse and her detailed description of the damage crunch can cause.

The other factor in the industry’s recent push for a more sustainable working environment comes from the fact that everyone’s growing up – or, more appropriately, growing older. The people who were once happy to work through the night on two or three day benders are those who now have wives and kids that they want to get home and see. Suddenly, priorities change: life isn’t just about work any more.

And yet, for all of the belief that things are changing, it still seems that many are unhappy with their work situation, as demonstrated by the recent furore surrounding the IGDA, and specifically the comments from Epic’s Michael Capps on how the company expects people to work 60 hour weeks.

Those comments have been sadly misinterpreted – while Epic does expect staff to work longer hours, it makes that expectation clear from the outset and awards its staff with bonuses that exceed their base salary – but the fact that it caused such outrage is testament to the fact that the problem is far from solved.

So, in order to see how the situation has improved in the past few years – and, indeed, quite how far it still has to go – we launched our online Quality of Life in 2009 survey. And you answered in your droves. Without further ado, here’s what you said…


Where do you work?

[img :628]As expected, over half of respondents came from the UK. Almost 20 per cent came from the US, however, with Europe accounting for another 13.5 per cent. As such, it’s a good spread that can give us a fair overview of the worldwide situation

What kind of company do you work for?

[img :629]What’s surprising here is how many more of respondents came from independent developers as opposed to publisher-owned studios, especially given the spate of publisher purchases last year.


How many hours do you work per week, on average?

[img :630]The significant majority of people work between 40 and 50 hours a week; a range into which the national average falls. A couple of people did admit to working more than 80 hour weeks, however, while almost 18 per cent worked less than 40 hours, which is encouraging.

During crunch, how many extra hours a week do you work, on average?

[img :631]It’s a fairly even split across the different answers here, with the majority falling between five and 20 hours extra per week. Quite a few people said that it amounted to over 30 hours extra, however, which is a significant increase. Once again, though, it’s reassuring to see that 13.4 per cent of people do not work crunch at all – that’s a result we’d have expected to be much lower five years ago.


[img :632]The real story here is that, while people tend to be largely in agreement on the answers to these questions, there are a few that divide opinion. Whether or not they are paid adequately for their work caused a quite even split of opinions, with only slightly more feeling that they weren’t. A similarly divisive question was the one regarding whether their workplace had a good attitude to HR, which again saw quite an even split across the agree/disagree boundary.
The surprising results were that 65.7 per cent of people felt that their projects weren’t scheduled adequately, and 77.6 per cent felt that crunch was not necessary to make good games, despite that being an often-cited reason for not overhauling QoL.
More worrying was that 66.4 per cent of people believed that crunch had negatively impacted their health, and that 82 per cent felt they were crunching because of unrealistic expectations placed on them – an overwhelming majority that proves the industry still has room to grow.


[img :635]It’s encouraging that over 40 per cent of respondents receive private health care, and over 35 per cent get pension contributions. Although game development may be guilty of eating employees’ time, the perks received are very possibly beyond many other ‘regular’ jobs. Many of the Other answers regarded regular or irregular monetary bonuses, although the frequency and amount of these ranged. Some mentioned that bonuses had been frozen this year due to the worsening economy. Many also stated that they received time off in lieu, but whether this matched overtime worked or was only a small percentage varied.


[img :636]It’s interesting to see the difference here, especially as publisher-owned studios sometimes get a bad rap. The hours worked were roughly the same, too, although five per cent more staff at indies worked less than 40 hours, and almost 15 per cent didn’t crunch at all, compared to 8.6 per cent for publisher-owned studios. The mode crunch hours worked was lower for publisher-owned, though, at five to ten hours (cf. ten to 15 hours for indies).


[img :637]Our results show that staff in the North get more monetary bonuses, whereas people in the South get more peripheral bonuses. Also worth mentioning is that southerners are much happier to talk about crunch (53.7 per cent vs. 38.5) – guess we are really softies after all. The North was more in favour of regulation by trade bodies, though.

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