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Getting out of the industry?

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Hi all. I'm a regular contributor to these forums but for (hopefully) obvious reasons have opted to be anonymous on this post (since it could adversely effect my current job situation).

I've been in the industry for a few years, having worked on numerous large and small titles. I've done a lot of both low level (systems porting, OpenGL, D3D, on PC, mobile, and console) and high level (game logic, etc) work, and certainly enjoy doing systems/architecture work.

However, I've found that although I do love working on games with both the freedom to be creative in solutions as well as working on interesting projects. I also certainly enjoy the culture (and the lack of cubicles at some companies) and the flexibility that comes with it.

There is one thing I hate, though, and I don't think I can deal with it anymore: crunch.

There have been projects where crunch has been mandated (or has been "voluntary") for months. Sometimes there are periods where this doesn't happen. It is beginning (heh, 'beginning') to adversely effect my health, my relationships, and the volatility of my personal time (of which I am becoming very protective) is extremely stressful. Simply put, I don't want to live my life this way. I have no desire to slave away 60-80 hours per week of my life for someone else's profit - I feel as though I'm driving myself into an early grave, and am doing less with the shorter life I have as a result. It isn't just a few projects - it seems to be endemic and planned at this point. At this point, my wife already wants me sending out resumes. I've also spoken to people at other companies, and this doesn't appear to be unique to where I work.

 

On the flip-side, as I said, I love the general culture. I don't like the culture of 'corporate' style companies. I don't want to be doing the exact same thing day-in, day-out (such as at a bank or something similar). I certainly don't want to move - where I live now is my home. The game industry isn't particularly strong here, either.

 

So, what can I do here? I sincerely enjoy what I do and where I work, but I feel that they ask far too much and I simply cannot sustain it any longer. What would be a suitable industry for me to move to? Should I (and if so, how should I) share my concerns with management?

 

Help!

Edited by BlueWizardo

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Does every single person at your workplace work that much?

Sounds like you could just ask them if there's any way to get out of overtime, as it's important for your wife. I think most people will understand that.

I assume they at least pay you for all the hours you work, in which case it shouldn't be that big a deal for anyone if a few people skip the crunch, probably a lot of people that are new to the job who like working overtime to get some extra cash.

Otherwise just apply to a bunch of other jobs and say that during the interviews, that if you have to work overtime several weeks at a time it will be a problem for you.

Edited by Erik Rufelt

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For the most part, yes, everyone is expected to contribute. I happen to have a somewhat specific skillset which isn't common, so I end up being expected to work more to get certain things functional.

 

There is, of course, no legal requirement to pay programmers overtime in the US.

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There is, of course, no legal requirement to pay programmers overtime in the US.

 

Not sure what that means, do they or do they not at your particular workplace?

If they expect you to work more because of a "specific skillset" and actually end up only paying you 65% of your negotiated salary per hour, then it's certainly time to find a new job. In addition you might have a pretty good position for negotiations to improve your situation.

I would recommend getting one or two job offers at other places, and then either just quit, or if you're feeling hopeful ask for a serious salary increase and max 48h weeks or something like that to stay on.

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Are these salaried positions or paid hourly?  I currently work in luxury hospitality and salaried positions are expected to work a minimum of 55 hours per week, so it is not just game industry specific.  I see a trend in a lot of business that they think the can tell their employees to work as much as they can and not expect people to look for work elsewhere.  Is work life balance not something that is embraced anymore?  If these are hourly positions I would think they would have no trouble getting people to work overtime.

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There have been projects where crunch has been mandated (or has been "voluntary") for months.

Keep in mind that it may be worse where you are, but it isn't restricted to the games industry. We had a lot of crunch last product launch - my team basically didn't sleep for three months, all the way up through the 1st and 2nd tier managers.
 

Where I'm from, overtime has to be voluntary, it has to be paid at double rates, and you have to be given an equal amount of time off in the future to recover. Failure to follow these guidelines results in a $30k fine per instance, for running an abusive workplace.

Sadly, the US doesn't work that way. Programmers are almost universally salaried, to avoid having to pay them overtime, and you are expected to work however long it takes to "get the job done". Pretty much luck whether you land on a team which can correctly budget their deliverables, and if the requirements change last-minute, you'll crunch regardless.

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1. What would be a suitable industry for me to move to?
2. Should I (and if so, how should I) share my concerns with management?


1. We can't answer that here. That's for you to decide, based on what's in your area and what fits with your personality and interests and talents.
2. You absolutely should. As for how, do it by presenting facts and not emotion. It is a fact, for instance, that you are considering leaving the industry. (But why you would leave the industry when there are anti-crunch companies I don't know.)

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So, what can I do here? I sincerely enjoy what I do and where I work, but I feel that they ask far too much and I simply cannot sustain it any longer. What would be a suitable industry for me to move to?


Honestly? Games. Try a different company. Some crunch near endlessly, some only crunch around major milestones, some barely ever crunch at all. As another poster stated, _every_ computer industry job you might get runs the risk of crunch, ranging from a little to lots. If you want to really avoid crunch, it might be time to learn some new skills and exit the software development field entirely. I hear Starbucks is hiring. smile.png

In my humble arrogant opinion, endemic crunch occurs because not enough staff are willing to say no to abusive working conditions, unless their colleagues are already doing so. Without a union movement to present a unified stand, or other role models to lead the way, it's hard to be *the guy* who takes a stand.


Unfortunately, the options are often "meet the publishers' schedule that we don't have the time or budget for, or shutdown the studio and lay everyone off." Sure, it's quite possible that this is because of managements' bad scheduling and negotiation, but the end result is the same: deal with it or be out of a job.

Where I'm from, overtime has to be voluntary, it has to be paid at double rates, and you have to be given an equal amount of time off in the future to recover. Failure to follow these guidelines results in a $30k fine per instance, for running an abusive workplace.


... is this Melbourne? I'm now really regretting not taking advantage of any Melbourne-based job offers... ;)

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This is why I prefer to keep gamedev a hobby.

 

Generally those with no commitment,  young people who are unmarried and are without kids are less likely to complain about excessive overtime and abusive working conditions and generally this is the demographic associated with gamedev true or not.

 

Have you considered going full indie,  self employed? That way you might crunch and you'll work hard long hours but you'll do them in the comfort of your own home around your wife and in a less stressful environment... 

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I have been threatening for years to pitch a "How to Break Out of the Game Industry" panel for GDC.

 

When I decided (because, bluntly, the continual crunch burned me out) that it was time to leave the game industry, my path out was actually the fact that I had built a lot of tools for game development over the years. Look for points of congruence between what another part of high tech needs and what you have done in games, and take advantage of the halo effect that "professional game developer" has in the eyes of some people looking to hire, and find your way out.

 

Do you need to stay in your local area, or are you willing to relocate? Who do you know outside of games but inside of high tech? What sounds *interesting* to you as a career path to take? Where would you ideally like to live? What sounds like the most interesting thing to work on? Big company or small company, you ideally want someone you know and who knows your skills to be walking that resume in the door.

 

Start looking now. Write a resume for outside the game industry, and tune it and the cover letter for every job you are looking for. You just need to find the right position, it is going to be out there.

 

I will disagree with Tom, I would not have this discussion with your employer. When you have your next position lined up, give them two weeks notice. Having a discussion with them about it is far more likely to have your employment ending on their timetable rather than yours.

Edited by Dave Weinstein

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So, I guess I'll weigh in.  I left the game industry after almost a decade.  You can find plenty of places outside of games that have interesting problems to tackle, and have a good culture amongst your team.  Along with better pay, better hours and better benefits.  Just go try the big tech companies, they tend to hire game programmers.  So Microsoft, Google, etc.  (Disclosure:  I work for MS)  One way to do it is to try to get hired for a MS game studio, then transfer.  Worked for me.

 

I would most definitely not talk to your employer about the crunch issues.  If you are part of one of those companies that abuse their workers with 'voluntary overtime' repeatedly, they really don't care, and once you are a known troublemaker/discontent, you'll just be more likely to find yourself laid off, and I've always found it easier to get a job when I've had a job.

 

That said, there are good places that don't crunch, or at least pay overtime crunch.  California these days, after that last big lawsuit years ago, all the big companies there pay overtime.  Blizzard, EA, and Activision all do.  Has the side effect of hitting companies in the wallet, so they tend to not do it unless they have to.  (The smaller companies do not, however, nor do small second-party studios)

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also certainly enjoy the culture (and the lack of cubicles at some companies) and the flexibility that comes with it.

 


On the flip-side, as I said, I love the general culture. I don't like the culture of 'corporate' style companies. I don't want to be doing the exact same thing day-in, day-out (such as at a bank or something similar).

 

Your idea of corporate culture is way off.  I work in finance institutions, investment banks and large news agencies.  There are no cubicles,  you can wear what you want,  there is free beer, fruit, pizza, doughnuts, coffee.  There is a book allowance,  you can choose your equipment (mac , PC, iPhone etc..), there are ping pong tables,  there are paint balling trips,  office nerf fights.  There is also very little crunch, the salaries are 2 to 3 times the salaries in the games industry and the is a lot more job security.

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also certainly enjoy the culture (and the lack of cubicles at some companies) and the flexibility that comes with it.

 

 

 


On the flip-side, as I said, I love the general culture. I don't like the culture of 'corporate' style companies. I don't want to be doing the exact same thing day-in, day-out (such as at a bank or something similar).

 

Your idea of corporate culture is way off.  I work in finance institutions, investment banks and large news agencies.  There are no cubicles,  you can wear what you want,  there is free beer, fruit, pizza, doughnuts, coffee.  There is a book allowance,  you can choose your equipment (mac , PC, iPhone etc..), there are ping pong tables,  there are paint balling trips,  office nerf fights.  There is also very little crunch, the salaries are 2 to 3 times the salaries in the games industry and the is a lot more job security.

 

It depends where you've worked. I worked for a company where everyone (even senior leadership) had cubicles and a strict dress code.

 

Generally speaking, the Business development (I do financial processing/Eviction automation) side of things has a much healthier lifestyle though.

 

Where I work now, I'd say on average we get free doughnuts/bagels twice a week. Employee birthday cakes every week at least, free coffee, no crunch (Actually optional. As in not required, or expected). Life activities like hiking, paintballing, a yearly simon says company wide competition.... All of that stuff is pretty standard in business dev though, honestly.

 

Compensation is obviously better than game dev, so when you transfer out, try to get at least 25% more than what you're making currently.

 

On the fulfillment side of things, you'll never be doing the same thing in business dev. Really. Businesses are always advancing and creating new features/reworking critical logic. Where I've been working the past year, I've launched 3 new products with maybe 10~ hours of overtime, which was optional and rewarded with a gold star on my office (lol), and a starbucks gift card.

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If you look into getting into mobile or web development( facebook and such) crunch time is a lot less as release dates aren't strict and such. I used to work for places where crunch time was every 4-5 months and it would last for 3-4 months. Last two places I worked at only had to work overtime a total of maybe 10 days and that was me volunteering because of critical issues.

It all boils down to where you work.

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Every studio is different, every project within the studio is different, every team within a project is different. 

 

I've been at terrible places where crunch is mandated and happens every few months.

 

I've also been at wonderful places where crunch is unknown. 

 

I've been at places where there was no "corporate culture", ask people about company activities and they'll look puzzled, wondering if you mean daily standup meetings.  

 

I've also been at places with 3-hour lunch parties every month, movie screenings, BBQ, plus every single Friday the studio gave donuts in the AM and beer o'clock in the lunch room in the afternoon.

 

As for pay, while the game industry also tends to pay less than other industries, usually as software developers our pay is far above the average non-programmer wages. Since there are no unions that negotiate salaries on your behalf, your salary is whatever you negotiate. At the entry level people are terrible, they beg for the job for any money, and are often willing to take far less than the employer is willing to pay. This attitude harms everyone, devalues what companies are willing to pay.  Fortunately after a few years people wise up and often start to demand a more reasonable salary for their skill set. Some of those negotiate the salary within the industry, others leave the industry and get it elsewhere. After about 5 years -- at least in my location on the globe -- if you aren't making six figures it is your own fault. Sadly many people never demand it, and companies won't give it if the developers don't demand it.

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The game industry, even at the top end of programmer salaries, does not pay competitive wages compared to the rest of high tech.

 

It's simple economics. There is a talent oversupply, and that depresses salaries.

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Aside from the well known big Silicon Valley companies, you can try to get hired at SpaceX. They appeared at previous GDC's and are really seeking game developers to work for their flight software, especially if they are good at low-level programming. They take their work seriously, but also pride themselves in standing out from the older, more bureaucratic aerospace companies which they argue are a lot slower in testing and validating software.

Edited by CC Ricers

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It's a tough thing realizing that what you thought you loved, isn't for you.  I can only suggest working in environments where crunch is the norm, so you can develop techniques to handle it more effectively.  Or working/moving somewhere where the pace of life isn't so insane.  I worked in TV for many years, crunch is a way of life there.

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Aside from the well known big Silicon Valley companies, you can try to get hired at SpaceX. They appeared at previous GDC's and are really seeking game developers to work for their flight software, especially if they are good at low-level programming. They take their work seriously, but also pride themselves in standing out from the older, more bureaucratic aerospace companies which they argue are a lot slower in testing and validating software.

 

 

From what I hear, SpaceX is not a place to go if you don't like crunch. Check the reviews on GlassDoor and look at what they say about the hours...

 

OP, there ARE game companies that work without crunch and have flexible hours. Keep looking until you find one - or start one.

Edited by Oberon_Command

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Hi all. I'm a regular contributor to these forums but for (hopefully) obvious reasons have opted to be anonymous on this post (since it could adversely effect my current job situation).

 

Hmmm... regular contributor with 2 posts? Or is this your 2nd account? (I believe this is prohibited?)

 


There is one thing I hate, though, and I don't think I can deal with it anymore: crunch.

 

Crunch is not that bad everywhere. You seem to be depicting a situation much similar to south-west USA.

My area isn't particularly fond of overtime nowadays (most businesses have been shrinking hours the past 5 years, and it is not uncommon to get a 37.5h week).

 


What would be a suitable industry for me to move to? Should I (and if so, how should I) share my concerns with management?

 

Programming is used in many industries. I have seen many transit to non-game related software (either large 'services' or government systems, web companies, e-marketing, digital strategy companies with hosting solutions, etc.) Any company that needs strong IT support is likely to need good programmers. Of course, much of your experience may not translate well (everything related to game development and more often than not, any 3d experience for example) but they will certainly appreciate your logical approach to problem solving which, in essence, is much similar.

 

As for sharing your concerns, I've always kept a fairly transparent approach with my management wherever I've been, and more importantly when discussing with other companies (I never want it to come as a surprise). The intent is not so much to get a new offer from them (that's a bit lame) but to get a bit more clarity from high management's goals for mid/long term which sometimes help making big decisions ("will crunches go down?" in your case, would be a relevant topic of discussion).

I've rarely seen any form of management pre-emptively fire someone because they shared concerns. Rather, I feel that good upper management likes this type of information as it gives them clarity for planning reasons, etc. It's also good feedback to get better. Of course, their business model may required this form of crunches, or you may yet hear from them that they're tired of it too and that it is the result of issues they are trying to fix (something along the management pipeline is preventing them from making adequate evaluations upfront which results in unnecessary crunches).

Personally, I think that 50h/w for 4 weeks is just about the most a crunch should be (allowing you to finish things properly without having any justification to 'hire someone'). Everything beyond that could've been avoided earlier with more hands on deck (unless the critical path didn't allow you to split the project this way, in which case the timeline might have been at fault).

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Really, I think most roles that interract with the customer have that kind of insane scope creep of useless features.

 

Completely depends on the customers/management.

 

Where I work, we make the client give us a mockup fo what they want. We give them a wireframe, they accept/reject it with changes, and once it's accepted, we start work. Any changes to that (Besides small change requests, really) require additional money in the contract.

 

We did have 1 project where the scope nearly trippled in size on the front end side of things, and later this year, they're going to approch us about a "version 2" of it.

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