Global Game Industry News Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Update: Crunching at Insomniac...

Thanks to Raoul over at Inner Bits for a recent blog post he made, which reminded me of a February Kotaku post that shows precisely what's missing from measures like those which indicated Insomniac is a "top" place to work:

Inner - Overtime
As previously discussed in the Game Developer Manifesto, the systematic, generalized recourse, on the part of industry employers, to sustained unpaid overtime remains one of the most reprehensible practice affecting game developers. By sustained we mean more than a few days or a week at most. While some relative progress has been made since EA_spouse (and the subsequent legal action, this recent Insomniac Games article serves as a stark reminder that the practice remains entrenched.

Excessive, uncompensated overtime drains talent away from our industry, hundreds if not thousands of skilled workers giving up on their professional passion, yet it persists, on a large scale.

Kotaku - Feature: Industry Lifestyle Drives Insomniac Dev East, Far East
2005. Insomniac Studios. Ratchet Deadlock was having its final touches applied, and Resistance was nearing the end of pre-production. Chris Pfeiffer, Gameplay Director at Insomniac and Max Garber, System Lead, were all busted up. Exhausted. Pfeiffer remembers it, none too fondly, as an "endless sea of work". Deciding a break was in order, the two decided on a trip to China.
Finding himself trapped in a seemingly infinite cycle of long days and working nights, Pfeiffer began to question the sanity of an industry that relies on work conditions rarely seen elsewhere in the Western world.

"There's something fundamentally wrong with an industry when making games is so expensive that the pressure to push your staff to their individual breaking points is completely understandable, if regrettable", he says.

Pfeiffer believes the games industry, as a business, needs to grow up. "It isn't the days when Atari programmers were going catatonic at their desks, but people haven't been able to wrap their minds around the fact that individuals are internally self-throttled" he says.

"When people work 16 hour days weeks on end, you may get 12 hours of work done on the first day, 10 on the second...but eventually the effective work completed per day drops below a standard eight hour day".

To be fair to Insomniac it's an industry-wide concern (recent EA and Activision lawsuits only serving to highlight this), but when nearly every major studio is forced into these conditions by the external pressures of the business, what you gonna do?
He soon learned that China has laws in place that make such work conditions as he was enduring at home illegal. Work days there can be no longer than 11 hours, and employees are only legally allowed to work 36 hours of overtime a month.

"There are places in the US games industry where the base work week is 50 hours and that doesn't even start to account for the extended periods of 'crunch time", he says. "In China, you couldn't legally run a shop that way. And heck, who wants to live their lives that way?"

Not Pfeiffer, and not his friend Max Garber either. So in 2006, with Resistance finished and the two fed up with the conditions they'd suffered getting it there, they decided to pack their bags, depart Insomniac and form their own studio.

Where? Where else? China.

Pfeiffer is at pains to stress that it's not Insomniac themselves that caused the move.

"Ted [Price] is an exceptional person and phenomenal CEO...we have learned a lot from working there"

But at the same time is insistent that "there's a better way to work, and live, than the way western studios currently operate".
"The industry is full of explorers, adventurers", he says. "We haven't had to 'sell' the idea of moving to China. People are drawn to it. It's been surprising how many industry veterans have offered to join us so far".

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