EDIT 2011-10-11: Michael Pachter has issued an apology for his statements and says the situation was “embarrassing, especially with overworked employees left unpaid”.
Well done guys
I read this article today, Opinion: Crunch is avoidable by Charles Randall, and that made me want to write about this as well. It was written as a rebuttal to statements made by Michael Pachter claiming that “Unpaid crunch deserves no sympathy” because “it’s part of the games industry”. The article is well written and has some very good points, but I wanted to take it a little bit further, as I think there are more sides to it than the ones Randall covers.
First of all I think Randall is too nice on Pachter. When Pachter says that you shouldn’t complain about unpaid overtime because it’s “part of the industry”, he’s basically saying that you shouldn’t complain about being oppressed if it’s a common problem. Isn’t that saying that if the problem is serious enough, then it’s OK? That doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. Unfortunately I think there are a lot of developers out there, not just in the games industry, who think that they have to do free overtime, because everyone else is. He also says “game development tends to remunerate staff, often lavishly so, through bonus schemes”. Now, I don’t have 12 years of experience from the industry like Randall, but I’m pretty sure that I know that’s simply not true. Like Randall points out, there are loads of games companies that never make any profits and where the developers risk getting the sack any moment either because of this lack of profit, or due to the company being bought or changing strategies. Another factor here is that salaries in the games industry are notoriously lower than in all other IT industries.
What Randall mainly talks about is the cause of crunch. He’s saying crunch only takes place so often because of bad planning which is in turn caused by the immaturity of the games industry. This seems to fit perfectly with my own experiences, and when both managers and developers realise this they can work together towards eliminating bad planning and get better products delivered on time. One thing Randall only touches on briefly, is that this isn’t only beneficial for the employees/developers, but also for the managers and the business. This is something I think the maturer parts of the IT industries have realised and they know how to get the best out of their employees. They realise that what they need are clear headed, enthusiastic, bright minds working on their products in a thorough and organised way. They don’t need tired, depressed, apathetic employees who are more likely to make mistakes and will probably stay with the company for shorter periods.
When Pachter mentions bonuses as a way to compensate for unpaid overtime, this again seems too familiar. Using “performance based” bonuses this way seems to devalue the bonuses. They are supposed to be awarded for performing well – hence the name, but now they are just given instead of paying for overtime. And in many cases they don’t match what would have been paid if the overtime had been paid for in a conventional way. I might sound bitter, however this isn’t something that has happened to myself, but I know of people who are working under such conditions. I know there are some who burn so much for what they do that they will gladly spend every waking hour at work. This shouldn’t necessarily be forbidden, but even the most enthusiastic employees can be demoralised when their extra effort becomes expected and unrewarded.
What is the justification for expecting people to do extra hours for no pay? As I see it, there’s a very simple equation of work put into the company and value coming out. When extra work is put in that should equate to extra value of the company or product. The people who did the extra work should be the first to be rewarded for this. If a certain deadline is important to make for the business, then the people who make it happen should be the ones to reap the benefits; not just the share holders. Once this becomes apparent, I’m sure the businesses will learn to plan properly as there would be a direct financial cost for them to let crunch happen.