The (Ex) Tester - Attack of the Spouses

 

This week we had a group of games industry employee wives make a long complaint about the working conditions that there husbands have to go through in the name of getting a game out the door. This time it is Rockstar who are in the firing line as these complaints stem from their San Diego office, currently making Red Dead Redemption. The response to this from various corners of the internet can be summed up in four main categories.   

1.        The industry veterans who nod their heads wisely and talk about the great crunch of 03.

2.        People who say it is the nature of beast and it is the only way great games can be made.

3.        People who are denying there is a problem.

4.        Guys trying to get into the industry saying “OMG these guys are really ungrateful, I would totally work 24/7 if I had the job”

My reaction is a little from column 1 and a little from column 2. True, it is pretty much the way things are at the moment and I can certainly remember working loads of late nights in the run up to a game release. Of course at this point we don’t even know if this blog is true but at lot of what was written does ring true and there is no denying that this sort of thing happens.

How this happens is quite easy to see, the demand for jobs in gaming is huge. When any development and QA job can be filled in a matter of days and those replacements will be eager enough to do just about anything (see column 4) it can be hard to have any leverage. Also the release schedules are pretty crowded. When I worked in gaming crunch time was common but you got a lengthy break from the action to recover. Now as soon as a game is done a programmer is likely to be working on another title or DLC the next day. In those circumstances

But it doesn’t have to be this way at all.

Since I left the industry one thing that interested me is the fact that people actually listen to my feedback and the feedback of developers. At the company I currently work at, the project kicks off with the project manager starting a collaborative process with the developers. The dev guys tell the manager how long it is going to take and a compromise is reached involving the release date, QA are involved in this process as well. This means that before a line of code is even written, there is a set of objectives that have been agreed by all sides to be achievable. The games industry is not like that.

In gaming the release date is set by marketing and the big cheeses. This decision is based around shareholders and advertising. The chances are that Dev won’t be a part of the decision making process until it is too late to change it and as for QA, forget it. This date will not be based on anything concrete like number of features but on things like when it will sell the most. This will of course put a tremendous amount of pressure on these people as they are expected to deliver but what can they do? Any questioning of the date will simply result in them putting their jobs at risk and it will likely be ignored anyway. In these cases working 18 odd hours a day is the only solution as the blame will fall (unfairly, in my opinion) on the developers if the game is shoddy.

There was a game I was testing on that was coming close to release but had some problems. We asked for the release date to be pushed back but the response we got was that marketing (who hadn’t played the game) didn’t want the date changed because it had to be released that quarter (the shareholders had been promised several games released that quarter and this was one of them). 
 
Will better planning eliminate crunch? No, crunch time is inevitable for all but the smallest projects. Will it stop stress and burnout? Probably not. But it will at least keep those to a minimum and bring some dignity back into the games industry.

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2 Comments
Posted by raiden2000

 

This week we had a group of games industry employee wives make a long complaint about the working conditions that there husbands have to go through in the name of getting a game out the door. This time it is Rockstar who are in the firing line as these complaints stem from their San Diego office, currently making Red Dead Redemption. The response to this from various corners of the internet can be summed up in four main categories.   

1.        The industry veterans who nod their heads wisely and talk about the great crunch of 03.

2.        People who say it is the nature of beast and it is the only way great games can be made.

3.        People who are denying there is a problem.

4.        Guys trying to get into the industry saying “OMG these guys are really ungrateful, I would totally work 24/7 if I had the job”

My reaction is a little from column 1 and a little from column 2. True, it is pretty much the way things are at the moment and I can certainly remember working loads of late nights in the run up to a game release. Of course at this point we don’t even know if this blog is true but at lot of what was written does ring true and there is no denying that this sort of thing happens.

How this happens is quite easy to see, the demand for jobs in gaming is huge. When any development and QA job can be filled in a matter of days and those replacements will be eager enough to do just about anything (see column 4) it can be hard to have any leverage. Also the release schedules are pretty crowded. When I worked in gaming crunch time was common but you got a lengthy break from the action to recover. Now as soon as a game is done a programmer is likely to be working on another title or DLC the next day. In those circumstances

But it doesn’t have to be this way at all.

Since I left the industry one thing that interested me is the fact that people actually listen to my feedback and the feedback of developers. At the company I currently work at, the project kicks off with the project manager starting a collaborative process with the developers. The dev guys tell the manager how long it is going to take and a compromise is reached involving the release date, QA are involved in this process as well. This means that before a line of code is even written, there is a set of objectives that have been agreed by all sides to be achievable. The games industry is not like that.

In gaming the release date is set by marketing and the big cheeses. This decision is based around shareholders and advertising. The chances are that Dev won’t be a part of the decision making process until it is too late to change it and as for QA, forget it. This date will not be based on anything concrete like number of features but on things like when it will sell the most. This will of course put a tremendous amount of pressure on these people as they are expected to deliver but what can they do? Any questioning of the date will simply result in them putting their jobs at risk and it will likely be ignored anyway. In these cases working 18 odd hours a day is the only solution as the blame will fall (unfairly, in my opinion) on the developers if the game is shoddy.

There was a game I was testing on that was coming close to release but had some problems. We asked for the release date to be pushed back but the response we got was that marketing (who hadn’t played the game) didn’t want the date changed because it had to be released that quarter (the shareholders had been promised several games released that quarter and this was one of them). 
 
Will better planning eliminate crunch? No, crunch time is inevitable for all but the smallest projects. Will it stop stress and burnout? Probably not. But it will at least keep those to a minimum and bring some dignity back into the games industry.

Posted by fugie7

wow it sounds like being a q&a tester is hard but interesting work. do you have any tips for a person that wants to go into it?  what type of education do you need?