Examining Quality Of Life In The Games Biz

Obvious sentence of the day: It takes atomic tons of effort and man (or woman)-hours to build a game. The game industry may have a bit of a checkered history with the "QoL" or "Quality of Life" issue, but since the infamous ea_spouse dished on her husband's seemingly-endless eighty-five hour work weeks in 2004, the industry seems to have been taking a closer look at its practices.

A new Gamasutra feature on games industry quality of life asks, "Does Anyone Still Give a Damn?" On hand to answer the question is Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), the workers' organization that followed up the ea_spouse scandal with a QoL survey in an attempt to improve the landscape.

Four years later, what's the state of things now?

Electronic Arts, the publisher-accusé in the ea_spouse controversy, just as recently as this week included a "significant improvement" since 2004 on its employee satisfaction survey as part of its annual financial results announcement.

In the Gamasutra feature, ea_spouse herself, freelance game designer and writer Erin Hoffman, agrees that the situation's gotten better at EA:

"I think EA is tremendously reformed, having made some real strong efforts to get the right people into their human resources department," she says.

But the quality of life issue was far from being only EA's problem. Industry-wide, is this progress enough?
Now, says Della Rocca, "every studio head, every producer, every HR person is keenly aware of this quality of life issue, of this working conditions issue and, believe me, none of them want an EA_Spouse to surface in their company."

As a result, he says, the number of companies being proactive and deliberate about QoL has increased substantially. "But the issue hasn't disappeared, that's for sure," he says. "The average developer at the average company is still overworked, underpaid, and doesn't have the right tools or training."


Della Rocca told Gamasutra that his Association is making slow progress in developing a set of standards, as, ironically, it requires a lot of the Association's constituents to donate time away from their jobs on a volunteer basis. So while there are improvements, Evan Robinson, an author and consultant on the subject of industry quality of life, contributes to the conclusion that there is still a ways yet to go:
"I have a developer-friend in the business who spent about two months of required evenings and weekends last fall," Robinson recalls. "And though that is less common than it used to be... and is far from the incredibly egregious long-term crunch that Erin [Hoffman] described... it still occurs. We've made dramatic improvements, but the problem has not gone away, regardless what anyone says."

Quality Of Life? Does Anyone Still Give A Damn? [Gamasutra]