If you think the conditions developers are working under now are bad, imagine what they were like 16 years ago. Actually, don’t imagine it, you could just read this account of what it was like making the classic Battle For Middle Earth instead.
EA’s RTS is one of the best licensed games of the last 20 years, but this account of the game’s development on the Washington Post is some harrowing reading, both for the conditions the team worked under but also the way it was just accepted and totally normal at the time.
At EA Los Angeles, days off didn’t necessarily exist, and hours were fluid. “In general, it was made clear to us that the bar for not being at work was high — you couldn’t just be sick or want a vacation,” one team member, who held the title of project manager, wrote. Typically, a morning meeting happened around 10 a.m., and a gameplay test came around 10 p.m. Both were required, so everyone stayed.
“We were living there. People had sleeping bags next to their desks,” McCarthy explained.
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“I remember one weekend when we suddenly had to phone everybody at home to get in the office. There’s big changes ahead. Then they sat there for hours, waiting to be assigned something to do while the execs holed up in a conference room and tried to figure out what they were doing. A young woman, really talented, who was on the art team, quit and she said to me, ‘You know, this isn’t the life I want. I want a normal life.’”
The team expected to work like this for six weeks. They ended up doing it for six months. Sure, the game came together in the end, did well and led to a sequel that was even better. But was it worth that kind of treatment for a team of talented people who just wanted to make video games for a living?