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On hackernews and /r/programming I've heard several reports of how the games industry is incredibly harsh on programmers. Someone on this site also linked this blog post in an answer I read recently. According to various reports, programmers in the games industry are severely overworked. Perhaps not when working for small games companies, but definitely when working for places like EA(the place discussed in the blog post).

So my question is, why? I'm a developer for a large networking company, I sometimes work more than 8 hours a day, but I wouldn't dream of working 12 hour days 6 days a week like the blog post describes. I'd quit and move on without a second thought. Why does the games industry, specifically, have this problem?

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Because the deadlines are set by Marketing. –  user16764 Jul 6 '13 at 19:01
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impossible deadlines and very tight budgets set by the marketing department that doesn't understand the complexity, plus no shortage of new programmers coming in (games industry is seen as "exciting") that allows the employee turnover to remain so high –  ratchet freak Jul 6 '13 at 19:30
    
I understand the mistakes that the game industry makes, I'm asking why the games industry is the one that's allowed to make those mistakes. Why don't we see the same problems at other software companies? –  Nolen Royalty Jul 6 '13 at 20:17
    
@NolenRoyalty because the game industry is more visible in that regard, there are plenty of badly managed programmer devisions in the business world but no one hears about those –  ratchet freak Jul 6 '13 at 20:38
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How many of the reports were first hand? EA isn't the entire industry, but whenever I hear this kind of thing they're the only company that's mentioned. –  Peter Taylor Jul 7 '13 at 17:35
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up vote 19 down vote accepted

Everyone wants to make video games. It sounds awesome. This creates competition among prospects. The employers set the conditions of competition, which in this case has turned into a "who can take the most crap" competition.

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Yup every programmer wants to make video games. supply and demand. –  Doug T. Jul 6 '13 at 23:49
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This is just a theory, but I think it is due to the compulsive nature of games and gamers. They love to play games for hours on end and they're creating a product that has a goal of the user being engaged as long as possible. My guess is people in the movie and music industry run into similar hours.

Try to imagine someone who creates business software having a strong desire to add as many features as possible because they would be disappointed as a user not to have them. As a networking software developer, do you come across hundreds of ideas in the form of, "You know what would be cool?" How many places do you get that kind of passion?

Product Release Fanfare - there is such a cult-following and they are in the entertainment industry, so I think they get caught up in the release drama. When you make the hype so big, you just have to get it done if it kills you. There are other kinds of software that have this, but not like gaming. Having enough time to burn disks has to put some pressure as well. Not a lot of other software is distributed by disks anymore.

Check out this movie. Indie Game, I don't think this only applies to big companies. It's the nature of the beast.

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  1. Games are written on a prospective basis - it is hoped that people will pay to play.
  2. Games don't make money until they hit the shelves - a delay in shipping can kill (and has killed) development companies or publishing companies.
  3. Games are surprisingly low-margin - the retail price is split between the retailer, the software company, the publishing company, and in the case of consoles, licence fees. There's advertising, shipping, salaries, and rent to pay for - plus stockholders want some profit.

Most other software (not all, but most) is written on a contractual basis - there is a business user who wants it, or a number of business users who will pay some money up front for it (like how MS and Apple got starter money in the 70s and 80s). This means that the client can be charged for milestone deliveries - unlike games.

That said, the abundance of programmers who want to get into the industry means that games software companies can suffer surprisingly high rates of churn in their staff.

Games developers themselves can take some of the blame - I know a few, and at the start of a one or two year game project, they're playing around, trying cool stuff, and then end up in 3 months of crunch development. That's more of a cultural thing - it's rare to see this in business software companies that run on fixed shipping dates - they tend to have rigid schedules for research and development. Other companies that have a "ship it when it's done" culture, like Google or Valve, are different again. If they're good, and get the balance right, all the cool stuff makes it into the final game. It doesn't always work out, though.

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