Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Via the incomparable Alice, I ran across this post on Boing-Boing, which highlights a game industry executive who talks about how his company has a corporate culture of 60+ hours of work. The comment thread is the best part. Very serious and well informed comments all around, I think.

However, I have to say that 60+ hours a week is for pikers. I have personally been in the room when Eric Schmidt, President of Google, bragged to investors that their employees worked 100+ hours a week.

In case my tone of voice isn't obvious, I don't particularly approve. First of all, this all works because salaried employees are classified as "exempt" under the law. This means that the company does not set their hours, only their tasks. The strictest reading is that an employer can't tell you to show up at 9am, or 7am, or to stay until 7pm. But they are creative, aren't they? They find lots of ways to send the message that you aren't keeping up.

This focus leads to other management decisions. The executive quoted said that they made a conscious decision to hire only people who will work those kind of hours. This means, to me, that they will hire only young people, predominantly male, who are single. They have no life, and nowhere to go except to work. In short, age and gender discrimination are the tools of this trade, not to mention discrimination against those who are married and have children.

It's also true that young workers don't tend to be terribly efficient workers. And the managers that have the talent to both be technically credible, and have the people skills to train those young people and turn them into efficient, happy workers are rare, and thus expensive. So the easy thing to do is just hire them, and make them work long hours on "death marches". After 5 years or so, most of them will burn out, but that's ok, there's always a fresh crop of rubes, er, young new developers.

And this cultures promotes a certain kind of incompetence among management. Management doesn't need to figure out how to use its labor force effectively since there's no dollar cost associated with it. Whether they are slack or on a death march, the budget shows the same amount. If you can't measure something, you're not going to improve it.

I have personally spent the occasional 100-hour week. I don't object to it, when it makes sense. But a culture of having no life but work is unsustainable for most of us. There are clearly executives who can do it, I can't. I had a heart attack a few years back. (Yes, even high elves with fabulous red hair can have coronary artery disease) At which point I realized that if I want to live to be 4000 years old, that stuff just had to stop.


Blogger Joshua said...

This is one of the great things that I love about SOE: Nearly every one of the almost 200 weeks I have worked there has been 40 hours. Only around expansion launches (or the occasional push to have a new feature out) has overtime even been a thought. This was very important to me when I was considering SOE as an employer; I'm a family man and expect to be able to spend valuable time with my wife and kids. Now that I'm in management there, I let those above me that this is what I expect for those who report for me and so far it has worked out pretty well.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Toldain said...

You know, Joshua, that just reinforces my thoughts on the matter. My perspective is that there are few companies that have mastered the release process the way y'all on the EQ2 team have.

You have pushed out what, 5 expansions and 51 Live Updates, in addition to hotfixes. There have been a few of them that have been shaky, but that doesn't happen much any more.

Blizzard has comparable quality, but nothing like the quantity that you guys do.

And you do it mostly within a 40 hour week. That takes focus and determination, and speaks well of the company leadership.

4:49 PM  

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