MMO Business Roundup: EA Spouse 14 years later, PUBG poaching from Riot, and Funcom financials

    
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Welcome back to another edition of our informal business roundup, where we wedge all the fun MMO industry tidbits that pile up in our newsroom.

Remember EA Spouse, the EA developer’s wife whose initially anonymous article busted open the doors on EA’s culture of abusive crunch back in 2004? Rolling Stone’s Glixel blog (via Gamasutra) has a 14-year retrospective and a sum-up of the state of “crunch culture” since then. Intriguingly, EA Spouse herself – Erin Hoffman-John – declined to comment much on how she got the ball rolling, but other developers gave Glixel conflicting accounts. Some believe that EA has made an attempt to change and is no “worse than anyone else,” while one producer scoffed at the pushback against crunch, calling it a “disruption.” According to him, hustle is just the patch to greatness.

“If you think you’re going to do anything great in life, it doesn’t happen in 40 hours a week. It just doesn’t. You don’t get great at anything doing what everyone else does. You get great by spending more time doing it than everybody else does. EA Spouse was frustrating to a lot of us because for me it came from an area of if you want to be doing this, then let’s do it, but don’t complain about it.”

Bluehole’s PUBG Corp has apparently poached a Riot Games exec. MMO Culture reports that PUBG Corp snagged Riot’s Jung Hyun Kwon, who’d been the managing director of e-sports for League of Legends (and logged time at the Korean branches of EA, Vivendi, and Blizzard). He’ll be Chief Marketing Officer for PUBG Corp.

And finally, Funcom is doing a Q&A on its Q4 2017 financial report this afternoon at 2 p.m. EST (as this roundup goes live). We’ll be keeping an eye on it, as the MMO playerbase is interested to hear about the state of Secret World, the upcoming Conan Exiles launch, and the reveal of a new game slated for tomorrow. You can watch that below.

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Jack Pipsam

I remember the Halo 3 behind the scenes disc had a segment on crunch, naturally still being PR for the game, they focused on it being more a mad-house of wacky hi-jinx during crunch.
But I always remember one comment which was this dev sleeping on a couch, a developer commenting something like the lines of “Crunch is the couch of divorce” as well as showing all the free-meals Bungie was giving to the staff for breakfast/dinner and all this stuff about how they needed to do weight checks now as they were spending too much time at the computer because of crunch.
Then then showed this doom clock to when the game has to ship which loomed over the producers desk, it seemed like madness.

This is why I don’t mind games being delayed, although sadly studios also just seem to treat crunch not as the final minute dash towards release as it should be, but half if not more the bloody development process.

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Byórðæįr

The crunch is usually a result of two things, one running out of money, the publisher says you have not hit milestone x, and if the game does not hit milestone x+2 it is canceled and the studios try to finish as much as possible and ship the title before it gets canceled. The second is people inherently in this country come into work spend two hours checking email that are not coming in do an hours work then take an early lunch, then at 3pm try to get the days tasks done and rush out the door at 5pm into the drive home in grid lock. What many people in the usa are finding is leaving a bit before rush hour the two hour communte takes twenty minutes, the office is at a dull roar at most and you get two hours of work done while fresh. At which point you have gotten more done than when you are watching the clock to go home. you have hours of actually work done by 11am you have a nice lunch you go back to work at noon to go home by 3pm to miss the rush hour or you start at 10am and go home after rush hour ends. you end up working less hours and get more done. I saw it work in los angles at several companies that used the crunch method before talking to someone. I showed people at Disney by actually pushing through the incidents in the morning focusing on work until the fifteen minute breaks then walking over to the areas away from the desks to chat and reading books on my phone or playing games for fifteen minutes when I went back to the boring incidents my focus was on the incidents instead of what the guy next me played the night before at the roulette table. I took a two hour lunch due to the attorney rules, did two hours of work in the afternoon and still completed ten incidents for every one processed by the employees brought in by playdom. I was localizing incidents in fifteen languages on a daily basis and if I had been chatting swapping languages would have had me puking in the bathroom, but in the afternoon by working hard in the morning when you are fresh if you joke around those lost hours actually hurt the companies bottom line far less. The crunch maximizes the hours you make mistakes in. Meaning after ten hours of thinking work the mistakes increase a ten fold of what you make over the course of a normal day. It is inefficient to work those hours.

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Armsbend

You gotta break up your comments with paragraphs man.

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SilverWillow_Sogboggen

Many industries, not just gaming, present this sort of challenging choice for engineers involved in actual development and production. Time is always the resource of greatest scarcity. As the release of a new product or model looms, pressure ramps up, whether management has planned well or not.

This pressure is adrenaline – at times, for some. All “lesser” life games, i.e., responsibilities, can feel pale and dry for a season. Never forget, in this “flow” it’s about a lot more than money or moving up in the promotion ladder.

However, many industries have had decades to develop their rhythm and systems of compensation and trade-offs for their salaried folks. Some companies within an industry are much better at it than others. Mismanaged companies don’t tend to endure unless they are “bailed out.”

However, the gaming industry is so young and evolving so rapidly, it’s just crazy, and hardly a surprise that there is a lot of discomfort, unhappiness and anger. At the the end of the day, the individual developer, and his/her family, have to make the choice for themselves about what is adequate compensation and work expectations. They do well to listen to the experiences and advice of others within their own industry.

Alli
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Alli

The “crunch culture” is one reason why even though I’m a software engineer who plays video games, I don’t want to work in the video game industry. I specifically went looking for a job that gives me time to see my family and occasionally comment on an MMORPG site. A lot of the programming industry has this notion that if you want to be a programmer it has to be your whole life. You have to program 60 hours a week and then keep coding in your spare time. Screw that. Find a place that lets you work 40 hours a week and gives you time off and during work time learning opportunities. Maybe you won’t have a ping-pong table in the office but you won’t be spending as much time there so it doesn’t matter.

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johnwillo

This is exactly my situation. I agree whole-heartedly!

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Wilhelm Arcturus

For every Herculean effort that is necessary to deliver a quality product you have several examples where crunch was the result of bad planning, arbitrary milestones, and changing requirements without changing the schedule. Dysfunctional organizations accept crunch time as just part of the job expectations, mature organizations see them as exceptions that, if used too often, lead to poor product quality, productivity degradation, and turn over among key personnel.

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johnwillo

Crunch is sometimes necessary. Often, though, it is the result of schedules that everybody knew were ludicrous at the time they were set, attempts to re-design a game mid-development, a refusal to hire sufficient resources for a game’s feature set, zeal by a boss to show how efficient he/she is, or some combination of these.

When a crunch becomes a death march, it is a hellish life. By and large you are working to cover somebody else’s ass, with no expectation of any reward except, hopefully, the end of the death march.

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Sorenthaz

I don’t get why they said “poached” but then don’t actually show any evidence of it. At least to me saying someone was “poached” implies a heavily negative tone.

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cursedseishi

It’s funny how all these ‘defenders’ for Crunch try to treat it like its some amazing and holier-than-thou experience rather than what it is. Abusive, manipulative, and exploitative. Remember when people were whining about voice actors going on strike and how the other developers don’t get such things?

Yeah, same place as that. These people who are stuck in the crunch aren’t paid well for it, rarely see overtime, and more often than not are thrown out the door the moment its done. So of course it is a producer saying this crap. His job is guaranteed, and he sure as hell isn’t doing nearly as much work as the poor coders beneath him. The only people ever defending it are those who reap all the benefits without having to suffer from it.

The reason you don’t see the rank and file workers in the game industry strike like the voice actors do is precisely because of that. They are expendable, less than that even. For every John whose spent his last ten years working hard trying to get up in it, he’s easily replaced by five Johnny’s fresh from college and excited to work their dream job making games.

And much like the resurgence of ‘GAMZ BAD MURDR SIMS!” in the news, or the wash of “We need microtransactions, our billions in $ industry and countless tie in promotions leave us broke” bullcrap, there’s too many people willing to overlook and ignore common sense regarding these issues.

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Serrenity

That producer is part of the old guard of software development. He’ll be gone soon because people won’t put up with shit like “you have to work 60 hours a week to be successful.” Yeah, no.

That being said, that crunch happens regardless of industry. My goal is always to make that crunch period before a release as small as possible, give comp time to my devs after the fact, make sure that they know I appreciate the above and beyond … and make sure it stays above and beyond, and not the expectation.

Even though I’m a tech. product manager – if I’m asking my teams to work over, I’ll be there with them — generally working on other things but I don’t believe in asking someone to work over if I’m not going to be there with them.

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cursedseishi

Oh I know it is definitely part of the natural process in industries–especially tech. I don’t work in anything that quite experiences crunch like you see spoken about, but I’ve dealt with it a fair bit myself.

My issue has always been with people who treat it as a good thing to always do. Who praise it as the be-all end-all like Peter Molyneux, and expect everyone to be fine with seven-days a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year kind of crunch times. It’s endemic of the poor handling and planning that plagues studios that decide to bite more than they can swallow while also refusing to chew. As well as how completely screwed those employees are regarding it, considering just about the entire industry is non-union and are left in the cold with regards to their rights.

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GamingSF

I’ve seen this in the charity sector (in general, not just IT), where lack of budget or resources and poor management leads to non-management staff working rediculous hours to meet deadlines, and all for no extra reward (overtime pay doesn’t exist or at best is time off in lieu when you’re too busy to take any holiday!). This problem may be tipified by gaming developers, but it certainly isn’t limited to them.

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Melissa McDonald

I sympathize with the producer who said that. I’m an immigrant to America and i have a friend who immigrated from Italy. he complained to me that “Americans have to work too hard.” I could only tell him, “that’s why they are kicking ass.”

plasmajohn
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plasmajohn

Yes and no. Crunch time has to be used sparingly otherwise you’re going to burn out your people. The gaming industry doesn’t give a crap and their quality reflects that.

American engineers used to enter the field because they loved the profession. Years of management abuse like said producer has significantly eroded the desirability of STEM jobs.

CMDR Crow
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CMDR Crow

Hahaha. The people benefiting from wealth creation in this country put in very small amounts of work. Like, they mostly don’t work and if they do it is on their own terms.

I’d agree with your statement slightly if workers were paid anywhere close to their actual share of profit. Like being given overtime, job stability, decent benefits, living wage, etc., but they are not.

Just because you’re willing to work for peanuts while your bosses buy a second home doesn’t mean you’re noble or better. It means you’re a fool. But why even try to repress the working and middle class when they do such a great job on their own!

Estranged
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Estranged

In reference to Crow:

Now that right there folks, is a blanket statement.

I’m impressed.

So, how are you different from the average working stiff? Please, enlighten us!

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Bruno Brito

Although it is a blanket statement, it has it’s merits.

Estranged
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Estranged

Bruno, this “predatory” world enables all of us to have the time and resources to discuss both mundane and controversial topics in safety.

My grandparents certainly didn’t have that luxury.

My counter stance? Corps could do more, but so could we. The Corp is the boogeyman to blame for our problems. They have zero power, unless we hand it over to them in the name of ease.

Some lead, some follow. That is humanity.

Everyone needs an enemy.

CMDR Crow
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CMDR Crow

The Corp is the boogeyman to blame for our problems. They have zero power

Are you drunk? You’re drunk.

Corporations literally write laws. No legislation is passed without considering industry-economic input. If that is what you truly believe than I can say with no uncertainty that you are absolutely, no question wrong.

Estranged
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Estranged

Crow, if one doesn’t buy their products… bankrupt. Gone.

I’ve seen this argument time and time again, posted from a corporation made computer – resting on a IKEA desk, sitting in a corporate made chair while wearing nice clothes, made by NIKE (insert another random clothing manufacturer.

It’s baffling.

Fine, if people don’t want to be a slave to that system… it’s time to give up luxury.

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Melissa McDonald

you know what, though? A poor man never gave anyone a job.

CMDR Crow
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CMDR Crow

Our obsession with the “dignity” of work is the problem. Our industries will be automated soon enough, rendering the statement “A rich man never gave anyone a job” true as well.

This is the same thing with shaming people for taking public assistance. You know what? People like you believe that an individual taking public assistance is a burden on our system. Oh, you don’t *really* need food stamps! Oh, you’re buying expensive shit on the government’s dime!

And at the same time you likely believe that tax loopholes and creative corporate accounting are just fine when loss of tax revenue actually kills people via this callous desire to dehumanize everyone in favor of pretending that money had any intrinsic moral or ethical value.

Regardless, have fun screwing yourself. *Shrug*

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Hope

If your job wants you to give up time with your friends and family, your job isn’t worth it, regardless of how much you love what you do.