Mike Morhaime waxes nostalgic about the crunch of early Blizzard

    
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Do you miss Mike Morhaime? The former Blizzard president stepped off the main stage last fall as he handed the reins of the studio to J. Allen Brack. Yet Morhaime hasn’t gone into full retirement with his tankers of gold; now that his non-compete clause is up, he’s been chatting up various outlets and making some noise about possibly going back into the game-making business. Or not. He’s keeping the future vague.

The past? That’s a whole different story. We already reported on how Morhaime rehashed the whole Project Titan saga for those just tuning in, but that’s not all he’s been addressing. In various recent interviews, he promised Diablo fans that Blizzard hadn’t abandoned the PC after the poorly received Diablo Immortal announcement at the last BlizzCon.

Morhaime also opened up about a silly prank that brought he and Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham together as well as the necessity of crunch in those early years of running the studio. “I don’t want to speak for other companies and I’m sure there are better ways of doing things, but for us, I don’t think we would have been as successful if we hadn’t put in everything that we had,” he said.

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mike foster

Crunch is a wild ongoing conversation in the industry, but there’s a distinction to be made between a sprint and a marathon.

The current culture of always-on crunch is bad for games and the people who work on them. Studios are trying to ship more with less, and faster, and long-term I don’t know how that’s going to net out.

That said, sometimes you gotta crunch. If you’re hitting the end of your Series A and you need some kind of milestone to unlock your Series B, that crunch is a survival issue. Also, in games and tech there are often emergent issues that just demand the crunch — server crashes, game launches, etc.

I think overall it’s gotta be about your employee health. If you ask for crunch, you should make sure the need is real, dire, and time-gated (and give people time to recover after). There’s no possible world where crunch is a thing that never happens, ever, so it’s probably better to solve for how to do it with minimal damage and for maximum result.

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Tim Anderson

You get out what you put in.

Clock punchers who only want to draw a wage will never be more than that: clock punchers. They aren’t invested in the company; they haven’t sacrificed to be there. They are simply putting in hours to draw a wage.

Business owners and founders understand that crunch is part of *any* business enterprise. You don’t build empires working 40 hours a week. You build them by working smarter AND harder than everyone else so you can reap the benefits of going above and beyond. By doing the things that no one else is willing to do in order to live the live that everyone else only dreams about living.

Stormhaven Studios has nine founding members and half a dozen contractors working on the Saga of Lucimia. Our contractors are not expected to work more than 40 hours a week. They are paid a fair wage for their time, but they are contractors, not business owners.

To-date, I don’t think a single contractor for our project has ever put in more than 40 hours since we started in March of 2014.

Occassional crunch for paid employees is a part of *any* business. That’s what overtime exists for. But the goal is to keep overtime to a minimum.

Our nine founding members have percentages in the company. They get paid based on the outcome of the effort they put into the company. Time + effort = reward, not merely time.

As a result, our nine founding members work significantly more than 40 hours a week. They have day jobs, and then they come home and work on our game at night. Most of them are putting in around 60-70 hours per week.

The “leads” on the team (myself, John, Bobby) put in 80+ hours a week. Both John and Bobby have day jobs (40 hours a week) plus they put in *at least* 40 hours a week on Saga.

Meanwhile, I’m the only one that is full-time. I quit my day job at the end of 2017 and took out a personal loan to cover my cost of living while managing the team. I put in 12-15 hour days routinely, six days a week.

In 2018 we had a crunch period leading up to one of our builds where I was putting in 120 hours per week on average. No one else on the team did, but I myself did, while all of our partners were putting in 20-30% extra time to make a deadline.

I’m the owner. And while I share an equal percentage of the company with my founding partners, I am here to lead by example. I work harder and longer than anyone else on the team because I’m the captain of the ship.

I don’t get to have sick days. I don’t to call in to work because I “don’t feel like it”. When an employee or contractor misses a deadline, or has an accident, or needs some time off, I’m the one who has to pick up the slack and keep the ship moving forward.

Employees don’t take out loans and put their credit on the line to work for a company; they simply show up and punch the clock. They don’t work for free outside of their day jobs, sacrificing time away from family and friends. And while their time is absolutely worth monetary compensation, that time is in no way, shape, or form worth the potential millions that ownership in the company is worth when a product finally launches and/or sees success.

If the business fails, I don’t just lose a job like an employee. I lose out on 5+ years of money + time invested into the company. The longer the company exists, and the larger the company grows, the greater my investment, and the greater my risk. An employee has zero risk; they have nothing invested in the company other than time.

I think most people are failing to understand what Morhaime is talking about when he “waxes nostalgic” about the crunch days. He’s remembering the amount of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that he and other founders put into the company to build it to the point it was able to employ the hundreds and eventually thousands of employees that continued to help build Blizzard into the behemoth that it is today.

As someone who is in the trenches putting in 80+ hour weeks building a company since early 2014, and relishing in every minute of it because I’m building my dream project into reality, I get where he’s coming from.

So in short, crunch isn’t this evil thing that people make it out to be. IF, and only IF, it is an occassional thing that happens on an as-needed basis like in *any* business. It only becomes an issue if crunch mode is constantly activated.

And it is only an issue for employees/clock punchers. Those of us who are business owners don’t have the luxury of tapping out at 40 hours. And consequently, we get rewarded far beyond the hourly rate that a salaried employee/contractor receives.

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nuzzgrumble

I’m just here to point out the best comment in this post.
Read the above, memorize, understand, implement.

Everything is nuanced, there is no black and white.
Everything is built on sacrifice.

Instead of jumping to conclusions and waging wars in the comment section we should try to understand both the side of the employer and the employee and try to make everyone happy.

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thirtymil

So many issues with your post I’m not sure where to start:

> Clock punchers … They are simply putting in hours to draw a wage.

Or possibly they have a family or life outside of work. Some of the best people who have worked for me have been smart enough to go home on time.

> Business owners and founders understand that crunch is part of *any* business enterprise.

The issue is when managers or bosses expect everyone else to put in the same effort without asking, with pressure, and without compensation.

> You build them by working smarter AND harder than everyone else so you can reap the benefits of going above and beyond.

These are horrible business cliches straight out of bad powerpoint presentations that don’t have any place in running a business successfully.

> I don’t get to have sick days. I don’t to call in to work because I “don’t feel like it”. When an employee or contractor misses a deadline, or has an accident, or needs some time off, I’m the one who has to pick up the slack and keep the ship moving forward.

If you feel you don’t get to have sick days, in my experience a sick day will have you, and it’ll be more than a day, and you’ll have no choice about it.

> Employees don’t take out loans and put their credit on the line to work for a company; they simply show up and punch the clock.

If you think your employees just show up and punch the clock then that’s probably exactly what they’ll do for you. I get that you’re trying to draw a distinction between time and money investment and a straight employment situation but it’s coming across as disrespect for anyone who works ‘less’ than you.

> They don’t work for free outside of their day jobs, sacrificing time away from family and friends.

Out of the five companies I’ve worked for, only two paid for overtime. For every other company employees certainly worked for free in evenings and weekends.

> The longer the company exists, and the larger the company grows, the greater my investment, and the greater my risk.

Risk is actually higher with new startups, if you’re talking about your personal investment – unless you’re somehow pouring more money in as the company gets bigger (which is usually a bad way to do it). As a company grows your personal risk should drop.

> An employee has zero risk; they have nothing invested in the company other than time.

That’s simply not true. They have expertise, time spent learning the company’s products and systems, and they pay their mortgage every month based on the wage they’ve earned. Plenty of gaming companies have let employees down on the second and undervalued the importance of the first. So they may not have put all their savings on the line but almost every employee has some sort of risk tied up in their day job.

> As someone who is in the trenches putting in 80+ hour weeks building a company since early 2014

If you’re running the company and calling employees zero-risk clock-punchers, then I don’t think you’re in the trenches.

[Edit: edited for excessive commentary]

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cursedseishi

+1 here because, simply put, I have little energy to comment on this to either those who are trolling here for the sake of stirring the pot, or doing as some not-so macho types are and trying to crap upon people who are taking umbrage with the concept of crunch as it relates to now while also trying to evangelize it like some scam-artist preacher. Or the types who think those ‘poor employers’ have a side worth listening to.

Some indie developer who has less true employees than he does fingers on his hand? Yeah, his concept of ‘crunch’ is laughable. Especially when they conflate the ‘crunch’ they go through with what the industry at large actually goes through. He can talk once he’s got closer to 100 contracted sorts working under a ‘non-mandatory’ crunch period. He can talk when one of the heads of the studio spends more time sexually harassing new hires, threatening them for not dancing or drinking, and shouting at them the moment the press gets even a whiff of something of what the studio is working on than actually working. Or, for that matter, who puts in actual time. Crunches, mind him, where said contracted workers are there under the studio’s promise they might get an actual job at the end if they ‘prove’ themselves…

Which, like I mentioned, means putting up with unpaid overtime and harassment and trying to get on the goodside of the manic CEO who’ll spit on you if you don’t grind on him at a strip club.

edit: quick addition here, too, for those looking at this but the mentioned stuff? All has happened throughout the game industry. Rockstar, Activision, Take 2 and so on. Multiple reports of such behavior.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I’ve debated on whether to respond to this. I decided t compromise with a brief response instead of the book I was planning to write.

First off – saying your employees or contractors “Don’t care” or that they are “Simply there to draw a wage” is HUGELY disrespectful to your employees. If I read that and I worked for you, that would be a good indication to me its time to find someplace where my contributions are valued as more than a codemonkey.

Second – and I can’t stress this enough — if your only metric of “caring about the company” is that you are willing to sacrifice your health and well-being for it, you’ve got some issues. There are mounds of studies talking about how the exact environment you describe is toxic, results in lower quality work and lower overall output. Healthy work-life balance, learning when to take breaks and to step away isn’t something to be shamed out of existence, but encouraged for the health of your employees and your company.

Bragging about working 80 – 120 hour weeks every week doesn’t make it sound you like are nobly sacrificing for your dream, only that you are sacrificing your life, family, health, and overall well-being just so you can brag about how much about you are sacrificing.

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Tim Anderson

I was specifically talking about startups, and the importance of the founders/leaders putting in that crunch/overtime in order to get the company to a point where it can employ others in a fun/safe/fair atmosphere, and have it run with such effeciency that it doesn’t *need* crunch.

Which is what Morhaime is discussing; those crunch times back in the day when it was just him and a few other people building the company up from a startup into the behemoth that it became, and fondly remembering those times.

Entrepreneurs far wiser and far more successful than myself have often talked about the importance of crunch/no vacations/working overtime for startups. And if you read my post in its entirety you’ll notice that I specifically talk about how long-term crunch is BAD, but how it is sometimes necessary, and that’s why overtime/labor laws exist, to help employees be fairly compensated for those times when they have to put in extra hours.

Bill Gates on why founders shouldn’t take vacations: https://www.businessinsider.com/bill-gates-startup-founders-should-not-take-vacations-2019-6 (note that he says glorifying overworking is not a good thing, and nowhere do I glorify it. I merely pointed out that 40 hour work weeks and minimum “I deserve it because I showed up” attitudes do not build empires and that those who wish to reap benefits beyond a mere paycheck for a minimal time commitment should be prepared to go above and beyond and do the things that no one else is willing to do, and used myself and our company as an example of how the founders are going above and beyond and doing what is necessary to help the company achieve success, while also fairly compensating our workers and ensuring they don’t have to work the crunch hours that we take upon ourselves)

Gary V on “If you live for weekends and vacations, your shit is broken”: http://www.thenichemovement.com/blog/2013/02/26/garyveeinterview

Gary also goes on discuss how if startup founders want to make it, they should put in at least 18 hours a day for the first year. “You have made a decision that does not allow you, in Year One, any time to do anything but build your business,” the self-made entrepreneur says. “Every minute — call it 18 hours a day out of 24 — if you want this to be successful, needs to be allocated for your business.” https://www.inc.com/gary-vaynerchuk/askgaryvee-episode-90-18-hours-a-day.html

Entrepreneur Grant Cardone on working 95-hour work weeks: https://medium.com/@grantcardone/are-you-9-to-5-or-95-fbbe844ae733#.whz3nr4ro

At the end of the day, those like Morhaime, Gates, Vaynerchuk, Cardone, and Siebold (and many others, such as Branson, Musk, etc.) reached the heights they did not by putting in the minimum amount of effort and punching a clock for 40 hours a week while moaning about how the higher-ups were getting bonuses every year, but by being willing to go above and beyond and put blood, sweat, tears, and extraordinary effort into building their companies into existence.

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Bannex

Classic was a product of the crunch. If you’re demonizing the crunch you’d better not support classic.

Not sure why my other comment was deleted.

Bree Royce
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Bannex

Lol utilizing a comic to downplay the fact that vanilla wow was produced by the very injustice this article and everybody below me is pointing out? Gotcha! Guess we should just ignore stuff as long as we like it while claiming we care huh…

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Bree Royce

It’s not downplaying anything, and I’m not playing Classic anyway. You know darn good and well you’re trolling and you don’t actually care about crunch. And not-playing Classic isn’t going to help anybody impacted by crunch over 15 years ago or send any signal about crunch to anyone whatsoever. Gamers who actually do care about crunch are shooting for more meaningful targets. This is likewise the point of the comic.

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Utakata

Not if it’s guised as a tu quoque. Those should by their nature ignored as they entirely invalidate your argument. Just saying.

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PurpleCopper

The survivorship bias is strong with this one.

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styopa

Yeah, people wax nostalgic about surviving hazing, too. Hell, the US fraternity system is almost dependent on it.

Suffering builds camaraderie over shared experiences. That doesn’t mean that suffering should be BUILT INTO an job as if it’s beneficial. That’s sadistic.*

*and I say this as someone generally unsympathetic to the idea of unions for devs. This sort of crap from managers “ah, remember how we were all hating life together? Good times!” is about the only thing that would push me to support unions.

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McGuffn

That’s Stockholm Syndrome. Those guys that abused me? They’re the best.

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Nick Martin

Glad to know he’s so proud of being a shitheel that likely did damage to the people who had to do it, and set up a culture of exploitation, because the games were successful. Good for him.

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Greaterdivinity

Never brag about crunch, even if the outcomes were good. Ever.

“Why yes, we did functionally hold our employees hostage, keeping them from having their own time to spend with friends, family, hobbies, or other ways that they spend their free time to enjoy themselves and de-stress. Instead we forced them to work 12+ hour days for 6+ days a week, harming their own physical and psychological well being. BUT LOOK AT THE AMAZING GAME WE GAVE YOU UNGREATFUL FUCKS!”

No. It isn’t defensible now and it wasn’t back then. It’s a terrible practice that should be done away with forever, no matter what “good” can come of it in the final product.

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A Dad Supreme

Management: “Get this game out the door… now.”

Devs: “But I’ve got a life, a significant other, kids, eat, sleep… and it would mean I’d have to be sitting in this chair like a slave just to get something I need!”

Management: “Sorry, but it is what it is. Take it or leave it.”

Devs: “I hate being forced to do this just to get a payoff at the end for working so hard.”

**later: **

Dev: “Grind these daily quests and dungeons over, over and over again if you want a reward.”

Player: “But I’ve got a life, a job, a significant other, kids, eat, sleep… and it would mean I’d have to be sitting in this chair like a slave just to get something I need!”

Dev: “Sorry, but it is what it is. Take it or leave it.”

Player: “I hate being forced to do this just to get a payoff at the end for working so hard.”

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Schlag Sweetleaf
good to be king.gif
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Randy Savage

Mike was one of those rowers at one point.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

its good to be king:)

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Randy Savage

Actualizing your dreams requires hard work and long hours. You’re conjuring something into existence out of thin air. If you don’t believe in it enough to put in the time required to execute such a monumental task, then move on to something else that actually inspires that passion in you.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I don’t think you understand what crunch is.

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Randy Savage

Seeing as how I’ve put in 80 and 120 hour work weeks to build my business, I’d say I do.

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rosieposie

Building your business is one thing, the crunch that most people mean when speaking about the issue, is being pressured into working 80-120 hour work weeks for faceless, soul-crushing corporations that literally don’t see you as a human being.

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Randy Savage

Don’t like it? Go start your own company. Seems like half the game studios out there were started by disgruntled developers from other studios.

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Bruno Brito

Don’t like it? Go start your own company

Oh, people are starting to realize how they gonna solve this.

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rosieposie

I’m sure there is plenty of space for tens of thousands of new game studios on the market. This is the sort of ‘solution’ I would expect from a rich tool, completely out of touch with reality. Or possibly from a sociopath.

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Randy Savage

The founders of ArenaNet were all former Blizzard employees so I’d say yeah there’s always room in the market for an innovative product, which both Guild Wars games were at the time of their respective releases. But the funny thing is, they probably had to crunch for those games too. You imply that I’m out of touch with reality but I wonder… you do realize that you actually have to work hard sometimes?

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Reginald Bottomsworth

You seem to see the world in false dichotomies. Don’t like it? Leave. Don’t want to work 120 hours a week? You’re lazy. You must be a lot of fun at parties.

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Utakata

“Don’t like it? Go start your own company. “

I choose C: Start a union.

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Randy Savage

Good luck with that. It could prove to be disastrous for gaming as a whole, not just for the companies but the consumers as well. But yeah as long as devs don’t have to work too hard, it’ll be worth it, right?

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Utakata

I am just proposing a 3rd alternative to a ridiculous false dichotomy. Do you mind?

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Randy Savage

How viable is the alternative though? Unionization could actually help as far as making sure compensation is adequate, but there are some sticking points that could destroy the industry. One of the things they talk about with unionization for game developers is job protection so studios can’t gut their workforce when they’re losing money. Well if they can’t fire people they can no longer afford to pay, they’re going to have to declare bankruptcy because the union’s got them by the balls. Unionizing isn’t the quick and easy solution it’s often made out to be.

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Utakata

What nonsense.

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Randy Savage

Care to elaborate?

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Bruno Brito

but there are some sticking points that could destroy the industry.

I’m going to make mine the words of my father:

“For thirty years i’ve been helping workers against their employers. Never met a good employer, they’re all exploiters.”

It’s laughable that you disguise your vested interest in keeping your workforce tame as “worry for the industry”.

If the industry cannot survive workers wishing and demanding better treatment, then it SHOULD be destroyed and rebuilt.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Me too, which is, unironically, why you’ll never see me trotting out to defend this behavior in any, shape, or form. Ever.

My teams work reasonable hours, with reasonable expectations and produce vastly higher quality work for the time spent than if I ran them into the ground because of some arbitrary business deadline.

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Randy Savage

If the deadline is actually arbitrary, then yes but if it’s absolutely vital to the future of the company, then everyone should be on board to do whatever it takes. But at the same time, they should be incentivized to care with things like stock options among other things.

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Baemir

Who says the deadline is arbitrary? I mean what Morhaime was saying here is basically that if they had not done ‘crunch time’ the company could have gone under.

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Bruno Brito

basically that if they had not done ‘crunch time’ the company could have gone under.

I highly doubt that.

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Bruno Brito

Oh, you BUILT your business.

Tell me of the people who work for it.

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Randy Savage

They’ve got it made. The more money the business makes, the more money they make. They get quarterly performance bonuses if the company’s profits exceed a certain threshold. Some work harder than others so they get bigger bonuses, but everyone gets a slice. And their base pay is higher than any other local business in the same industry. So they’re all happy. I’ve got a very low turnover rate.

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Bruno Brito

Sounds like all the PR i’ve been hearing for years.

How many of them are on the same PAYGRADE as you? Do you crunch the same as them? Do ANY of your employees work 10h+ a day when in need to crunch? How long are those crunch times? How big is YOUR bonus?

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Randy Savage

Why should they be on the same pay grade as me? Did they invest anything to start the company? Are they investing anything to grow it now? What do they stand to lose? Their job? They can get another one. I stand to lose everything I’ve been building for half my life. It’s also why I put in wayyyy more time than any of them do. And my bonus goes right back into my business. You seem to think every business owner is just sitting in their office jerking off or something while everyone else does the actual work.

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Bruno Brito

Why should they be on the same pay grade as me?

Because they work the same as you?

Did they invest anything to start the company?

Who gives a shit. They’re doing that now.

Are they investing anything to grow it now?

They’re working under you, and by the way you speak, they clearly are working their asses off.

What do they stand to lose? Their job? They can get another one.

You got to be fucking kidding me.

I stand to lose everything I’ve been building for half my life.

If you’re exploiting their work, then you SHOULD.

It’s also why I put in wayyyy more time than any of them do.

Yeah, this must be why you are here debating with me about crunching while they’re working.

And my bonus goes right back into my business.

Sure.

You seem to think every business owner is just sitting in their office jerking off or something while everyone else does the actual work.

I don’t know about you, but i’m willing to give you reasonable doubt, but you do work LESS than then.

Mike? Bobby Kotick? The Nexon CEO? Yes, they jerk off all day while the rest of the team works, gets fucked, gets axed and they get pay raises.

This is an industry made over the bleeding and exploitation of it’s rank and file. I’m sorry you feel “sad” if “the industry gets destroyed by unionization”, but if it does, it’s because it was a fucking weak industry anyway.

Isn’t that how capitalism works?