A reprint from the March 2013 issue of Gamaustra's sister publication Game Developer magazine, this article finds out how satisfied game developers are with their working conditions.
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"Game Developers: How are you doing?"
That's the question we asked approximately 1,000 of you at the end of 2012. We know that between the long hours, frequent layoffs, and crunch phases, the game industry can be a notorious grind. While we perform a yearly Salary Survey every April to check the pulse of developers' financial health, we thought we'd supplement that with a quality-of-life survey to see how you're doing in ways not measured by dollars and cents.
Are you satisfied with your pay? Are you confident in your current project? Do you want to be in this industry five years from now? Read on to find out how your colleagues responded.
Demographics and Methodology
In total, we collected 1,051 web survey respondents, referred via a Gamasutra news post, Twitter, and word of mouth, over a period of approximately one month (starting early December 2012 and ending early January 2013). The survey consisted of 40 multiple-choice questions, and participants were free to answer only the questions they deemed relevant to their development background. The demographics of the respondents broke down as follows:
Age: 4% of respondents are 21 years or younger, 69% are 22-34 years old, 23% are 35-44 years, and 4% are 45-54.
Experience: 9% of respondents have less than one year of game development experience, 16% have 1-2 years, 32% have 3-6 years, 18% have 7-10 years, 14% have 11-15 years, and 7% have 16-20 years.
Management: 46% of respondents are in a managerial role, and 54% are not.
Location: More than half of all respondents are located in North America (approximately 50% in the United States and 13% in Canada), followed by roughly 16% in Europe, with the remainder roughly equally distributed across Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and Central and South America.
Discipline: 45% of respondents say their primary dev role is programming, followed by 21% design, 13% production, 12% art, 5% QA, and 2% audio. The remainder of the write-in responses mostly consists of indie developers responsible for several roles. Interestingly, dev discipline isn't strongly correlated to any of the survey's notable findings; we're all in this together.
Studio size and type: 7% of respondents are individual independent devs, 19% are teams of 2-5 people, 14% on 6-10, 18% on 11-30 , 9% on 31-50, 7% on 51-80, 5% on 81-100, 8% on 101-150, 4.5% on 151-200, 5.5% on 201-300, and 3% on teams of 300+. 36% of respondents characterize their studios as "small indie," 25% as "established indie," 25% as "publisher-owned," and 14% as "first-party."
Game platforms: 46% of respondents work on boxed home console/PC games, 36% on downloadable games, 20% on social games, 17% on browser games, 35% on mobile (smartphone/tablet), and 10% on handheld console games. (Respondents were encouraged to check all categories that applied.)
Job and Career Satisfaction
During a typical week, 17% of respondents work less than 40 hours, 58% work between 40-50 hours, 16% work 51-60 hours, 5% work 61-70 hours, 1.5% work 71-80 hours, and 0.75% work over 80 hours. Canadian devs are more likely to work 50 hours or less during regular development (87%), compared to 79% in the U.K. and 72% for the U.S. and Australia.
83% of developers have a flexible schedule, while 17% do not. Job dissatisfaction rates are much higher among devs without a flexible schedule; 36% of those devs report feeling somewhat or very unsatisfied with their jobs, compared to 14.5% of those with flexible hours.
57.8% of developers have the option to work from home, and that correlates with higher job satisfaction: 75% of people who can work from home reported feeling satisfied with their jobs, compared to 61% of people who cannot. Of those satisfied respondents, those who can work from home were twice as likely to report feeling "very satisfied" with their jobs compared to those who cannot.
Working on weekends and/or holidays appears to be rather common practice; 22% do this regularly, 31% do this only sometimes, 36% only do this rarely, and 11% report never working weekends or holidays. Interestingly enough, working weekends and holidays does not significantly affect job satisfaction levels.
Overall, devs' typical schedules seem to have a mildly negative effect on one's social life and family life; 3% report a very positive impact, 21% a somewhat positive impact, 32% report no impact, 37% a somewhat negative impact, and 7% report a very negative impact.
Compensation and benefits
When it comes to compensation, 13% of developers feel they are very well compensated, 35% feel fairly well paid, 25% feel neutral, 19% feel fairly underpaid, and 8% feel very underpaid. Unsurprisingly, feeling adequately compensated strongly correlates to job satisfaction.
42% of devs receive royalties or sales-based bonuses. Devs who don't receive bonuses or royalties are 20% less likely to report feeling any degree of satisfaction; 61% of devs without royalties or bonuses report feeling somewhat or very satisfied, compared to 81% of those with royalties/bonuses.
Benefit coverage skews positive: 27% of respondents feel very satisfied with their coverage and 29% feel somewhat satisfied, compared to 24% neutral, 10% somewhat unsatisfied, and 10% very unsatisfied. Satisfaction with benefits is directly related to overall job satisfaction, too: 85% of people who are very satisfied with their benefits also report positive job satisfaction, compared to 74% for "somewhat satisfied" on benefits, 64% for "neutral," 47% for "somewhat unsatisfied," and 41% for "very unsatisfied."
Motivation and perceived impact
The vast majority of devs are very confident about their ability to have a meaningful impact on a project: 40% rate their ability for impact as very high, 35% as somewhat high, 15% as neutral, 6% as somewhat low, and 4% as very low. Interestingly enough, devs with three to six years of experience are represented in the "somewhat low" and "very low" category at more than double the rate of any other group, which hints at problems of burnout.
When it comes to evaluating one's prospects for advancement within the company, devs skew somewhat optimistic; 16% rate their prospects as very high, 26% as high, 33% as neutral, 15% as low, and 11% as very low. However, respondents’ ratings on their prospects decrease significantly after age 34; 47% of the "very high" and "high" respondents are between 22-34 years old, compared to 29% for ages 35-44, and 24% for 45-54, which could possibly reflect a need for devs to keep current on their skill sets and/or devs generally hitting an overall career ceiling around their mid-30s.
Devs are fairly enthusiastic on their current project overall; 30% report their level of motivation as very high, 34% as somewhat high, 19% as neutral, 12% as somewhat low, and 6% very low. Motivation correlates strongly with job satisfaction, too; 65% of people who are very satisfied with their jobs also feel very motivated, and 60% who are very unsatisfied are also very unmotivated.
We're inclined to think that the correlation is a two-way relationship; higher job satisfaction means more motivation, and more enthusiasm for the project itself leads to higher job satisfaction. Also, 70% of devs report that they enjoy the types of games they'd compare to their current project, and of that group, 75% report positive job satisfaction ratings (compared to 55% of devs who report positive job satisfaction ratings despite not enjoying the comparable types of games); in other words, it's important to find devs who are already interested in the kind of games your studio is trying to make.
Employer and career satisfaction
23% of developers expect layoffs after shipping their current project. Layoff expectations connect fairly strongly with job satisfaction rates, too; people who don't expect layoffs are more than twice as likely to be very satisfied with their job. But the fear of layoffs appears to be more prominent than actual layoff rates; for the sake of context, our 2011 Salary Survey respondents reported an actual layoff rate of 13%.
Devs are largely split over their future at their current company; only 55% say they want to be working at their current company in five years. Of the devs who want to stay, 90% of them also report positive job satisfaction, while only 3% of the devs that want to stay report negative satisfaction, which indicates that devs will leave if they're not satisfied.
When it comes to devs' future in the industry, however, they are a little adamant; 89% report that they want to remain in the game industry in five years. However, the majority of these devs are on the younger end of the spectrum; 92% of devs under 35 want to stay there, compared to 83% of devs 35 or older. Also, devs are split on whether to advise a friend or family member to join the industry; 62% say yes.
Crunch intensity and duration
Crunch times vary rather wildly, according to the survey respondents; 7% report working crunch schedules less than 40 hours/week, 25% work 40-50 hours, 27% work 51-60 hours, 20% work 61-70 hours, 12% work 71-80 hours, and 10% work 80+ hours.
These schedules rarely last more than four months; 29% report crunch cycles that last less than a month, 30% 1-2 months, 23% 3-4 months, 7% 5-6 months, 3% 7-8 months, 2% 11-12 months, and 3% more than a year. (One wonders at what point a yearlong crunch cycle is simply considered a typical work week.)
We found that simply having crunch cycles was enough to dent reported job satisfaction, though the duration doesn’t seem to affect that factor. Interestingly enough, 38% of devs who regularly work less than 40 hours and 32% of devs who regularly work 41-50 hour weeks do not see their hours increase during a crunch cycle, compared to 25% for devs with 51-60 hour weeks and 7% for 61-70 hour weeks.
Essentially, the longer your regular working schedules are, the more likely you are to work even longer hours during crunch, not less -- something to keep in mind next time you're asked to work longer hours during normal dev cycles in order to avoid crunch later on. Also, crunch cycles happen for all types of games at about the same rates; it doesn't matter whether you're making console games or social games, you're still equally likely to end up in crunch. Location doesn’t correlate strongly with crunch duration or intensity.
Asked to measure the impact crunch cycles have on their social and family life, 1% of devs respond that it has a very positive impact, 4% report a somewhat positive impact, 17% see no impact, 50% see a somewhat negative impact, and 28% see a very negative impact. In general, devs start reporting a negative impact on their social/family lives when crunch schedules exceed 50-hour weeks.
Crunch cycles also have very widespread effects on devs' physical health; 9% report a large impact, 33% report a moderate impact, 40% report minimal impact, and only 18% report no impact; certainly something worth considering, especially in light of how important benefits packages are for job satisfaction.
Confidence in management
Developers skew somewhat confident in their current project's management, with 26% reporting they are very confident, 32% somewhat confident, 16% neutral, 16% somewhat unsure, and 10% very unsure. (Considering just under half the respondents to the survey identify themselves as part of the management team, we thought we'd point out that respondents in managerial roles are 15% more likely to report confidence in management.) A whopping 91% of respondents who are very confident in management also report positive job satisfaction, so it's clearly a very important factor for retention and morale.
Managers are twice as likely to be satisfied with their jobs, more likely to be allowed to work from home (56%, compared to 29% of non-managers), more confident the product will be good (75% compared to 61% of non-managers), and half as likely to report a very negative impact on their family and social life during normal dev cycles. 25% of managers spend over 12 hours per day at home, compared to 14% of non-managers.
Overall, it sounds pretty good to be in management, though they are more likely to regularly work weekends and holidays (59% compared to 41% for non-managers). Only 30% of managers never work weekends or holidays, so if you want those managerial perks, you'll have to pay for it.
Product performance and quality
Developers are largely optimistic about the quality of their current project; 31% report they are very confident and 36% are somewhat confident, compared to 16% neutral, 11% somewhat unsure, and 6% very unsure. 88% of developers that report being confident in their game's quality also report positive job satisfaction.
Critical and market success
When we ask developers about their perception of their last project's success in the market, they are a bit less optimistic; 25% say they considered it to be very successful, 31% somewhat successful, 23% neutral, 13% somewhat unsuccessful, and 8% very unsuccessful.
They did better with the critics, however; 28% report that their last project was very well received, 37% fairly well, 25% neutral, 8% fairly poorly, and 2% very poorly.
We were somewhat surprised to see that the estimations of critical success and market success were relatively close to each other. This could be because critics are accurately reporting product quality (and evaluating games with standards similar to those the public uses to make purchasing decisions), or because their reviews have a strong effect on sales, or possibly a combination of the two.
Connecting workload to success
Developers on 51- to 60-hour work weeks are the most likely to report their last project as a market success (64%), followed by devs on 40- to 50-hour weeks (60%), 61-70 (50%), 71-80 (43%), and less than 40 hours/week (38%). 70% of devs who never work weekends or holidays report having successful projects, compared to only 43% who worked weekends/holidays at any frequency. Also, about 60% of motivated teams had successful projects, compared to 40% for unmotivated teams.
All in all, we're seeing a fairly strong relationship between motivated, well-treated developers and successful projects.
Shocker: Game development is a chronically late business. Only 49% of developers say their last project shipped on time, while 33% made it less than six months late, 11% between six months to a year late, and 8% shipped over a year late.
Overall, these survey results point to a consistent pattern: Poor product quality and performance is connected to low motivation, morale, and excessively long hours. From our perspective, these statistics stress the importance of effectively managing a project's scope and workload throughout development; long, intense crunch cycles appear to be symptoms of flawed project scoping, planning, and management.
Taking the indie dev pulse
With so many experienced developers deciding to start their own studios after one too many layoff cycles, we thought we'd ask: How are the indies doing?
Indie devs have half the market success rate of other devs. 34% of indies (both individual developers and small independent studios) have successful projects, compared to 70% for publisher-owned studios and 65% for first-party studios.
Indies are far more likely to work less than full-time. 28% of small indies work less than 40 hours per week, compared to 6% of first-party devs, 10% for publisher-owned devs, and 15% for established indies.
Small indies are having the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand, small indie developers are far more likely to be able to work from home (81%, followed by 56% from first-party devs), they're the most confident in their current project's quality (36% of "very confident" responses were from small indies, followed by 30% from first-party devs), and they report that their job has the least negative impact and greatest positive impacts on their family and social life than any other dev studio type.
On the other hand, they're more likely to regularly work weekends or holidays (36% of devs who regularly work weekends/holidays are small indies, followed by first-party devs at 19%), and they report the highest rate of dissatisfaction with benefits and compensation. Also, small indies have the lowest reported rate of shipping on time (39%); publisher-owned studios ship on time 59%, and both first-party studios and established indies ship on time 49% of the time.
In addition to the survey questions, we left an open comment space for the respondents to comment on the industry (or the survey) however they liked. Here are some of the responses.
"Console game development has always been great. But the social/web space I now work in sucks -- I only do it for the money :-("
"I've basically stepped out of mainstream game production into indie games and education. I've taken a pay cut but I work at home and really enjoy the people that I choose to work with. The projects are rewarding and I'm learning new things. I believe that education is a great way to stay in touch with the new generation of people entering the industry and a perfect way to keep in touch with the wonder of working within an incredible industry."
"I'm not sure this survey fits self-employed indie devs. I'm not sure I'll make it as an indie dev but after half-a-dozen work-induced mental breakdowns at a triple-A developer before being made redundant and left unfit for full-time/proper work I don't have much choice anymore. I'll probably be dead in 18 months. Thanks industry. Thanks a bunch."
"Been wanting to get into the industry since early high school and it did not disappoint. I love this industry."
"I co-own and manage production for a studio that does not have ongoing forced overtime. We successfully deliver projects on time and on budget, so it can absolutely be done without the workplace hostility, harassment by management, and lack of basic project management skills I've seen at previous studios."
"My current title is game designer. I got into this after years of art and animation work. I'm a pretty creative person. Recently I've been tasked with gathering data, analyzing the data, creating graphs, reports, scheduling tasks, and tracking work. I have no fucking clue what I'm doing. Somehow my job description and task are not in sync, and the work I'm doing is well outside of my skill set. Yay for my job."
"When I look around the office and notice that there are no older people working at the company, it's easy to understand why. The pace at which we work is going to burn you out until you either have a heart attack or leave."
"Let's stop the crunch and the abuses."
"My company hasn't had a real crunch in two years, a testament to better working conditions through good management."
"I would attribute unreasonably long work hours, over many years, to the recent onset of multiple, serious health problems for me. This includes incredibly painful repetitive-stress injury to both my hands, as well as back and neck problems that will require surgery."
"Got bought by a large publisher. The Eye of Sauron has moved and now we have producers everywhere making us quantify everything. I'm very concerned that this will stifle creativity and push 'polish' out so far it gets cut."
"While my work demands aren't high, the product is served to a very base audience who doesn't expect anything. A large part of my office's work is in free online gambling. It's very frustrating providing a product to a user who is solely interested in winning money, and has no interest in the content you're trying to provide."
"This is a hard job."
"I would like to see improved maternity benefits for women in the game industry. It would be a good way to reach out to the female minority."
"It would have been nice to have an industry mentor growing up."