When I worked for EA Canada I was sent to EA Tiburon (Florida) to work for a while. One night I left work late and decided to pick up a Pizza on the way back to the hotel EA had put me up in.
After driving around for a while in the dark I happened across a small dingy looking Pizza place. So I stopped, went inside, ordered the Pizza and sat down to wait for it. A few minutes later a person walks in who was the type that you called 'sir' in case they took an instant dislike to you and decided to tear you a new breathing hole, i.e. the type of person you would most likely cross the road to avoid.
He stood there, turned his head slowly and stared right at me and his eyes just grew larger. My time was up. My mortal coil was about to shuffle.
What happened next was a bit of a blur due my heart-rate having doubled and my lungs deciding that they needed to stop working - your basic panic attack scenario. However, I do remember roughly what he said and it went something like:
'You work for EA? Man, that must be great. I've got some game ideas, want to hear them?'
Needless to say my ignorant 'judging a person on their appearance' fears were un-founded but whenever I come across somebody outside the industry and they find out what I do they think it must be the best job ever and to some degree it is but the biggest irony of this job, which is all about entertaining people, is that it can also be incredibly stressful.
I've seen a lot of things happen in this industry from marriage break-ups because one of the partners was having to work all hours to get a game completed in time to a punch up over some trivial matter.
I've seen people explode and just rant at their boss and I've seen bosses ranting at their employees over nothing. The burn out rate is incredibly high and the employee turn-over rate in some companies was equally high. In one company I worked for 15 people left in my first month there.
Yet, despite all of this game developers are some of the most dedicated workers you will ever come-across. I can't speak for everybody but I know that because my job is mainly work from home I find myself starting at 9am and finishing at 1am most days. Why do I do that? Part of it is loyalty to the company and part of it is a desire to see the game completed.
I am not advocating long hours, this was a personal choice made by me because I am a workaholic. I do not in any way think this should be the norm in our industry and I think that the long hours with no relaxation is a massive factor in the stress.
It would appear that stress is not only restricted to the games industry if the Christian Bale rant is anything to go by but it would be interesting to compare stress levels across a range of jobs to see where we rank in the overall scheme. The banking sector used to see suicides - has there ever been a game development related suicide?
I don't have any answers on how we should deal with the stresses and strains game development put on our lives and health but something needs to happen. For me it's my hobbies that keep me sane - well, for most of the time anyway.
How long before we see a dis-gruntled employee walking into a a studio with a weapon and start shooting people? It's happened in other industries.