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What Are The Game Industry's Work Habits?

Work habits are fascinating and not that often examined. It is much easier to make effective use of your time if you know, truly, how it is being spent, from the top down.


November 13, 2009

12 Min Read

What is effective work?

In this economic climate a lot of people take stock of how they spend and examine more ways to save. I think we’re all aware of one of the main issues facing not only the game industry but the overall economy, being “do you hire full time or do you contract?”

Hiring full time supposedly gives more security to the employee but more risk for the employer. Contract / part time is less risk for the employer but less security for the employee, and if you’re on the hunt for someone with experience, chances are contract is not their preference.

But there’s of course more to it than that, something perhaps even more fundamental.

Work Spurts

How many of your coworkers put in a full 8 hour day of solid work?

This includes meetings. I think you’ll find that particularly in creative industries, people don’t work a steady 8 hours. It just doesn’t work like that. More often than not you’ll find that people work in spurts. I certainly do.

Game Industry Work Habits

Work Habits of the Game Industry

Whether speaking about the artist, the designer, the audio designer or even engineers, these spurts can last anywhere from a few hours to over 12-14 hours. Some insane programmers I’ve worked with can get on a kick that lasts even longer, and after 8-9 hours of steady work, regardless of how pumped you feel, your effectiveness begins to drop.

Take Control of Time

The result of this observation is my recommendation to managers and directors to utilize your employee’s time to your fullest advantage. At Heatwave our President, Anthony Castoro, has instituted a 20 minute “recess” as a way to break the day up more, providing a chance for the brain to reset and allow a bit more fertile soil for these spurts to grow.

But it can go even further. Each full time employee has their own degree of effectiveness based on certain tasks. At times the workload may be slower, so speaking to this employee about where their mind would like to turn is a good idea. Do they want to institute a skunkworks and try some new ideas? How about interacting with members of the team they’ve never talked to before? Taking a course to improve a skill they might need help with?


It is just as important for a manager to maintain their employees as it is for them to maintain their profit / process / tech / products. In a large company chances are there are a good many junior employees who have no idea what they want to do and have no clue about how to be self motivated.

Rather than task them and walk away, task them and observe their work habits. Stroll casually by their desk once every few days or so without drawing attention, and shoot a glance at exactly what they’re doing. If you discover that they could be doing their work faster because they’re doing too much web surfing, you’re not out of line to threaten to restrict their web access and also ask what it is that motivates them. Web surfing is the brain’s way of saying it is bored and needs input. It takes practice to get out of this habit and focus on tasks you need to complete.

Another way to generate effective spurts is to provide mandatory breaks like recess, and at the same time give the employee just a little more than you know they can handle. Don’t crunch them to death. The idea here is to see how much an employee can grow their skill set.

The best people I’ve worked with are confronted with difficult problems and talk to as many people as they can consistently to get that problem solved. But they may not have started out this way. When an employee is shown that asking questions and maintaining a calm professional demeanor while doing so is a great way to solve problems, they can grow very quickly as problem solvers and rise through the ranks.

All these concepts and many more are the reason you see business books about “how to get it done” and “be effective”. People write about this all the time but very seldom put it into action for one simple reason: it’s hard.

But at the very least managers armed with the knowledge of spurts as well as observation of their teams will quickly be able to discover what can really get people motivated, since everyone has different motivators. And with this, their team will become more effective, because a motivated team with consistent accomplishments reflects back on the manager and generates inspiration.

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