Developer blows whistle on 120 hour weeks and crunch at Gameloft Auckland

News: 

Inspired and encouraged by the recent insights of the gruelling working conditions and long hours at Team Bondi by anonymous ex-employees, another locally based games developer and now ex-employee of Gameloft Auckland has decided to whistle-blow on his previous employer for the same quality-of-life related concerns in the hope that the New Zealand based studio makes some radical changes for the health and safety of their employees.

Games developer, Glenn W., has a long history in Australian games development, working at well known local studios such as Ratbag Games, Infinite Interactive, to Krome Studios. Through some documentation provided to tsumea and other media outlets, Glenn paints a picture of his former place of employment as an uncompromising and exploitive workplace that enforces gruelling hours and unecessary crunch periods onto their employees. During his two month stint as Senior Programmer, Glenn racked up 70 hours of overtime for 5-6 weeks and experienced multiple weeks of 100-120 work hours. That's an average of over 17 hours a day for seven days straight...

(Glenn) It wasn't unusual for the guys who worked on the project longer to have several months of overtime accrued. Some weeks I was working 100–120 hours a week. Start at 9:30 am, going home at 2:30am and coming back at 8:30am was not unusual. This wasn't isolated to myself, most of the employees there were working stupid hours. I even had the producer call me at 11:30pm to come back to the office (then head home at 2:30am).

In one case, Glenn describes the the team working an entire day from 8:30am through until 11:30pm crunching on a build for Gameloft HQ when even the most reliable of programmers in the studio was creating mistakes from fatigue. When Glenn confronted the issue to the studio manager and producer at Gameloft Auckland that the programmers were making mistakes, were tired and needed to go home, the producer gave no relief and responded that everyone had to be there. It was the following day that one of the junior programmers racked up 24 hours straight at the Gameloft Auckland office...

(Glenn) I told the producer of that project you can't have your programmers working 24 hours, I told the producer that the programmers need to save their energy 'til crunch. The producers reply back it was crunch and I said back the programmer would just make mistakes given he's a junior. The producer agreed and to his credit sent the programmer home early that day.

Glenn outs the studio for practicing a very much hated procedure in the games industry of enforcing continual and unecessary crunch periods onto their employees to hasten development schedules, at the expense of the workers...

(Glenn) GameLoft also had a history of making "false" deadlines. For example for the beta for the project, the guys slaved away getting the product out the door and then found out they suddenly on the last day had another couple weeks. The head designer for the studio was suspicious that the gold was a false deadline (and lo and behold, the gold was done another 3–4 weeks later). Most of the senior guys were also suspicious and were wondering why their producer wasn't standing up for them.

Glenn decided to leave the studio amidst some serious health concerns for his father and returned to Australia. Despite all this, Glenn does not harbour any ill-will towards the people at the studio, but puts the blame on the gruelling long hours as responsible for nearly "burning" himself out. While commenting that "you can't do it at the expense of the human sanity budget", he suggests that more effort in better technology could save the company money in the longer term rather than burning out their employees.

New Zealand Law

Through all of this, Glenn has taken the effort to look into New Zealand law on work practices and through some back and forth discussions with his former employees hopes that work conditions will improve for his colleagues. With discussions the New Zealand Department of Labour, Glenn has put forward to Gameloft Auckland that they must adhere to the NZ's Health and Safety in Employment Act of 1992 (and the amendment in 2002) where Fatigue is considered a health and safety hazard, and employees have the right to refuse unsafe work. The film industry puts in a mandatory limit of 12 hours per day (breaks included).

Glenn has asked Gameloft Auckland to accept and adhere to this policy, and that he will ask the studio to start mediation with the Department of Labour if the studio does not comply. Unfortunately, he has been getting a runaround with the studio which seems to be delaying any progress.

For further reading, please head on over to the Games On Net feature by Editor in Chief, Tim Colwill, at the following link...

Comments

Terry Paton's picture

How ironic that game being made to create fun are being made by using a form of slavery.
Gameloft Auckland you should be ashamed of yourself.

Anonymous's picture

I dunno about this story, it has a rotten smell about it to me.

From my 10 minutes of research Glenn only worked for Gameloft for 2 months.

I'm suspicios that it might have been embellished on a little bit. I hope thats the case anyway as otherwise, well thats fucking bad.

elliotrock's picture

Anonymous, 2 months of those conditions are inhuman, he stated in the article he worked only 2 months.

Shame on Gameloft!

Anon's picture

"From my 10 minutes of research Glenn only worked for Gameloft for 2 months.

I'm suspicios that it might have been embellished on a little bit."

How can you be so sure it was an embellishment? The game industry is utterly notorious for having work conditions that make sweatshops blush. My default reaction to any story about game shops abusing their employees is that the story is true until proven otherwise.

Anonymous's picture

I'm not 100% sure its an embellishment, however I think there is a reasonable chance that it could be.

To what degree, well who knows.

Glenn Watson's picture

In terms of embellishment,

I put a lot of time to make sure that the facts in the article Tim wrote were 100% accurate.

Glenn Watson's picture

I read drafts of the end article before it went up and also made corrections.

NathanRunge's picture

I see no indication that the article was 'embellished'. What I see is that Glenn has taken a stand on an issue publicly and, to his utmost credit, has put his name to his words. He hasn't anonymously sniped at an ex-employer, he has staked his reputation and, to a restricted degree, his career on an issue that should be important to all of us. The article rightly praises him for this, especially when compared to what has become common locally.

Considering this, I think we owe it to both Glenn and ourselves to take the article at face value until such time as someone proves otherwise.

On the content of the article itself, I'm sure at least most of us would agree that, from a moral standpoint, these conditions are abhorrent. Perhaps just as importantly, it just doesn't make good business sense in a skill-reliant, creative industry to enforce these work conditions. High rates of burn-out, mistakes, reduced output and the wholesale destruction of creative faculties would very soon arise. While there are plenty of replacement staff, HR processes are expensive and work-flow is disrupted. It's disappointing, if not surprising, to see more of this close to home.

Anonymous's picture

There certainly is a smell here. Would be good to hear from others to help corroborate this story. Piggy-backing off the bad taste left from the recent TB scandal could well be blowing this out of proportions.

Glenn Watson's picture

Reasonable statement.

The issue is there are other gameloft people who contributed to the article but wish to remain anonymous for various reasons (as mentioned in the article).

Have a look in the forums on the games.on.net article for people who are also facing the same issue however, also there are various other articles put up on the web after this article went out with others talking out as well (admittedly some at other studios not Auckland).

i.e. http://www.gamertagradio.com/new/2011/07/former-gameloft-employee-worked...

Anonymous's picture

I agree, its really easy to point fingers in these desperate times, but making a game isn't as easy as parking a car. I'd like to hear both sides of the argument before I take this to heart. What could be a very rude individual asking for overtime could drag an entire studio's name through the mud, what could be acceptable crunch to get a product polished up could be whats being compared to slavery.

2 months is a very, very short time and we have to be wary of wolves in sheep's clothing here, any chance to get another opinion, a fresh set of eyes, ears and clothes to back this up?

Anonymous's picture

He should park his frustration squarely at Gameloft.

Anonymous's picture

be careful you don't want to get rear-ended over a battle of wills with a company that clearly has a healthy number of employees - but maybe it's just the Auckland branch at fault here? It would be nice to hear something from the company, or maybe they think they can just 3-point turn their way out of this?

Clinton Shepherd's picture

This isn't entirely surprising, and supports what I heard at the recent IGDA Melbourne meetup.

There was representative (a designer I think, can't remember the name) from GameLoft at the recent IGDA Melbourne giving a preview of one of their soon to be released games.
Midway through the presentation he mentioned that'd we'd probably heard that Gameloft were doing significant "crunch" and that it was to be expected in the industry, and if anyone wanted to move to Auckland they had positions available.

I'm paraphrasing here so anyone else who was there feel free to correct me if I'm out of line, but I do remember the comment surprised me. I'm not sure whether to be horrified or really impressed with a company that publicly owns up to crunch while advertising position available.

Anonymous's picture

I believe the exact quote was something like "Expected in the industry with a startup company".

Anonymous's picture

How can you not expect crunch, ultimately games need to ship to a street date, if the game sucks, ship it and get shuttered because it reviews and sells terribly. Or spend time crunching to make it better and possibly get a better result. Games are a form of art, but in today's corporate world shipping it when it's done is not an option except for a very select few. Not advocating scheduled crunch here, but if it's needed it simply needs to be done.

Glenn Watson's picture

I don't really disagree with you on some levels.

I have been attempting in the past with GameLoft to get "reasonable overtime" which I considered 12 hour days.

Sometimes crunch is necessary but also sometimes smarter scheduling is also required and better use of technology to reduce the amount of crunch.