Whenever we’re not happy with a game, we get mad at the developers. It makes sense to get mad at them since it is their job to make the game, but did you consider their side of the story?
Before we can get into why you should cut them some slack, let’s talk about how game development gets funded.
Publishers and management
You can’t pay for a large studio out of your own pocket and crowdfunding also isn’t a realistic option after a certain number of employees. So, what do you do, who will pay for your work? Obviously, you turn to a publisher. (Unless you're already an in-house development studio of a publisher, then you talk to management.)
Hopefully, the publisher really likes the idea your studio has and gives you a thumbs up and money to pay for it. That is where we get to the problem, the publisher gave you enough money to cover costs to a given date, the release date.
The publisher is very insistent on that date, and now you’re obligated to release the game on that date. Besides the release date, you will also be expected to show some gameplay and trailers at conventions and events, for which, again, you can’t control the time and day.
Now that we have that down, let’s go over how much the developers actually work.
For most developers, an average week is between 36 and 50 work hours. This isn’t much, it’s a standard full-time job, some work a bit more, some work a bit less, some have Saturdays off, some don’t. Although, 8% reported that they work more than 50 hours per week on average.
This isn’t too bad until you remember all of the milestones and their deadlines. So let’s say E3 is just around the corner and you have to get some gameplay footage ready, but the game just isn’t there yet. Now the entire team starts working around the clock to make it happen, or else management is going to be really mad.
When asked about their maximum work hours in a week, 16% reported more than 70 hours per week (2% said they had 100+ hour weeks). Some developers put in the extra hours because they wanted to, they felt they could make it even better, but a quarter of the surveyed developers said that it wasn’t their choice. For 26% of developers it was made very clear by management that they are expected to and have to put in those extra hours.
Fast-forward a few months to the game release. The developers just barely managed to finish the game in time so that you can get your hands on it and because of that, the publisher is happy. Well, you aren’t happy, the game is full of bugs, the animation is subpar, the story feels rushed, what were they even doing in the past months.
Obviously, you go online and make sure everyone knows how much the developers messed up. The publisher is no longer happy because the internet is full of people saying how bad the game is and the sales numbers are at risk. Guess who the publisher and management are mad at? If you answered the development team, you are absolutely correct. I mean, it is their job to make the game, how could they let this happen.
Now the developers are being bombarded by the gamers that didn’t get the chance to experience the game in the way it was planned and by the publisher that wants everything fixed as soon as possible. Again, it’s a race against time to fix everything and keep as many players before they completely give up on your game.
Remember when Rainbow Six Siege released? That game was a huge disappointment when it came out. The developers were under a lot of pressure, and they did their best to add more content, balance the gameplay and bring back players. Today it has a huge player base and is something that the developers are proud of.
So for the next Anthem or Fallout 76 that comes out, remember that the developers probably aren’t happy either, they know the game isn’t as good as it should be. Just don’t forget that they made that game for you, they lost many nights of sleep, they wanted you to enjoy it, but they had to release it when they did, the way they did. Give them a chance when that happens, stay civil, show your support for them and encourage them to not give up on the game that you were so hyped about. It will mean a lot to them to see the support and it will help keep management calm.
In the meantime, if you want to be mad at someone who really deserves it, how about Andrew Wilson, CEO of EA, getting a $20,000,000 bonus after 350 employees lost their jobs.
If you’d like to be even madder, why not Activision, they claimed record revenue while employees were told to cut costs, after which 8% of employees got laid off, all while the CFO got a $15,000,000 bonus for changing his title in the company and the CEO making $30,000,000 a year.
(The work hours of developers are based on the GDC State of the Game Industry 2019 survey. The survey had 4000 participants from the game industry working in companies of all sizes.)