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Stay Sane Inside Insanity
Identifying Toxic Game Development
Environments -- Billy Joe Cain 4/24/14
billyjoecain@gmail.com
What the Hell do I know?
22 year career as: an employee of a publisher, an
outside developer, a studio owner, a contractor...
What the Hell do I know?
Worked with developers on a lot of projects from just
about every angle possible from Quality Ass...
Topics
• Crunch Definition and Legality
• Crunch Effects on YOU
• Crunch Effects on Productivity
• Toxic Examples
• Abusiv...
Know your Enemy: Crunch
Whoa. This always makes me take a deep
breath.
Crunch: My Experience
I had heard about “crunch.” I was prepared for the extra hours.
I didn’t have family in town or a st...
Merriam Webster says
Crunch Time is:
A critical moment or period when decisive
action is needed
Source: http://www.merriam...
The REAL WORLD says
Crunch Time is:
• The interval of time immediately before a project is due, when it becomes
apparent t...
Crunch: “Kinda Legal” Definition
Forced or mandatory overtime
“[G]enerally legal, at least under federal law.
State laws d...
Is there “Healthy” Crunch?
Healthy?
– Working extra hours for a short period of time to adjust for
the unpredictable natur...
Crunch: Lack of Productivity
“There's a bottom-line reason most industries
gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the...
Crunch: Lack of Productivity
“More than a century of studies show that long-term
useful worker output is maximized near a ...
Crunch and YOU
How does crunch affect you physically, mentally,
and the like?
• Studies point to many health issues, both
...
According to the National Institutes of Health, “[C]ontinued
overtime work should be recognized as an independent
risk fac...
Overtime work is probably best considered as a form of
work stress.
Chronic work-related stress is associated with a 2- to...
Getting six or fewer hours of sleep each night is just like
being drunk. Consider that in most states the legal blood
alco...
[L]ong working hours may be one of the risk factors
that have a negative effect on cognitive performance in
middle age.
As...
Crunch and your RELATIONSHIPS
How does “crunch” affect your relationships?
Significant other
Close friends
Family
Chil...
Know Your Enemy: Environmental
There is another enemy out there that is
quite possibly worse than crunch.
• A toxic develo...
Do you work in a Toxic
Development Environment?
• In the video game industry we have some
serious, insidious problems that...
Know Your Enemy: Warning Signs
• There are clear signs that you are in an
unhealthy company; crunch is only ONE
of the ind...
What is Toxic? Bullies
• A “bully” could be a peer, an immediate
supervisor, the owner of the company,
an untenable contra...
What is toxic? Bullying
What is bullying? Repeated, health-harming
mistreatment of one or more persons (the
targets) by on...
Bullying: The Problem
It is a problem that has invaded the life of 37% adult
Americans without invitation. In its more sev...
Bullying: A Solution
The Healthy Workplace Campaign
• 26 States since 2003 have introduced the
Healthy Workplace Bill
• No...
Bullying: A Solution
What the Healthy Workplace Bill Does for
Employers
• Precisely defines an "abusive work environment" ...
Bullying: A Solution
What the Healthy Workplace Bill Does for
Workers
• Provides an avenue for legal redress for health
ha...
Toxic Budgeting / Finances
• Project was originally budgeted with no input from
the team that would be doing the work
• Th...
Toxic Staffing Issues
• Not enough staff to reach project goals
• Not enough experienced staff that know how to
avoid “roo...
Toxic Staffing Issues
• “Single” staff members outnumber those with families
• “Single” staff show resentment toward those...
Toxic Scheduling
• Milestones are vague or completely undefined
• Ship date is “locked” on an arbitrary date. If the date
...
Toxic Scheduling
• Effectiveness is irrelevant; management only notices the
quantity of hours employees are in the buildin...
Toxic Project Management
• Feature list is vague, unrealistic, or non-existent
• No clear plan to completion
• The rule is...
Toxic Project Management
• Design (or anything, really) by committee
without anyone that can have a final decision
• Micro...
Toxic Product Support
• Quality Assurance is not hired until the last
possible minute (or later, or not at all)
• Customer...
Toxic Inequities / General Stupidity
• Nepotism / favoritism / sycophants
• Employees are more concerned with people “liki...
Toxic Inequities / General Stupidity
• No need to hire a cleaning service when management
can just make everyone (besides ...
Helpful Resources
• Resources exist that allow you to get
help for yourself or others that are
suffering through crunch an...
Some Books for Inspiration
The Mythical Man Month:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month
Peopleware: Product...
Some Links for Help
• Mental Health Support Resources:
http://www.mhatexas.org/mhatexasMAIN/IRGuide4.03.pdf
• Coping with ...
Some Links for Help
• Discrimination Facts (Texas)
http://www.twc.state.tx.us/crd/facts.html
• Unemployment benefits (Texa...
Stay Sane Inside Insanity
Identifying Toxic Game Development
Environments -- Billy Joe Cain 4/24/14
billyjoecain@gmail.com
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Staying Sane Inside Insanity - ECGC Edition

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I recently gave a talk at the East Coast Game Conference and told the attendees that I'd get the presentation online.

Here's the description of the talk:

Stay Sane Inside Insanity: Identifying Toxic Game Development Environments, by Billy Cain
"Is your studio's environment toxic? From the point of view of a 20+ year game industry veteran, Billy Joe Cain delivers a somber message: "If you're feeling uneasy about or unhappy with your work, you may not be the problem; it could be where you work or whom you work for." Powerful examples of real-life toxicity are presented for your consideration. How can you identify and survive a toxic environment? Bring your Geiger counter and hazmat suit and let's find out!"

If you'd like to see the first time I gave this talk, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0JFtDK6Sl4

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Transcript of "Staying Sane Inside Insanity - ECGC Edition"

  1. 1. Stay Sane Inside Insanity Identifying Toxic Game Development Environments -- Billy Joe Cain 4/24/14 billyjoecain@gmail.com
  2. 2. What the Hell do I know? 22 year career as: an employee of a publisher, an outside developer, a studio owner, a contractor, a solutions provider, and an adviser to colleges and universities.
  3. 3. What the Hell do I know? Worked with developers on a lot of projects from just about every angle possible from Quality Assurance to Studio Founder. Executive Producer is most recent role. Currently working as Executive Recruiter with career development as my focus. One thing is certain. Our industry is crazy. Sometimes crazy is good and sometimes it isn’t.
  4. 4. Topics • Crunch Definition and Legality • Crunch Effects on YOU • Crunch Effects on Productivity • Toxic Examples • Abusive Managers / Bullying • More! • Resources for Self-Help • Tweet with #ECGCtoxic if you like
  5. 5. Know your Enemy: Crunch Whoa. This always makes me take a deep breath.
  6. 6. Crunch: My Experience I had heard about “crunch.” I was prepared for the extra hours. I didn’t have family in town or a steady girlfriend, so it made the extra work that much easier. Over the years, my friends started wondering where I disappeared to. When I’d finish a project, we'd hang out again until crunch happened on the next project and the pattern repeated itself. Now, I hardly even see those friends. They got tired of waiting. Some of you may have experienced this, some of you may be heading into it...
  7. 7. Merriam Webster says Crunch Time is: A critical moment or period when decisive action is needed Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crunch%20time
  8. 8. The REAL WORLD says Crunch Time is: • The interval of time immediately before a project is due, when it becomes apparent that the schedule has slipped and everyone is going to have to work like dogs to try to complete the project in time. Crunch time usually occurs during the period between the next-to-last scheduled milestone (prior to which everyone was able to delude themselves that the schedule had NOT slipped) and the final deadline for delivery. During crunch time, workers are in crunch mode. Prevalent in the software industry, but used elsewhere as well. • "We've got three weeks left to complete six weeks worth of work. Looks like we'll be living on take-out for a while." • "I freakin' hate crunch time.“ Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=crunch+time
  9. 9. Crunch: “Kinda Legal” Definition Forced or mandatory overtime “[G]enerally legal, at least under federal law. State laws differ from state to state.” “If an employee refuses to work overtime when requested to, the employer has the right to penalize the employee. Such punishments may include termination.” http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/forced-overtime.html
  10. 10. Is there “Healthy” Crunch? Healthy? – Working extra hours for a short period of time to adjust for the unpredictable nature of technological edginess. – Ideally the additional effort is rewarded with compensatory time off. Unhealthy? – Throwing yourself on the pyre to make up for a chronically under-scoped or under-funded project. – Success is rewarded by more work!
  11. 11. Crunch: Lack of Productivity “There's a bottom-line reason most industries gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the single most expensive way there is to get the work done.” – Evan Robinson http://legacy.igda.org/why-crunch-modes-doesnt- work-six-lessons
  12. 12. Crunch: Lack of Productivity “More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40- hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.” – Evan Robinson http://legacy.igda.org/why-crunch-modes-doesnt- work-six-lessons
  13. 13. Crunch and YOU How does crunch affect you physically, mentally, and the like? • Studies point to many health issues, both physical and mental. • Oddly enough, this subject has been studied in other industries ad nauseam but it's important to us to pay attention.
  14. 14. According to the National Institutes of Health, “[C]ontinued overtime work should be recognized as an independent risk factor for the development of sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances can have a significant negative effect on an individual's quality of life, and the consequences associated with sleeping disturbances are serious including, for example, a higher risk of accidents due to fatigue, increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular diseases* and mental disorders, increased sickness absence rates, and substantial medical care costs.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690560/ * see next slide Crunch: Physical Effects
  15. 15. Overtime work is probably best considered as a form of work stress. Chronic work-related stress is associated with a 2- to 4- fold increase in cardiovascular events, particularly when there is little control over the work environment. [T]he excess risk of coronary heart disease in employees with high decision latitude was smaller than in those with lesser decision latitude. In other words, it's better to be the boss. http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/31/14/1672.full Crunch: Physical Effects
  16. 16. Getting six or fewer hours of sleep each night is just like being drunk. Consider that in most states the legal blood alcohol content is .08. When you’ve been up for 18 hours, studies show that you function as if your blood alcohol content were .07. After 24 hours without sleep, you’re at 0.1 the same as a drunk driver. http://www.corrections.com/news/article/23187-mandatory-overtime-sleep-deprivation P.S. The Correctional Industry is extremely interested in safety. Crunch: Physical Effects
  17. 17. [L]ong working hours may be one of the risk factors that have a negative effect on cognitive performance in middle age. As mild cognitive impairment predicts dementia and mortality, the identification of risk factors for mild cognitive impairment in middle age is important. Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function The Whitehall II Study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2727184/ Crunch: Mental Effects
  18. 18. Crunch and your RELATIONSHIPS How does “crunch” affect your relationships? Significant other Close friends Family Children This is a thought exercise. So think.
  19. 19. Know Your Enemy: Environmental There is another enemy out there that is quite possibly worse than crunch. • A toxic development environment.
  20. 20. Do you work in a Toxic Development Environment? • In the video game industry we have some serious, insidious problems that we don’t really talk about. And I think we should. • One of those problems is that development environments themselves can be toxic, and affect you just as much (or more) than crunch. • Maybe you don’t even know any better?
  21. 21. Know Your Enemy: Warning Signs • There are clear signs that you are in an unhealthy company; crunch is only ONE of the indicators. • How to fix these? Do the opposite!
  22. 22. What is Toxic? Bullies • A “bully” could be a peer, an immediate supervisor, the owner of the company, an untenable contract, or a publisher. • Abuse comes in many forms, verbal, mental and physical. • This abuse also affects your friends and family.
  23. 23. What is toxic? Bullying What is bullying? Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: • Verbal abuse • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating • Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/
  24. 24. Bullying: The Problem It is a problem that has invaded the life of 37% adult Americans without invitation. In its more severe forms, it triggers a host of stress-related health complications -- hypertension, auto-immune disorders, depression, anxiety to PTSD. The person's immediate job and often career are often disrupted. http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/
  25. 25. Bullying: A Solution The Healthy Workplace Campaign • 26 States since 2003 have introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill • No laws yet enacted • 15 states with 21 bills active http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/
  26. 26. Bullying: A Solution What the Healthy Workplace Bill Does for Employers • Precisely defines an "abusive work environment" -- it is a high standard for misconduct • Requires proof of health harm by licensed health or mental health professionals • Protects conscientious employers from vicarious liability risk when internal correction and prevention mechanisms are in effect • Gives employers the reason to terminate or sanction offenders http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/
  27. 27. Bullying: A Solution What the Healthy Workplace Bill Does for Workers • Provides an avenue for legal redress for health harming cruelty at work • Allows you to sue the bully as an individual • Holds the employer accountable • Seeks restoration of lost wages and benefits • Compels employers to prevent and correct future instances http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/
  28. 28. Toxic Budgeting / Finances • Project was originally budgeted with no input from the team that would be doing the work • The company is unwilling to write an expense check; instead, they expect everyone to just find a way to get it done. “Don’t you know how to install an air conditioner?” • The “company will fail” if everyone doesn’t “pull together.”
  29. 29. Toxic Staffing Issues • Not enough staff to reach project goals • Not enough experienced staff that know how to avoid “rookie mistakes” • Too few people wearing too many hats • Positions are poorly defined with no job descriptions
  30. 30. Toxic Staffing Issues • “Single” staff members outnumber those with families • “Single” staff show resentment toward those with families • High annual turnover • No exit interviews or listening to people leaving the company • Requiring overtime with no notice; then being upset when employees cannot work said overtime
  31. 31. Toxic Scheduling • Milestones are vague or completely undefined • Ship date is “locked” on an arbitrary date. If the date is missed, another arbitrary date is chosen with no regard to reality and what is possible. • Product demos are unscheduled and are often surprises • Management has no idea how many hours the team or individuals are working • No accountability in tasks
  32. 32. Toxic Scheduling • Effectiveness is irrelevant; management only notices the quantity of hours employees are in the building • New tasks continually pull key staff away from their main responsibilities • Vacations are non-existent, i.e. you cannot use your accrued vacation time because the project is “too important.” • No compensatory time off is given • Endless overtime, i.e. crunch. Didn’t think we’d leave that out, did you?
  33. 33. Toxic Project Management • Feature list is vague, unrealistic, or non-existent • No clear plan to completion • The rule is “Work Harder” with no clearly defined idea of what that means or what the specific goals are • Management has no idea “how the sausage is made” • Continual scope creep
  34. 34. Toxic Project Management • Design (or anything, really) by committee without anyone that can have a final decision • Micromanagement • Never take the time to celebrate any milestones, no matter how large or small • Employees are told when they doing a bad job; never when they are doing a good job
  35. 35. Toxic Product Support • Quality Assurance is not hired until the last possible minute (or later, or not at all) • Customer Service issues are ignored or not planned for in any way during product development • Lack of community management plan • Website is unmanned or inaccurate
  36. 36. Toxic Inequities / General Stupidity • Nepotism / favoritism / sycophants • Employees are more concerned with people “liking” them than getting the job done • Management demands respect instead of earning it • Management habitually leaves before or arrives after the bulk of the employees finish their workday • A huge gap in automobile value in the parking lot
  37. 37. Toxic Inequities / General Stupidity • No need to hire a cleaning service when management can just make everyone (besides themselves) clean toilets • Management expenses lunches / events with sycophants • Management takes vacations, leave to see their children’s plays, and the like while everyone else is forced to stay in the office • Management writes vague emails and are upset when you cannot read between the lines or read their minds
  38. 38. Helpful Resources • Resources exist that allow you to get help for yourself or others that are suffering through crunch and/or are in toxic environments.
  39. 39. Some Books for Inspiration The Mythical Man Month: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams: http://www.google.com/shopping/product/8732329471760615040?hl=en
  40. 40. Some Links for Help • Mental Health Support Resources: http://www.mhatexas.org/mhatexasMAIN/IRGuide4.03.pdf • Coping with stress checklist: http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=c7df9899- 1372-4d20-c89412d66a4ff88d • Am I Bipolar Quiz: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/bipolarquiz.htm • Am I a Workaholic Quiz: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2011/05/living/workaholic.test/index.html • Is your boss Bullying you? http://undercoverlawyer.hubpages.com/hub/10- Signals-The-Boss-is-Bullying-You • Toxic Workplace Quiz: http://excelle.monster.com/benefits/articles/5573- workplace-checklist-how-toxic-is-yours
  41. 41. Some Links for Help • Discrimination Facts (Texas) http://www.twc.state.tx.us/crd/facts.html • Unemployment benefits (Texas) http://www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/bnfts/bi-99.pdf • How to collect back wages. http://www.ehow.com/how_7653930_collect-back- wages.html • Am I a contractor or an employee? http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_IndependentContractor.htm • Overtime pay. http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/fairpay/main.htm
  42. 42. Stay Sane Inside Insanity Identifying Toxic Game Development Environments -- Billy Joe Cain 4/24/14 billyjoecain@gmail.com
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