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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Games industry 'burns out talent'
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

EA game Battle for Middle Earth
Working conditions during the production of an EA game led to lawsuits
The games industry has a long hours culture that is burning out young talent, UK union Bectu has warned.

Bectu's Gerry Morrissey said: "It's not unusual... to do 12 to 16 hours a day for three to four months at a time".

Games giant Electronic Arts recently settled legal cases with ex-employees in the US over working conditions.

"The industry can take young, green people, put them through the mill and spit them out," said Gareth Wilson of developer Bizarre Creations.

"People are generally happy with their pay. However, the big complaint is about the long hours culture," said Mr Morrissey, assistant secretary general at Bectu.

"People are asking us to get involved and speak to employers' associations," he added.

Mr Morrissey said Bectu was trying to build up a membership within the industry in the UK.

"We are trying to build up membership so we can go to employers' associations and show we represent the industry, the critical mass.

"We are a long way from that."

Feared

Mr Morrissey said game developers were afraid of speaking out because they feared employers would simply replace them with younger talent willing to do the hours.

One video game software engineer told BBC News that working 50 hours a week for months at a time was not unusual on a project.

Project Gotham Racing 3
It is extremely rare not to get some form of overtime at the end of a project
Gareth Wilson, Bizarre Creations

The developer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that staff did not receive overtime payments.

A blockbuster video game can involve more than 100 people and cost upwards of $20m (12m) as the industry moves towards a working model not unlike a film studio.

A new generation of games consoles has also increased pressure on game firms who are having to deal with new hardware involving greater design work and more sophisticated graphics and physics.

Mr Wilson, the design manager at Project Gotham Racing developers Bizarre, said the industry was growing up but some unscrupulous firms were still exploiting staff.

Bizarre pays overtime to staff, which is offered only on an optional basis, and provides services such as meals, dry cleaning and ironing to those working late.

'Avoid overtime'

"It is extremely rare not to get some form of overtime at the end of a project. I have never worked on a project without it.

I look back on it as a very painful time
Erin Hoffman, EA Spouse

"But we try to avoid overtime. If we need more hours, we hire more people."

Very few games firms paid overtime, said Mr Wilson.

According to the latest survey of the video games sector by Skillset, games developers work on average 8.6 hours a day, the lowest of all the audio visual industries.

But Mr Wilson and Mr Morrissey said some companies were not offering decent working conditions to staff.

Mr Wilson: "Some companies have forced staff to work long hours because they can get away with it."

The issue was raised within the industry when the partner of a developer at EA in Los Angeles started to blog anonymously about her situation.

The blog, EA Spouse, eventually led to lawsuits against the company that have recently been settled.

Erin Hoffman, who wrote the blog and is now speaking publicly about events, told BBC News: "I started writing the blog when EA asked my partner to start working seven days a week.

'Problem'

"I look back on it as a very painful time."

She added: "Part of the problem is that the games industry has grown up like this. The industry is so new and young."

"Part of the problem was management. Project planning was not as it should be and not as good as other IT areas," said the developer speaking anonymously to the BBC.

"The games industry is now a real business rather than something done with a couple of people in a bedroom," said Mr Wilson.

"Management has not been at the same standard as the rest of the IT industry," he said.

Ms Hoffman said the EA lawsuits had prompted a big improvement at the company.

She said: "EA in Los Angeles has completely turned around its work practices. They have an agreement in place never to work on Sundays.

"People there are very happy now. They are still producing games on time and getting good reviews."




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