Uncharted Director Criticizes Triple-A Development, Says It Can "Destroy People"

Amy Hennig says she worked 10.5 years of 80-hour weeks.

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Industry veteran Amy Hennig has spoken up to criticize the nature of triple-A development, specifically calling out the periods of "crunch" that can exist on a project. Crunch is the industry term for when a team works extended hours at the end of a project to finish it.

As part of the newest Idle Thumbs' Designer Notes podcast, Hennig recalled her time working on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and how stressful it was to get the game out the door.

No Caption Provided

"The whole time I was at Naughty Dog--ten-and-a-half years--I probably, on average, I don't know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week," she said, as reported by GI.biz. "There were exceptions where it was like, 'Okay, let's take a couple of days off,' but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day."

It wasn't just Naughty Dog developers at Hennig's level pulling long hours, Hennig explained, stating that "a lot" of employees regularly worked weekends.

"I mean, Naughty Dog is pretty notorious for the amount of crunch, but obviously in a leadership role you try and do even more," she said.

In May, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End director Neil Druckmann told Rolling Stone that the game's themes were inspired in part by crunch.

"We've all joined this industry with the hope of affecting people, touching them in some way," he said at the time. "Which is why we work so hard, sometimes to destructive outcomes. So in this game, I really wanted to explore that. To kind of use the pulp action-adventure story as a backdrop, but it's all kind of a metaphor for our life's pursuit."

Looking back on her time at Naughty Dog, Hennig said she wouldn't do anything differently knowing what she knows now. However, that experience seems to have changed her outlook on triple-A development. Asked if working on triple-A games was worth it, from the perspective of the toll it can take on a person's life, she said, "I don't think so."

She added that some people working in the triple-A space "never go home and see their families."

"They have children who are growing up without seeing them," she said. "I didn't have my own kids. I chose my career in lots of ways, and I could be single-minded like that. When I was making sacrifices, did it affect my family? Yes, but it was primarily affecting me and I could make that choice. But when I look at other people... I mean, my health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad. And there were people who, y'know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That's not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that."

She added: "We have to get our act figured out as an industry, and the problem is that the ante keeps getting upped... It's an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people."

Hennig isn't giving up triple-A gaming, of course, as she is the creative director on Dead Space developer Visceral Games' unannounced Star Wars game. She said she's now focused on figuring out how triple-A games can be made in a way that is "sane and responsible and ethical."

"Because we're not doing it right now," she said.

Unlike the film business, the video game industry is largely un-unionized. What impact a developers' union could have on crunch or some of the other issues Hennig brought up remains to be seen.

The subject of crunch made waves earlier this year. Developer Alex St. John--a longtime member of the industry, one of the creators of Microsoft's DirectX, and the founder of game network WildTangent--dismissed concerns over crunch, deeming those concerned with fair wages and working conditions as having a "wage-slave attitude."

Hennig directed the original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and was the creative director for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. She was the director on Uncharted 4, but was eventually replaced by the Druckmann and Bruce Straley. Before joining Naughty Dog, Hennig worked at Crystal Dynamics, producing 1999's Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

She joined EA in 2014 to become the creative director on Visceral's Star Wars game. Last month, Hennig revealed that the game, like the films, will make the protagonists feel like underdogs, overcoming odds seemingly stacked against them.

"They have to work together and they have to be cleverer than their enemies," she said. "Therefore, how do you turn that into gameplay. How do you take that idea and then deconstruct it as mechanics, sequences, that then play to that core principle. That's the challenge of making these kinds of things."

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Avatar image for melante
melante

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Crunch is awful. Too many "top managers" in the game industry (AAA mostly, but also in casual games. I know first hand) see passionate developers as "disposable" resources and push them too far. Greed is sad. Best of luck to Amy: hopefully she can start some change from the inside.

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sdzald

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Years and years ago (pre PC's) I worked at NCR's OS development center as a tec. All the programmers were on salary. We had this very large room filled with million dollar Main Frame computers that they would use to write and test. They all had deadlines that came due at the same time. Early in the cycle the place was always totally empty and all their offices were empty. Then as the dead line approached more and more of them would show up, they would start to work around the clock, arguing over system time became brutal.

So when I see a programmer complain about the long hours as crunch time approaches all I can do is wonder how much time they goofed off in the early part of the project?

A company is in business to make money, they can not keep these guys on salary forever, they have to set deadlines. I see this from both sides and do not totally blame the AAA companies.

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Doozie78

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Luckily there's a simple solution, don't buy "AAA" dev games.

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joebones5000

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No one becomes a software developer to "touch people". They do it for the money. Software dev is a terrible job with no appreciation whatsoever.

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urbanman2004

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She might be just over-reacting. Suck it up baby

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LonelyStep

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@urbanman2004: What an uninformed response.

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K_A_R_X

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So, "crunch is the industry term for when a team works extended hours at the end of a project to finish it". OK.

Just curious, can anybody here give a correct definition for Triple-A Development, or, at least for Triple-A Title?

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melante

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Edited By melante

@K_A_R_X: easy: large scale project with big teams and big budget. Highest quality and production values. (anyway, don't worry, it's a legit question: years ago I thought it meant: Action-Arcade-Adventure games!! LOL)

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LonelyStep

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@K_A_R_X: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAA_(video_game_industry)

It's kinda nebulous. It's like trying to make a hard definition on what is and what is not a box office movie.

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kane809

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Edited By kane809

http://kotaku.com/what-video-game-shit-are-you-too-old-for-1787536457

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grunt123

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Edited By grunt123

i've been working for triple A studio for the past 10+ years now. and i'd say it depends on studio. As game programmer (graphics), i've only worked in this studio, so can't say for other studios. I have to say that i don't see much 'crunch' hours here. If the project deadline (release date) is approaching, yes, absolutely, but even then, it's not so bad, roughly 60+ hours per week, Sat or Sun is day off. And, during normal periorid? well, it's just typical 8 hours per day, 5 days per week. and the game projects i've worked on have been amazingly popular (and well-known. i don't think any game, triple A or not, can compete our game in the genre.) in all platforms (yes, including pc)

i think it all comes down to the management. we keenly track down our tasks/bugs in a very systematic manner, and estimate the amount of hours that each task/bug would need. If someone have too much in his hands, team lead immediately intervene and redistribute his work among fellow programmers. It wasn't this way at the start though. When i first worked here, it was pretty brutal, pretty similar to what Amy in this article is describing. But, it started to change several years ago, and now, we don't really have so-called 'crunch' hours ... maybe, minor version of typical crunch time at some time, i'd say.

People say that this 'crunch' culture is industry-wide problem, i don't think so. i haven't felt it for a very long time now. So, i think other studio, (yes, ND, you too) can do something about it and make this notorious culture a thing of past.

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JOKER677

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We can see these effects trickling into the quality of games being released...I think by the time they are finished with the game they just want it to be done and over with...until you need to work on the updates lol. Sonic 06 is the exception lol

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BigDegs

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Blame publishers for having unrealistic expectations and impossible deadlines.

80-hour work weeks are insane and leave little time for anything else. I regularly work 60-hour work weeks, of my own volition, and that's rough enough. Plus, I probably make much less than Amy. I'd work 80-hour work weeks today while I'm young if it set me up for the future.

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brandiesel

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Hire more people and do shifts. 6am to 2. 2pm to 10 and 10 to 6.

Then you'll have 24 hours development

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Atzenkiller

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@brandiesel: Yeah, it's always strange to read topics like this. It's as if the answer would be obvious to everyone but the person who's killing themselves through overworking. These are top CEOs of big companies yet they've never learned to delegate properly.

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itchyflop

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Edited By itchyflop

With the benefits too, like rich's if your product(s) sell well, like naughty dogs have.

I respect their work and what they've produced, however some people HAVE to work 7 days a week for low wages.

Non the less thank you naughty dog :)

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fraidso

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Except that Naughty Dog have become notorious for setting completely unrealistic goals in relation to starting development on a game and finishing it for release. How many times was A Thief's End delayed? When was the last ND game that came out that WASN'T delayed? Maybe you were working that amount of time at ND cause they got shit time management? Notice the only bad experiences she mentioned was there, doesn't say anything about anywhere else.

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JRLennis

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The reason people's lives are being destroyed by AAA game development is because they are letting it happen. They refuse to take a stand for their own lives and say "no" to the people above them. I understand there are risks to saying no to your boss, but can things be much worse than the status quo? If a few people walk away, those people will get fired, but if everyone walks away, then the industry will be forced to change. Make no mistake, a major industry-wide strike is the only practical way to affect meaningful change in labor conditions at this point. Just as it has in every other industry.

I know this sounds harsh, but game developers need to get their heads out of the sand and grow a backbone before the workload literally kills them. It's not like executives are going to take the initiative in this fight.

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Thanatos2k

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Edited By Thanatos2k

@JRLennis: In video games, it's simply unacceptable. You won't work the hours in crunch, you're fired. Quickly, too.

It's why the video game industry and every developer cracks down insanely quickly whenever employees start talking about a union. Developers at other software companies would laugh at the idea that well paid programmers would need one, but the video game industry is paranoid about it because they would be destroyed by such an action.

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sdzald

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@Thanatos2k:

They have deadlines, you have to ask yourself how much did they goof off in the early stages? Lets say they have a year to complete a project, they are on salary so hey they think "I have plenty of time I will come in late leave early who cares as long as I get it done." Then the deadline approaches and its, "Ohhhh crap I have to get this done!" then complain about the long hours. I worked in an OS development house, that happened ALL the time.

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deactivated-58b0b257815cf

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@Thanatos2k: I doubt that. Can they really replace people so easily?

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LonelyStep

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Edited By LonelyStep

@slappy54: Sure. There are tons of fresh college grads who are so pumped to go and make the newest Call of Duty. They enter the industry, get chewed up, spat back out, and guess what? Loads more are already lining up to take their place.

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Thanatos2k

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@slappy54: No. So they make everyone else just work even more to pick up the slack. I am not kidding.

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nervedamaged

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And this is why the Star Wars game probably won't come out till the end of 2018, if we're lucky.

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J-007

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I can understand the difficulties of relationships of all kinds and best thing is to love who matters most and sadly you either marry your job then retire to break up that passion or stay single for the type of job you do in this AAA industry of games nowadays and perhaps meet your lover in the same business offices. Its amazing at what's been achieved nowadays and we can applaud that but family matters more and whatever the job in our lives...with the higher demands to meet the public's expectations nowadays is a shame and we need to find a way to make life fair. I could show some love for the AAA games and I do as I write this comment. I would say find someone of your talent to assist you and say hey I'm logging off now...please do this and that for me but hope that you can return to your original project and hope the work is done exactly to expectations. I applaud Naughty Dog and you for your hard work and sorry life is not what you expect. If you're in a relationship...deal with it if you can or cut ties and make the right decision

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J-007

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I can understand the difficulties of relationships of all kinds and best thing is to love who matters most and sadly you either marry your job then retire to break up that passion or stay single for the type of job you do in this AAA industry of games nowadays and perhaps meet your lover in the same business offices. Its amazing at what's been achieved nowadays and we can applaud that but family matters more and whatever the job in our lives...with the higher demands to meet the public's expectations nowadays is a shame and we need to find a way to make life fair. I could show some love for the AAA games and I do as I write this comment. I would say find someone of your talent to assist you and say hey I'm logging off now...please do this and that for me bit hope that you can return to your original project and hope the work is done exactly to expectations. I applaud Naughty Dog and you for your hard work and sorry life is not what you expect. If you're in a relationship...deal with it if you can or cut ties and make the right decision

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Ripper_TV

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1. Hennig was never an Uncharted director

2. Uncharted 3 is by far the crappiest entry in the series

3. Why is the race unwinnable? Gamers do win, as the games do become, albeit VERY slowly, better (by that I only mean DEEPER, less shallow) with generations.

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Khasym

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@Ripper_TV: It's unwinnable because for every A Thief's End, for every Dead Space or Mass Effect, there are DOZENS of No Man's Sky's, Assassin's Cred Unity's and Battlefield Hardlines. For every Overwatch, there's an Evolve that just sucks up enthusiasm and enjoyment instead of creating it.

And we don't win. We lose, as every developer tries to make up their losses, with more DLC cut from the game, more microtransactions gating off content, and more pre-order bonuses that are all sold to us on HYPE, rather than proof before the game's out.

There are plenty of games that demonstrate a smaller more controlled team and budget doing something well, blows away the big-budget games with hundreds of workers slaving away for weeks without end. The AAA industry is only business minded, in the minds of INVESTORS, not gamers. They want those stock dividends and those high buy prices, so when the game of the NYSE roulette is played, they cash out big, then buy back their stock after the games that were supposed to lift them up TANK, and keep control of a business just to turn it into a multi-million dollar ATM machine.

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madsnakehhh

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@Ripper_TV: Sad that people doesn't understand how the race is actually unwinnable...as the games get bigger and bigger, the toll on developers gets the better of them and more and more of them will be ready to quit after a few projects, not to mention, if any of this so called AAA games fail in the market...hundreds if not thousands could lose their job, so yeah...games getting bigger can only be profitable for a while before a big studio collapses...

If doesn't help heither that this gamers who apparently win in the end by having a good game, spend most of their time in Reddit, forums, etc...talking pure crap about the game.

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Thanatos2k

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And this is why I don't work in video games. Programming positions in every other industry pay more and you work less hours.

AAA development is eventually going to collapse, and work conditions will be one of the main reasons. When game developers find they can no longer get cheap labor willing to throw their lives away just so they can make video games, the industry will collapse. Development costs are already sky high, having to pay employees what they're actually worth would bankrupt most developers.

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Khasym

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@Thanatos2k: As much as I want to believe Thana, I know another industry that has this exact same problem....and hasn't changed in over 50 years. Truck Driving. Back in the early 2000's, I was training to be an OTR driver. And every trainer was absolutely nuts in how much they want you to drive. Far as they were concerned, I didn't get out of that seat, until I drove 600 miles every day, even if it took me 14 hours to do it because of traffic or other conditions. It is still terrifying to think that with an 80,000 pound truck, one training was doing 100+ miles an hour, coming out of the Denver mountains. The physics of gravity was never more apparent to me, than when I got tossed four feet into the air out of my bunk, when he hit a big bump with the truck.

What got me out of that industry, was the last question I asked a trainer. We were talking about the requirements of driving, and I asked him how it was that driving companies were able to get away with demanding so much. He told me stories of drivers literally getting kicked out of their truck at a depot on the other side of the country from their home with no money and told to find their own way back. I asked why there was never a union or an organization of drivers calling for better treatment. His answer was simple: "There's always someone willing to drive for the money. If it won't be you, it'll be someone else."

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Thanatos2k

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Edited By Thanatos2k

@Khasym: The thing is, truck driving is a relatively low skill position. You don't go to school to be a truck driver. It's kind of its own self contained thing.

When you go to school and get an engineering degree, there is high competition for people with such skills. You could work in video games, OR you could work for one of the thousands of web site companies, or in back end server stuff, or for an application developer, and OS developer, a database company, or make a start up, or work for a start up, or or or.

So many options. So much competition. And the city I live in has a big name game developer in it - our company gets people from there who have burned out after being forced to work 80 hour weeks ALL the time.

The video game industry churns through 20 something men as its lifeblood, because they are often single with no family or other such committments. You want to look at why there's such a "lack of diversity" in video games that's why - women on average in general refuse to work such hours, and older married men won't either. But people are slowly wising up, as the sad realities of game development are trickling down into the colleges, and more people are wisely steering themselves away before the death spiral begins.

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Khasym

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@Thanatos2k: That's actually untrue. To drive trucks for a living, requires either a Class-B or A driver's license. If you're Class-A, you also need the certifications for air brakes and either hauling hazardous materials, or passengers as your job sees fit. if you haul something extremely valuable, you might need to be bonded for security, requiring more testing and certification. And you may need to re-test, if something changes with the certifications. It took six months of schooling to learn and pass the written and driving tests, and I was on the road another six months as a student driver before I gave it up.

And that's just the on-the-record training. In the truck itself, you have to learn how to survive. Take your bedroom, cut the space in half, and turn it into a bedroom/office/living room/kitchen/workroom that you might leave for 3 hours out of any given day. You need to know how to fill out logbooks to be square with the FMCSA, how to inspect your truck and trailer before starting out, for possible issues.

Now, I'm not saying that Trucking is as complicated as coding. :-) but there are similarities. Right now, there's a growing trucker shortage, because of all the BS that trucking companies have pulled. Those that have been in their trucks till now, are mostly older drivers with connections and friends who help make money for them. But they're retiring more and more, and newer drivers aren't sticking around once they get their first taste of 20-hour driving schedules.

My point is, stupid, short sighted decisions that focus on stuff like crunch or overworking your people, do more to drive talented, eager people OUT of an industry, and that is what is happening right now in AAA. As much as I want to see more AAA games, I want to see games people can be PROUD of. That they'll stand behind and support, not cheer like zombies at because some PR executive trotted them out onto a stage for a little public performance.

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Xristophoros

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every creative industry has inhumane conditions. talk to the folks working in the special fx industry... no unions and worse conditions in many cases than even the gaming industry. then there is the anime industry... let's not even go there :D

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hystavito

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@Xristophoros: Is it just creative industries though?

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alaskancrab

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Funny if you had cut out 5 hours from Uncharted 4 it would have probably been a better game.

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Xristophoros

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Edited By Xristophoros

@alaskancrab: i can agree to that... also the ending was disappointing and did not work for me. still my game of the year for 2016, though, despite a few issues.

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spartanx169x

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Edited By spartanx169x

My question is, how much was Amy's salary in that leadership role? 150K 200K, 250K or 75K? IF its 150K or more , you ARE going to work 70 to 80hrs a week in most industries. If its less than 150K, well it sucked to be you. I could work like that for 125K for maybe 2 or 3 years, but after that I would be looking for something with less hrs and less money if that is what was needed.

Additionally , there is no way to put this in context for Amy or anybody else in the industry without knowing what everybody is getting paid. How much was Amy making? how much were the programmers making? How much for the Art Staff?

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Thanatos2k

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Edited By Thanatos2k

@spartanx169x: "IF its 150K or more , you ARE going to work 70 to 80hrs a week in most industries"

Not computer science. You can easily make that in some place like California at a normal company with reasonable hours.

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spartanx169x

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@Thanatos2k: I did say most. there are obviously going to be occupations that can do that. But I also know computer programmer jobs are getting sent India on a daily basis to avoid paying 150K a year. that's not a field I would want to be in right now, unless of course you are working for government. then you have it made.

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Thanatos2k

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@spartanx169x: Engineering jobs are some of the most secure there is. Yes, some companies "send the jobs to India" but just as many are secretly taking the jobs back FROM India because it often turns out you're getting what you paid for.

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suicidesn0wman

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People have been talking about this on GAF for the past couple hours now. It's sad to see how poorly people in the industry are treated, and it played a major role in me choosing to switch to web development over game development.

But I still wish I was making games instead of building websites.

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howthegodzkill

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Massive backlogs of unplayed games can destroy people as well.

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BLACKx114

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Edited By BLACKx114

@howthegodzkill: Too right. =D

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yukushi

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My advice to amy is to find another industry to work in, making a good AAA game takes a lot of effort and sacrifice and passion, when you are passionate about something you will will work extra to make it happen plus you are making good money, if you want a relaxing 40 hour week then the gaming industry is not for you.

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Pedro

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@yukushi: That is a rather silly sentiment. Regardless of your passion there is always a need for balance. If game development is consuming all of your life even your social and family life then something is wrong.

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