Worked to Death

by Steve Bowler on July 10, 2008 · 5 comments

in business

Some friends of mine pointed me to an article about a 45 year old Japanese man who worked at Toyota who died from overwork. It’s such a pervasive phenomenon in Japan they even coined a word for it: Karoshi.

At first I thought “oh wow, they must have really overworked this poor bastard.” I read on to find out he only worked 80 hours of overtime a month for two months. That’s what, roughly 60 hours/week for two months? Jeeeeez, I’ve done 60-80 hour weeks for five months straight (and I got off easy; some of the other team members were doing that for 6-9 months straight). 60 hour weeks after that felt like a vacation. Seriously.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the practice. Far from it. I’m actually a bit worried that we might see our own Karoshi epidemic coming. As one of my buddies in the industry mentioned when I showed him this link, we couldn’t do another 4 month crunch ten years from now. We just won’t be physically capable of handling the stress.

It’s possible that we’re not seeing deaths in game development yet because the American game development workforce is extremely young by comparison to other industries out there. Part of it is because our industry is so relatively young (the game industry as we know it is barely more than thirty years old, if that), and part of it is due to it being so technologically advanced. But there will come a day in our industry’s future where a decent enough size of the workforce will be middle aged, and if we continue down this path, we might just start seeing people drop.

Hopefully we as an industry can rally around companies and procedures that don’t wind up working us to death in the end before it’s too late. Things like Agile and better scheduling, milestones, and forecasting are certainly a step in the right direction. Do software companies like Google and Microsoft do 60+hour crunches for months on end? Is there something we can learn from them if they don’t? I know companies like EA are getting on the ball and finding better practices to avoid as much crunch as they can. What about your company? Are you crunching now?

Is it killing you?

Note: Yes, I’m crunching right now. No, I’m not dead yet.