Thursday, August 22, 2013

Left Hand Meet Right Hand: Advantages of Distributed Development and Work from Home (Part I)

In Part I of this article, developer Judy Tyrer discusses the disadvantages and disruption caused by mandatory colocation.

Marissa Meyers recently made headlines with the call for all Yahoo! employees to return to the office. She has dismissed studies of improved productivity when people are allowed to work from home and asserts, instead, that colocation of people is required for innovation. While Yahoo is in the unique position of a company trying to turn itself around, many will be watching to see whether this proves to be a successful move.

The game industry is not Yahoo!, however, and before we jump on board to adapt Ms. Meyers' theories, we need to first examine the cost of having all developers in a single location to the industry as a whole. .

Disadvantages of Colocating 

Personnel Costs of Relocation

IGN reported 20 studios closed in 2012. In addition, it reports 35 incidents of smaller studio closures or significant lay-offs. Speaking from personal experience, I saw one RIF (reduction in force) and one studio closing within a 1 year period resulting in 2 cross-country moves within that same year. Psychologists list the stress of moving as the most significant stressor short of losing a loved one. It is not only disruptive for the employee, but for the entire family. In two-career homes, it leads to arguments over whose career takes precedent. Some careers are only available in limited geographic locations forcing the game developing spouse to stop developing games or forcing the spouse with limited geographic options to forgo their career. When children are involved, it removes them from their schools and friends. For high school students, this can mean having to take extra courses and summer school since standards are local. For example, my son could not count ROTC as his PE requirement when moving to a school that did not have ROTC and would require an additional year of high school to meet that requirement alone. .

Limited Talent Pool 

Thousands of young people fresh out of school are trying to enter the game industry. However, with the Quality-of-Life issues rampant in the industry, we find a shrinking pool of experienced developers. People who start families begin to rethink 12/7 work weeks and leave the industry for a saner lifestyle. According to the most recent IGDA QOL Survey, 74.4% of respondents had less than 8 years of industry experience. The average age of developers was only 31.22 years and 76.9% of respondents have no children. .

If you draw a correlation between the age of developers and their child-free status with the exodus of developers with greater than 7 years’ experience, the logical conclusion is that this industry needs to become friendlier to older developers with children. One way to grow the experienced developer pool of talent is to look beyond the confines of local studios. Experienced developers live in the all the major game hubs, but many are settled in those locations and experienced enough they don’t need to leave for a good job. So a studio seeking top talent will expand its talent pool for developers if relocation is not a requirement..

The Bottom Line 

Next to hardware for server farms, salaries and benefits are the largest expense for a game studio. The more expensive the location of the studio, the higher salaries required. The difference for a developer in Denver and in San Francisco is 55%. So a $50K developer in Denver will cost $77,500 in San Francisco. And yet your game does not sell for 55% more in San Francisco than in Denver. It sells for exactly the same amount. From a simple bottom line perspective, it makes more sense to hire the developer in Denver..

Judy Tyrer began in serious games with PLATO in the late 1970s, moved into distributed operating systems and enterprise software before rejoining the game industry in 2005. She worked for Ubisoft, Sony Online Entertainment and Linden Lab before branching out to start her own studio, 3 Turn Productions LLC which is coming out with the virtual world of Jane Austen for Kickstarter this summer.


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