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Pachter's 'baseless' comments on unpaid developer overtime are 'poisonous', says Spilt Milk MD Andrew John Smith

Pachter's 'baseless' comments on unpaid developer overtime are 'poisonous', says Spilt Milk MD Andrew John Smith
His comments were aimed at L.A. Noire studio Team Bondi, but Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter's views on the working conditions suffered by game developers have erupted a debate within the industry at large.

During his regular GameTrailers video feature Pach Attack, Pachter said he had little sympathy for those at Team Bondi who'd complained about working unpaid overtime during the development of L.A. Noire.

In his view, it's all part of a game's 'crunch time', and those not interested in working beyond 9-5 are in the wrong job.

Gabbling garbage

"I've never heard a developer say 'I don’'t work overtime and I don't work weekends'," Pachter said in the video.

"If you're getting into the industry, you are going to work plenty of hours. If your complaint is you worked overtime and didn’t get paid for it, find another profession."

In reply, we've heard from Spilt Milk Studios MD Andrew John Smith, who told us he believes it's dangerous for someone with no development experience to cast aspersions about those working within the industry in this way.

"I've got to give a few words over to the enormously insensitive and out of touch garbage that Pachter has seen fit to dump all over the internet recently," Smith says in his email.

"Pachter is being poisonous. He's saying that people wanting to get a job in games should be willing to crunch unpaid for weeks at a time - they should sacrifice their personal lives and interests and families for the games they work on.

"We all know this is bullshit. Certain individuals may want to do that, and that’s fine, but the majority of people won’t want to."

Inexperienced opinion

Smith, whose studio recently released Hard Lines on the App Store, goes on to question every element of Pachter's argument, including the analyst's assessment that a game's crunch time "should be the last three to six months of game development".

"Apparently a man who has never once made a game knows this for fact," adds Smith.

"It should be a part of the game development. No 'unavoidable' or 'in worst cases' here. It should just be accepted."

Smith says Pachter is mistaken in his understanding of how development works, claiming the percentage of crunch time would vary depending on the size of the overall project, and dismissing the notion that developers take this into account when setting to work on a new game.

"Of course, this would mean - as he seems to think - that crunch is not only expected but planned for by companies in a way that is fair and remunerates the people involved. Of course this doesn’t happen all the time.

"If that was true then we could all apply for jobs at the obviously better companies that are about. Unfortunately I can't name more than a handful."

Wrong audience

On the wider issue of Pachter's decision to air his views in this way, Smith believes he has the potential to do the industry much damage.

The analyst has become something of a 'celebrity' in recent years, largely down to his willingness to give heady predictions to games sites aimed at consumers. Indeed, it's the fact Pachter chose Gametrailers to broadcast his views that Smith takes issue with.

"These quotes are taken from was posted on Game Trailers and specifically targeted at consumers, painting the people who make their games as whiners and complainers," Smith alleges.

"But there is more to it than that. Not only is this kind of comment potentially turning talented and valuable future stars away from the industry, but it is mocking everyone in the industry at the moment who values their family and health above their job."

Worst of all, however, is Pachter's claim that those who worked unpaid overtime on L.A. Noire will benefit from bonuses at a later date.

"I think [the point] that everyone is missing is that, if a game is good – and L.A. Noire was good – there will be a profit pool, and there will be bonuses," Pachter said in the video.

In response, Smith claims Pachter is entirely out of touch with the industry he claims to offer insight into.

"Add '...for company owners' to the end of that and we're getting a little more accurate," he continues.

"It's the exact reason I set up my own company. I want to make good money off of my own games. Working for a company other than your own makes this little more than a pipe dream for most people.

"He name drops the success of games like the Modern Warfare series as an example to back him up. I'd love to see him take a look at the vast majority of companies.

"Of course staff at Infinity Ward, Rockstar North and Blizzard get lovely bonuses – they make the best selling games there are. But they are a completely non-representative segment of the industry, and are a ridiculous basis to start making generalisations."

No analysis

Pachter's comments come after working conditions within mobile development were also called into question by former Gameloft Auckland programmer Glenn Watson.

Watson claimed he often had to work consecutive seven day weeks, clocking up around 120 working hours in the process – a situation that resulted in his resignation.

Smith believes what happened to Watson is far more common than the picture Pachter paints of fair pay for those who go the extra mile.

"As Glenn Watson said about his decision to quit the industry entirely, there is simply no way that the majority of the people called upon to do the crunch get fair remuneration, and if Pachter had actually spoken to anyone on the ground in development teams he’d know that.

"That Glenn was the head programmer at his studio is of particular shock – usually the senior staff are treated slightly better. I’ve been the victim of crunch that is impossible to be repaid, and know for fact the situation is rife in the industry.

"One of my good friends is owed over three months of time in lieu. If he thinks he's ever getting that, he's living in a dream world.

"These stories are everywhere. Somehow he’s missed them, and that proves to me that he is a terrible analyst when the slightest exploration of the topic would’ve uncovered a ton of information to the contrary."
Thanks to Andrew for his time.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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