I'm Just A Poor Mid Level Line Producer Whose Intentions Are Good

Only in 2009 can you have the intersection of game balance kvetching, business ethics, and charts about the Great Recession. And believe it or not, this time it’s not even me!

This was brought to my attention by a hit on my referral logs from my earlier primal scream about the omnipresent spectre of the gaming industry collapsing into a Schwarzchild radius of incompetency; namely that I’m a big whiny baby pounding at the keyboard with my hamfists.

If there is a product to work on today, the employee will have his salary. Tomorrow is another day. If there is no need for so many workers, they will no longer be employed. It’s that simple. Obviously if there will be need for some workers, the company tries to keep the better ones, fireing the underperformers. It’s obvious self-interest.

If the employee thought of his employer as a friend, his coworkers as a group of friends, he will feel betrayed. But whose fault it is? Actually I’ve never heard any company’s slogan to be “We are here to make our employees feel good”. They usually say “we are here to serve our customers” and mean “we are here to serve our customer’s money to our owners”. No one, ever offered the employee a “freindly helpfull group of peeps”.

Well, if your coworkers aren’t a subset of your group of friends, it may well be because you are an antisocial package of chemicals that everyone installed IM at work for specifically so they could make lunch plans without you overhearing. Most of us that have moved past the point in life where we have to wear nametags and hairnets when going to work, and now work in ‘teams’. Teams of like-minded individuals, selected in part due to personal compatibility. A key part of any employment interview process, after all, is “can we work with this person?”, which should appear closely behind “can this person actually do the job we’re looking to fill”. Both, after all, are important.

But beyond that, there is a small matter of business ethics to consider. There are some, like Mr. Greedy Gecko, er Goblin, who consider the only responsibility of a company to be its bottom line. Profit uber alles, and devil take the hindmost. It’s a fairly common viewpoint – who needs ethics when simple mathematics determines the victor!

But of course, there are other factors, or should be in a world that people not goblins may want to live in. Profit is all well and good and necessary, but at some point, someone may figure out that it’s cost-effective to dilute your milk with, say, I don’t know, something wacky like plastic. Of course long term, killing off your customers may hinder your bottom line. There are long term considerations.

One of those considerations involves the welfare of your employees. These are people who have engaged in a very clear bargain with you – for a given amount of money per week, they will spend that time helping you collect wealth. It’s a standard economic transaction, on the face of it. And for lower level employees, that’s also where it stops. Someone else pays you more, you move on. Shrug.

But past the point where you wear name tags and hair nets, it becomes incumbent on you to treat your assets as assets – and your team members are definitely assets. Because when the economy isn’t busy melting down into goo, they do have options – they can move elsewhere, say to places that don’t treat them as industrial cogs. So there is a certain level of capitalist self-interest there – you keep your assets happy, your assets stay with you and don’t become someone else’s.

But that’s not all of it, at least for most of us. Most effective managers see themselves as responsible for their team. Their team members rely on them to keep the engines running so that the explicit part of the bargain – come to work daily, get paid bi-weekly – continues to happen. That carries with it responsibility. The effective managers make sure their teams, and their projects, are successful, not only because it’s part of their job description to run a successful project and generate wealth, but also because your team members are relying on you to steer that ship through icebergs. Effective managers worry about this. Effective managers lose a lot of sleep about this — and I guarantee you, it’s not because they might deliver 22% less profit to the Mothership. It’s because they’re ethical.

This is not something you’d think would have to be explained in such grueling detail, but you’d be wrong. You’d be wrong because apparently the latest craze in Pinhead Public Company Management 101 involves divesting yourself of as many employees as you can before earnings reports so that your balance sheet looks good – regardless of whether or not you’re actually making a profit. Which is disturbing enough, but then you get apologetics like this who think that there’s nothing at all wrong with throwing your ‘assets’ over the side, and invalidating your implicit contract with them, solely to make a bar on a chart move from 43 to 48. You see – it’s really your fault.

However most of us get into situations when incompetent managers order us to do something obviously stupid and harmful to the company. Creating a malfunctioning product is not a crime unless it is dangerous to people’s health, yet it is stupid. The punishment for stupidity is market loss and the subsequent layoffs.

While employees acted as instruments of managers, this “instrument state” do not relieve them from the responsibility of their actions. They could write a memo to the higher management or simply say that “this management is stupid, I quit and find another job”. While it was a strong ape-subroutine that made them obey, they had free will to act differently. The fact that the managers would deserve layoffs more than the employees, does not change that the employees deserve it too.

I read things like this, complete with pseudo-scientific references to “ape subroutines”, and wonder if 50 years ago this guy would have been on the Warsaw Judenrat. There’s apologetics, and then there’s disturbing apologetics. (And hey, he went all Godwin first, with a somewhat disturbing equation of dissenting employees and the Nuremburg trials. I’m just finishing the neuron loop!)

Of course, many of us aren’t in the position exhorted by this blogger and MMO bloggers everywhere, namely that if you disagree with the direction of the company/design decisions/overuse of the color brown you should hand in your walking papers forthwith. As pointed out by a commenter to his blog:

I don’t know if you have a family that relies on you for its income, but tell me again that I’m free to quit a job at any time with 2 kids and a wife relying no me as the sole support of income.

To which the blogger responded:

Kids are investment to the future, cost a lot today but pay back well later. However a wife is a grown person who shall be able to support herself AND half of the kids. If YOU made the choice of supporting a grown person than it’s you who have to live with the consequences.

Hey, he’s got a point. I recommend octuplets. Better return on investment, donchaknow.

I realize this entire long blog post was the rhetorical equivalent of punching a baby, but business ethics has been something on my mind lately for fairly obvious reasons. Said blogger’s image of me as a caterwauling child ramming the keyboard with my forehead aside, I have been in the position of my failures as a team member and manager being in some way responsible for people losing their jobs. Interestingly enough, the fact that it was an eminently justifiable business decision – and in one memorable case, one I personally recommended – did nothing to help me sleep that week. Because I failed. Despite the fact that recommending a course of action that resulted in layoffs was, in a business sense the right decision – that was a failure.

And the rampant, smug self justification that we’re seeing with this year’s model of layoffs and cutbacks and corporate jets and stimulus explosions is telling me that there’s quite a few people who have no problem whatsoever sleeping. And that bothers me.

Enough to slam the keyboard with my hamfists.

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77 Responses to I'm Just A Poor Mid Level Line Producer Whose Intentions Are Good

  1. Veritas Gax says:

    Damn it, I hate when you post on topics like this. Now I’m left with posting a blog entry entitled “Yeah, What He Said”.

  2. VPellen says:

    Life’s a bitch.

  3. ReptileHouse says:

    Damnit, Scott. Just when you’ve about got your image of a growly old curmudgeon cemented in nicely, you go and get all rational and empathetic on us.

    Seriously, though. You get it. There’s a partnership between employees and employers that goes beyond the overt transaction of pay X to get Y. It’s a relationship, and like most relationships, requires effort to maintain and nurture over time.

  4. sidereal says:

    In short: people with perverted mechanistic conceptions of how the employment relationship works are not and have never been in charge of hiring or any other aspect of a business, because they would be epic, epic failures.

  5. Andy O. says:

    Thanks Scott, made my day. If you were single and I was gay I’d propose right now. Where the hell did that come from?

  6. sidereal says:

    In shorter: Dwight Schrute has a blog

  7. Matt Mihaly says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote, Scott, but if there’s an implicit contract with employees it has to go both ways. Quitting to go take a higher salary elsewhere is the flipside equivalent of laying people off to generate a better balance sheet isn’t it? (Leaving aside any arguments that the layoffs were not handled with the long-term in mind or that the employee might have left a stable job with a lower salary to take an unstable job with a higher salary that ceases to exist 2 weeks after he starts).

    Even as I write that I suspect I’m probably just too distracted at the moment and that there’s an error in my thinking, but I’m not sure what it is, if anything, presently.

    Enlighten me?

  8. Melf_Himself says:

    Seems to me like the people getting laid off are people that worked on failed MMO’s which are not very (if at all) profitable. In those instances, the alternative to laying a bunch of people off seems to be to keep paying everyone employed until the company runs out of money, goes under, and EVERYone loses their jobs.

    Lesser of two evils perhaps?

  9. Anticorium says:

    Just imagine the quality of the work done by people who hate all their coworkers and know that if they do not jump ship for the pettiest of reasons, they’ll eventually get fired for the pettiest of reasons. Every time a fast food worker manages to put the cheese outside the bun on your hamburger, picture that same standard being applied to the development of the next MMO you purchase. (Or the assembly of the next airplane you ride in.) sidereal has it right: nobody watches The Office and thinks “Golly god, I wish I was working at Dunder-Mifflin! That’s a place that has its shit together!”

    Unless, of course, they’ve got no job and a pair of investments that haven’t fully paid back their returns yet.

  10. Jackbnimble says:

    “and the rampant, smug self justification that we’re seeing with this year’s model of layoffs and cutbacks and corporate jets and stimulus explosions is telling me that there’s quite a few people who have no problem whatsoever sleeping. And that bothers me”

    Well, multi-million dollar bonuses can buy a lot of high quality sleeping pills. Not to mention the attention of many therapists and psychologists who are willing to apply a mental/emotional bandaid.

  11. DraconianOne says:

    Matt, you’re right. If there’s an implicit contract with employees then it does have to go both ways. If an employees is thinking about moving to another company then the reasons for that move have to be considered. If it’s for more money, the question the company should ask is are they paying that person enough for their skillset and experience. If the answer to that is yes then the employee leaving is probably a good thing because that employee is also concerned about their own bottom line rather than loyalty to the company. You may not want people like that in your team.

    But that’s not the only reason people leave companies. Employees may well be assets but just as the hardware will need upgrading, so too will employees be it through career progression from simple DBM to team leader to project manager to line producer (or whatever the appropriate hierarchy is) or, for those who like to be more hands-on, expanding skillsets, given new challenges and allowed to develop. I have known people who have left jobs to take lower paid jobs because of better opportunities being available than where they were.

    Companies that look after the people will find that the people will look after them too. (In the UK, this principle is put into practice by a lot of companies who sign up to an optional scheme known as the Investors In People Standard. I don’t know if there’s a US equivalent. It’s not the be all and all but looking for a company that has made the time and effort to attain that standard is recommended for people who are willing to loyally commit to a company. If that makes sense.)

  12. D-0ne says:

    His suggestion about going to upper-upper management with stupid manager decisions… That got me out the door twice in the last three years.

    Nothing hits home harder than the realization that money (hundreds of millions) is more important to corporations than the lives of one or two random people.

  13. DrewC says:

    There are times when the right decision for a corporation is to lay people off. It sucks, but there will be times where that is the case. “In order to make our balance sheet look better to investors and drive the stock price up” is never that time.

  14. Sentack says:

    While I’m not a Objectivist, you have to agree, there are times when laying people off is the only rational choice you can make. And yes, it is all about the bottom line because while you talk about “Good work environment” and “Happy family of employees”. I can also talk about being “cost effective”. You see, that nice big family you have at work, might be costing the company so much extra overhead, they can’t compete in the market. They can’t compete, they go out of business. They go boom, you all lose your jobs.

    In general, I understand the desire to not fire people. And I loath CEO’s who get paid millions of dollars. nay, Billions of dollars to do nothing much but chip off sound bites… But that doesn’t mean you can ignore that the company needs to be effective, and managed well. And sometimes that means acting on logic, not emotion.

    You can’t run a business just on heart alone.

  15. Matt Mihaly says:

    @Draconian: Yeah, I have no issue with employees leaving because the opportunities to advance aren’t there though I think it’s best to finish out the project you’re on (unless you’re years away from launch…understandable in that case) out of respect for your teammates and the company (assuming it’s not run by douchebags, which is a technical term they use at HBS and other top business schools.)

    –matt

  16. Ibn says:

    I think this works up to a certain level of management. But eventually you get to an executive level of management where the choices are, as I understand it:

    A: Lay off a bunch of people now to improve the bottom line, and the stock price either stays steady or goes up.

    -or-

    B: Don’t lay people off, show lower profits, and the stock price drops. This makes it harder to get investment money in the future and might lead to BIGGER layoffs in the future.

    Because the truth is that being good to your employees generally won’t improve your stock price. Bringing up the bottom line will.

    It’s unfortunate that the stock market doesn’t seem to understand that a company that’s good to its employees has a greater chance of being more productive and profitable down the line.

    So how do we solve THAT problem?

  17. Veritas Gax says:

    @Ibn:

    This isn’t totally true. TTWO made quite a public gesture out of locking up key R* folk last year. The problem is that generally, investors have no clue about dev talent and think they’re all interchangeable.

  18. Jason says:

    +5 for “Wall Street” reference

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

  19. Steven Davis says:

    John Dvorak has an interesting article about how spreadsheets (and thinking based on spreadsheets) has ruined management:

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2338796,00.asp

    I believe I also read a while back a study that showed MBA’s left school less ethical than when they entered it.

    There are huge costs for staff churn – training and recruiting take time away from producing. Very few people are actually in jobs where they are cogs, but “management” is trained to think of them that way.

    Happy employees tend not to look for jobs. If they feel safe and appreciated, they’ll stay. I’ve always advised people that they should leave once they’ve made the decision to look.

    (And I agree totally with Matt, you try to leave the place in good shape when you leave a job).

    People have chosen to reward managers based on stock price because it is very easy… Once a company is public, it rarely raises more stock – it would be just as easy (and more sensible) to reward managers for growing free cash flow or other long term metrics… one could say that using stock prices to reward managers is like using Metareview scores to judge games (instead of actual sales or some other real metric). People optimize their behavior against the reward system “game”… employees and employers alike.

  20. Matt: the difference is that employees don’t put out press releases that say the company is dead wood or get quoted in news stories talking about how the employee is so much better off without that employer.

  21. Triforcer says:

    Well, we seem to be ping-ponging back and forth between two strawmen caricatures- (1) Michael Scott-style rainbow friendship communal utopia, and (2) Dwight Shrute-style 1920s capitalism.

    The truth is somewhere in between. There is truth to the position that employers aren’t your friends, and that layoffs will occur in bad economic times (and its just a touch flippant to imply that SOE “only” made the Mythic layoffs because of the quarterly report or whatever, remember how pretty much everyone was assuming it would be doing a lot better?).

    Of course, there is also a lot of truth in saying that trying to be kind of nice to employees, and not firing them before trying other options to retain or increase profitability, is a good thing (I would argue this is good from a bottom-line morale prospective and therefore feeds into greater economic success- whether it has some sort of moral value outside of that is an interesting question, but not entirely relevant).

    As others have said, the bottom line for me in the specific Mythic situation is the assholish way people were let go. The press release and assclown Youtube videos by the Emperor of Assclowns were utterly inappropriate, and no considerations of profitability required them. But assuming that the layoffs had occurred without that final and completely unnecessary rusty knife thrust into the balls, there is less comic-book supervillainy here on the part of SOE/Mythic than many here are supposing.

    Awful from a human, empathetic point of view? Absolutely, just like any layoffs in any industry that have occurred during this crisis. But the Mythic layoffs are no more and no less sad and unfortunate than those layoffs either. We are paying more attention and have more heated opinions because of the prominent LTM diaspora members with connections there. That’s fine, but it doesn’t make Mythic/SOE Satan to any greater degree than any business firing people is Satan (again, except for the press release/Emperor Assclown factor).

  22. JuJutsu says:

    “it would be just as easy (and more sensible) to reward managers for growing free cash flow or other long term metrics…”

    The finance types are likely to look at free cash flow as an ‘agency’ problem not as a meritorious outcome.

    “I believe I also read a while back a study that showed MBA’s left school less ethical than when they entered it.”

    I’ve been a biz school professor for 25+ years, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. I’d add two caveats though. First it’s not just the MBAs, I think you’d find the same sort of attitudes with undergraduate commerce/business administration graduates. Second, I think there’s a great deal of self selection into business programs so the bigger difference is more between business and non business students. Just personal opinions.

  23. Daniel says:

    “Despite the fact that recommending a course of action that resulted in layoffs was, in a business sense the right decision – that was a failure.”

    Exactly.

    If there is one thing I have never understood about American corporate culture it’s how failure can be justified as a success, and people buy it. It’s how come this country is over nine trillion dollars in debt. There is the old punch line about “is success a failure?” but America is the only country I have ever experienced where failure is a success.

    Laying off people may indeed be the best decision for the bottom line. But it’s still a failure. And anyone who tries to promote it as a success is mentally insane.

  24. Rohan says:

    The problem is that you can’t show weakness in business. If you admit layoffs are because the company is in trouble, a host of bad things will happen. Your best talent will jump ship. The banks will stop lending you money. Suppliers who would have given you 30 days to pay now demand that you pay in 10. Your stock tanks as people try and limit their losses.

    All of these things are entirely rational responses to a company in trouble. But they can be devastating to that company. So it’s vital that the companies leadership present as strong an image as possible.

  25. slog says:

    Any company you work for will be good to you until the moment you cost them more than they make off you. The you are out the door.

  26. Dave G. says:

    I am studying an MBA right now, and the first year of the course was based on organisational culture and management skills, and on all the theoretical frameworks which have arisen over all of the research which has occurred.

    I can tell you that these courses focused very heavily on modern management practices where employees ARE treated as valued assets. We were taught that investing in employees, not just as employees but as people with lives outside of work, is the best way to have them invest their efforts in our company.

    And I don’t just throw out the phrase “investing in employees” as some sort of hollow, meaningless bullshit. I mean truly investing – paying for them to train, providing them with opportunities to expand their skillsets, and recognising that employees are people who have families and committments outside our little world of business. Investing in them as people, enhancing THEIR skills, so that when they choose to leave the company, they will be better off career-wise than when they came in. (Yes, we anticipate our employees will at some point choose to leave – that is normal and healthy.)

    Honestly, the attitudes of the people Scott have posted about have come from the dark ages, dinosaurs who never learned a better way of doing it, who still think standing over an assembly line with a whip is the best way to motivate people.

    So I know this thread will turn into an anti-management bloodbath, and I’m happy for that. But please don’t lump all MBAs into an “unethical” category simply because you read some study somewhere that asserted it as truth. And please don’t think you actually know what happens in an MBA course unless you’ve taken one. I mean, it’s not as if we study subjects like “How to be More Evil 101” and “Advanced Draining Blood from Lifeless Husks of People”.

    Speaking personally, the very first thing I have had drilled into my head is how to treat your employees as human beings, and I find the conclusion of that study to be absurd.

  27. yunk says:

    “However most of us get into situations when incompetent managers order us to do something obviously stupid and harmful to the company.”

    Duh that is every freaking day if you work in IT, at every freaking company. Sometimes managers will listen, but often they won’t. Sometimes if I feel strongly and I can do something on my own time I will, as long as I don’t impact other deliverables. But seriously, it is ridiculous to expect to be able to change things that much. I usually agree with the goblin, but in this post he just shows he’s either a kid still in school, or has led a lucky and charmed life where he’s never faced with the choices he’s talking about. I actually laughed out loud reading it.

  28. Iconic says:

    If some hotel in Vegas wants to give me free chips to bet, I’m going to put them all on double zero. Why shouldn’t I take stupid chances when some one else is going to foot the bill, and I could get stupidly rich in the process?

    Until we stop giving money to the worst run businesses and allowing the worst executives to be rewarded, it’s irrational to expect any sort of change.

  29. Iconic says:

    Tying into what Scott is talking about:

    Appealing to the long term best interests of corporations is pointless. There is no long term interest any more, only the bottom line. Slash and burn everything you can, because if you don’t some one else will.

  30. Matt Mihaly says:

    Ibn wrote:

    Because the truth is that being good to your employees generally won’t improve your stock price. Bringing up the bottom line will.

    I think you’re presenting a bit of a false dichotomy insofar as happy employees = better retention, and replacing an employee is expensive both in terms of recruiting the replacement, training him/her, and in terms of the lost continuity of knowledge an organization experiences anytime someone leaves, at any level (it might be tiny for a brain dead job like fry cook at McDonalds but even a fry cook who has worked for 6 months has learned things about the specific job in the specific company he’s in that a new fry cook may have to pick up on the job).

    Plus, there are the more intangible effects. If a lot of people are quitting or being laid off, it damages the morale of the rest of the employees, leading to an increased probability of other people jumping ship.

    I don’t think there’s any conflict between working to improve long-term value (granted, perhaps not short-term value) and working to make your employees happy. I think that if your employees get a piece of the action through options you can potentially create a situation where the two reinforce each other rather than work against each other.

    –matt

  31. IainC says:

    @Triforcer
    When did EA sell Mythic to SOE?

  32. IainC says:

    slog :
    Any company you work for will be good to you until the moment you cost them more than they make off you. The you are out the door.

    How I wish that were true.

  33. Triforcer says:

    @IainC

    My brain is not working and I mixed up my Great Satans. Many apologies.

  34. Delmania says:

    This is what happens when some sophomoric individual who wants to be an intellectually giant reads an article about objectivism and then tries to apply it to real life. It’s also my problem with objectivism, in that it seems to downplay human emotions in favor of reason and logic. Humans have both objective rationality and subjective emotions and both are important factors when dealing with them.

    As for the children comment, there are many ways to respond to it. A poster could say “ok, then pay for my daycare expenses” or “pay for a maid to keep the house clean and the food made”. The estimated value of a housewife is, if I remember correctly, $120,000/year.

    The point of this is that I wouldn’t put too much stock in what Gevlon says. He’s trying to be intellectual without having an life experiences to balance out what the theory teaches him.

  35. Brask Mumei says:

    What I hate about rationalists is there smug belief that if they present the superior argument that I must, therefore, by virtue of the unassailable logic, change my opinion.

    They seem to be unaware that I do not have infinite faith in my own reasoning ability. Just because something *seems* entirely rational doesn’t mean that there isn’t fine print I’m not smart enough to see. Since I no more want to be the slave of the smartest person than I want to be the slave of the strongest person, I’ve this entire other layer of consciousness called “emotions” which are used to act as a check and balance across against logic traps.

  36. Con says:

    “then you get apologetics like this who think that there’s nothing at all wrong with throwing your ‘assets’ over the side, and invalidating your implicit contract with them, solely to make a bar on a chart move from 43 to 48.”

    And yet the “assets” break this contract all the time soley to make a number on a W2 go from 55k to 65k.

    Eagerly awating your “BETRAYAL! (part 2)” post on that topic.

  37. robusticus says:

    The solution is the same for any bubble. If you don’t want to lay people off, don’t hire so many. If you don’t want real estate prices to fall, don’t let them rocket out of control, with interest only ARMs.

    But the people who need to refinance to pay off their credit card debt they ran up on extravagent vacations and fancy stuff don’t want to hear that. Any more than Mark Jacobs wants to hear about managing expectations south rather than north.

    8% growth and 300K subscribers ain’t too shabby, though, as it turns out, eh?

    As for the ASSets quitting, well, that’s more like, “I don’t have to put up with this shit and I can make 20% more elsewhere too?”

  38. Veritas Gax says:

    Con, your response implies a belief that there is an equal balance of power on both sides of the employer-employee relationship. Obviously that isn’t true, especially in this business.

    Of course employees have the ultimate freedom to quit when they get a better offer or if they object to the way the company does business. I’m not going to put words in his mouth, but I don’t think Scott *actually* believes that companies shouldn’t also be afforded this right.

    What he’s calling out is the culture of hypocrisy in this business that layeth off with the left hand while the right engages in recruiting. The culture that puts out press releases denying any problems and downplaying the value of employees that have been laid off with the implied subtext that they expendable or worse, the “real problem” with the project/product/company.

    History shows that this isn’t true in most cases — if it were, big megapubs like EA would have distilled game development into The One Perfect Game Formula, they would have done away with any messy variables like workers, and proceeded to fill their coffers with the spoils of a war they had won.

    And yet, with these kinds of companies, it’s the same story every few years. And because there are a limited number of viable employer choices for someone who has committed to this career to choose from, companies that perpetuate this bad behavior don’t ever really pay the price. We can’t all work at Bungie and Valve. The “market” (in this case, prospective employees) never really punishes these guys because ultimately, game developers need a roof over their heads and to put food on the table too. The glory days of of this industry being made up solely of twenty-something single guys is long gone.

    All that said, while what Scott is describing may be prevalent in the game industry, there are plenty of places that take a more enlightened approach to how they treat employees. It’s probably not a surprise that these places are generally doing well financially, which is a symptom of why they’re able to behave this way, but, I would submit, also a root cause of that success.

  39. Sheepherder says:

    Delmania :
    This is what happens when some sophomoric individual who wants to be an intellectually giant reads an article about objectivism and then tries to apply it to real life.

    The point of this is that I wouldn’t put too much stock in what Gevlon says. He’s trying to be intellectual without having an life experiences to balance out what the theory teaches him.

    As much as people want to consider Objectivism a valid ideology, it really isn’t considering the founding principle of humanity is Social Compacts, as described in Hobbes’ [u]The Leviathan[/u]. Which posits that society is based on mutual agreements between actors and that the only reason I don’t go around eating my neighbours is because I can expect them to reciprocate by not attempting to eat me.

    [b]In this specific case the implicit agreements are as follows.[/b]

    1. You give us work, we give you equal value in money
    2. You give us a stable workforce, we give you job security
    3. When we part company, the one doesn’t shit on the other

    #1 was never breached to my knowledge. #2 became untenable for one of the actors and the agreement was breached, this is a non-issue because it’s expected that this term will be breached if non-trivial reasons exist. #3 was breached because Mythic are wearing clown shoes and decided they wanted to get the people excluded from #2 to breach #3, and further undermine #2, [i]for the lulz[/i].

  40. Sheepherder says:

    Ugh, why can’t markup languages use a single bracket/brace type for formatting?

  41. IainC says:

    @Con
    Not so much. As has been said, those ‘assets’ don’t generally publish press releases when they leave saying that their former colleagues are a bunch of losers, they have to give reasonable notice to minimise the disruption to the company and also when we get past namebadge and hairnet territory, the company has a chance to salvage that contract if they want to by seeing what it would take to make you stay.

    There isn’t so much of all that for the guy who’s just been handed a cardboard box by security.

    Finally, if you’re at your job purely for the money then you are doing it wrong. The number on my income tax return is pretty low on my list of things I care about when looking for a job.

  42. Veritas Gax says:

    IainC :
    Finally, if you’re at your job purely for the money then you are doing it wrong. The number on my income tax return is pretty low on my list of things I care about when looking for a job.

    This is an excellent point. If everyone were seeking merely to maximize their earning potential, we’d all be lawyers. And the corollary to this is that most employers don’t want people who are Only In It For the Money. I sure as hell don’t. That isn’t altruism or anything; I know that happy, inspired employees will do far better work than clock punchers.

    Still, this is just one of many reasons why the employer/employee relationship can’t be expressed in simplistic, absolute terms.

  43. Zuzax says:

    The problem I see at my work is the rampant cheerleading around how we’re all in this together and our people are our greatest asset, and all that. Until they decide QC is cheaper in India, and the US based QC team just *disappears*. Company line is retconned as if US based QC never existed.

    The deception is that you are repetedly told that you are a valuable asset when by action you are actually treated as disposable chattel.

    This year the cheerleaders are using a mountainclimbing metaphor as to how it takes a great team to climb a mountain, yada, yada, yada. We’ve taken to referring to ourselves as Sherpas, as we know the actual climbers will fling our bodies over the edge if it suits their short term goal.

    And yes, quality has gone to shit now that QC is in India, but that is now the coders’ fault. They expect to be flung from the mountain any day now with their jobs landing in some 3rd world shithole as well.

  44. Eric Kearns says:

    “Kids are investment to the future, cost a lot today but pay back well later. However a wife is a grown person who shall be able to support herself AND half of the kids. If YOU made the choice of supporting a grown person than it’s you who have to live with the consequences.”

    I want to find this idiot and explain (pummle) to him what raising children means… How much day care costs… AND how shitty day care IS. I support my wife staying at home with our kids so they can avoid the creeps out there. Ones that – through some f’d up treatment at daycare – caused my son to start crying viciously when he hears “Blue Danube” because some %#@!er did something to him at his daycare center when he was 3 years old. Nobody at the daycare center did anything wrong though. Life is NOT black and white asshat.

  45. maess says:

    Sorry Scott, but you are naive and need to move into the real world. In the real world, corporations make mistakes and employees get punished. You have three choices: 1) Become self employed 2) Get off the grid or 3) Deal with it. Which choice do you think most people make?

  46. Veritas Gax says:

    In the real world, larceny, murder and rape are common occurrences as well. That doesn’t mean we have to condone them or that we should stop trying to cast a light on those who commit those offenses.

  47. Jezebeau says:

    @Veritas: When applying for a job at a publicly traded company, you should know that you’re ultimately being hired by people whose first responsibility is to their stockholders. After that, their priorities vary and you can argue all you like about where employee comfort and happiness fits into that, but shareholders can and will sue if the company decides to take the happy-go-lucky approach in times of hardship.

  48. EpicSquirt says:

    @Jezebeau
    Yeah.

    That’s why I’ll never work for a publicly traded company and that’s why I’ll never buy knowingly a product from a company that has yearly net revenues of billions but still announces to fire several thousands employees because the profit margin is going down from 15% to 13% in 2 years according to the spreadsheet/glass ball.

    The problem is the human, most people will sell their souls if the opportunity arises. I’ve been head of work council in a company focussed on software development and it was disgusting to see how the employees who just got a boost in pay behaved at the employees meeting. I couldn’t even say something like “is this your opinion which will help us all or are you voicing it because you’re getting paid now twice as much as before” because of data privacy.

  49. Tesh says:

    Eric Kearns, agreed completely.

  50. EpicSquirt says:

    Here in Germany, the younger the kids are, the less the people watching/educating them need to know (formal education). Sate of science is that the first 5-6 years of a child are very important. In my own upcoming family, I would want to make sure that at least one parent has the possibility to spend a lot of time with the kid(s).

  51. Rog says:

    @maess: You missed the 4th option, although arguably one of the harder ones to achieve: *gasp* Change the system.

    I know it sounds ridiculous to some, but this “Pinhead Public Company Management 101” status quo hasn’t existed forevermore. It’s hopefully temporary and only by people refusing to accept it, or at least demonstrating a dislike / distrust / disgust with it, is it ever likely to change.

    My take on the whole economy is that we’ve somehow, during the pursuit of a ‘free market’, ended up with a system that rewards sacrificing long term stability for short term gains. In the games industry especially, this is really evident.

    The sort of commentary Scott is making is valuable.

  52. Soulflame says:

    Con :
    “then you get apologetics like this who think that there’s nothing at all wrong with throwing your ‘assets’ over the side, and invalidating your implicit contract with them, solely to make a bar on a chart move from 43 to 48.”
    And yet the “assets” break this contract all the time soley to make a number on a W2 go from 55k to 65k.

    Eagerly awating your “BETRAYAL! (part 2)” post on that topic.

    Why weren’t you paying them 65k in the first place?

  53. JuJutsu says:

    “Why weren’t you paying them 65k in the first place?”

    I’m willing to pay SOE $15/month for a game. Does that mean that everyone should be willing to as well?

  54. Soulflame says:

    Why are you comparing an MMOG fee to a salary? Do you practice regularly to be that stupid, or is it an inborn talent?

  55. kavika says:

    I think a lot the problem today is that we’ve over-extended ourselves in a geographic sense. We have de-sensitized ourselves by placing large geographic gap between us and the people we have interactions with, whether they be financial, personal, or other. This is an overexaggeration, but take the recent salmonella contaminations for example. And let’s say that the peanut plant only delivered peanuts locally, and only hired people who lived nearby, and those employees’ families ate peanuts everyday. Don’t you think they would’ve been a little more careful about sending out contaminated goods? But in the real world, they didn’t care because they still got paid, and didn’t have to face the people who got the bad peanuts. The same is true with the BearStearns guys who sold off bad loans…they wouldn’t have done that if they actually had to go into town and interact with the people they ripped off. I think it’s time to get less global, and get more localized.

  56. Veritas Gax says:

    JuJutsu :“Why weren’t you paying them 65k in the first place?”
    I’m willing to pay SOE $15/month for a game. Does that mean that everyone should be willing to as well?

    Going back to the original argument of when an “asset” leaves a company to make more money elsewhere — this really only happens if a company refuses to pay someone what they think they’re worth, and another company agrees that the person IS worth that much.

    It’s not a foregone conclusion that just because someone thinks they’re worth more money that they must leave the company they currently work for. In fact, I would wager that salary is rarely the reason game developers leave their companies.

    Also — you don’t get paid what you’re worth. You get paid what you negotiate. That said, people who negotiate for amazing salaries are rarely asked to take a pay cut when things get lean — usually they are simply laid off. It’s a double edged sword.

  57. Jezebeau says:

    Lum, Godwin’s Law refers to comparisons to Hitler or Nazis. Gevlon referenced the Nuremburg Trials to state the legal perspective on a theory of behavioural psychology. You compared him to war criminals. Your foul.

  58. The Claw says:

    “Your foul.”

    Given that Gevlon’s entire schtick is carrying on about how misanthropic he is, because high school and college kids think that’s KEWL, he doesn’t have a huge amount of high moral ground to stand on when he gets compared to the greatest misanthropes of our time.

  59. Gevlon says:

    Dear Lum,

    I guess you have a problem. You think that you and your friends are somehow better than those people who “wear name tags and hair nets”.

    You are not. And the world will remind you again and again to that obvious fact.

    Thanks to you, I understand now why does layoffs break people. It’s not the loss of income, after all we all have savings enough for at least half year. It’s the loss of self-esteem. One day you *thought* that you are a respected member of a team, next day you are an “unemployed nobody”.

    I was fired and will be fired (especially if I write comments to blogs in work like I do now). However it did not affected me, because I lost only an income.

    Despite my PHD, I don’t think I’m better man than a farmer or a kitchen-hand. I don’t deserve special treatment, I don’t have VIP privileges. I sell my workforce like they do. My workforce is maybe more valueable, so I get more for it than a kitchen-hand. However if my work is not needed, I’ll be fired, and I’ll take it as a normal part of life. I’m sure I’ll get a new job quick as I always did.

  60. IainC says:

    Dear Gevlon.
    You still don’t get it.

  61. JuJutsu says:

    “Why are you comparing an MMOG fee to a salary? Do you practice regularly to be that stupid, or is it an inborn talent?”

    Let me get this straight, you think that because company #1 is willing to pay someone a 65K that company #2 should also pay that someone a 65k salary…that all companies should be willing to pay that someone 65k?
    What do you do for a living when you’re not being a fool on the internet?

    I’m going to type very slow so you’ll maybe understand. I made a parallel to your argument. Just as some people value game #1 more than game #2 and are willing to pay more, some companies will value an employee more than other companies.

    I’ll give you an example so maybe you’ll comprehend. Let’s say that JuJutsu is going to school learning how to write software. While he’s in school he’s working at a pharmacy helping with stock and running the cash register. He graduates and gets an offer from a software company for 3 times the money. You think the pharmacy should match it even though it doesn’t need anyone to develop software? Oh right, you do because your a fracking retard.

  62. JuJutsu says:

    @Veritas

    “Going back to the original argument of when an “asset” leaves a company to make more money elsewhere — this really only happens if a company refuses to pay someone what they think they’re worth, and another company agrees that the person IS worth that much.”

    I agree.

  63. J M Grey says:

    I totally agree with your assessments here; your logos matches your pathos here rhetorically, unlike Gevlon who is clearly missing both.

    Regarding the part about the Judenrat: it was 70 years ago. At least, I’m fairly sure Golmulka’s Poland was liberal enough to abandon Nazi practices come 1959.

  64. yunk says:

    “Let me get this straight, you think that because company #1 is willing to pay someone a 65K that company #2 should also pay that someone a 65k salary…that all companies should be willing to pay that someone 65k?”

    Yes and your little metaphor is so completely flawed you don’t understand what he’s saying. If a company needs a box boy they won’t hire a developer at all, they won’t make a developer an offer but for less money.

    Just as if a company is only interested in part of my experience they would offer me a lower salary, but the truth is they would not make me an offer in the first place – they’d say I’m overqualified and hire someone who has only the experience they need that would take the offer and be happy.

    People don’t go out and take jobs for lower salaries, and companies don’t make offers to people for lower salaries than they are making. If the person is worth more in the market then they are worth more in the market, regardless of whether they are worth more to you or not. When the person is worth more than you can or want to pay, then they will leave as soon as they figure it out. So you’d better pay them what the MARKET says they are worth, not what YOU think they are worth, if you want to keep them, or else lay them off and hire someone worth less but that matches your needs.

  65. yunk says:

    @Rog this “Pinhead Public Company Management 101″ hasn’t been around forever

    I figure it’s been around since Frederick Taylor at least. For awhile the Japanese oddly enough seemed to break that pattern.

    If you strip out the (seeming) self righteousness the Goblin/Gevlon’s advice is very sound: take as much charge of your life as you can. Notice the warning signs and start looking for a new job if you can’t change yours. Have an emergency fund for the unexpected, etc. I was looking already when I got laid off last year, but I had my emergency fund and was not even worried about my future. The thing is there is only so much you can do.

    I stopped leaving companies because of idiotic management, because I’d end up in yet another company with the same problem. At small companies it still happens since often they have no policies or procedures or professionalism – they are usually organized via “hero culture”. In a larger company you can convince your own manager that we should do things differently but often that doesn’t mean anything. And quite frankly I don’t want to go into management to deal with those issues – I’m a technical person.

    But there’s a way to say things and a way not to say them, which I think is the problem he is having.

  66. Mark says:

    Many issues involved in this – but a lot can be tracked back to the bean-counters of the 1970’s who decided that companies could save money by shifting from retirement plans to 401-K’s, IRA’s, etc. That put into motion a lot of things, and really reshaped dynamics of “company loyalty”. On the cusp of the Y2K issue, job-hopping amongst programmers was a daily occurrence – at one point the average time for programmers in a company was six months. I know my personal sentiment as a consequence of all of this has to become extremely mercenary in my work, but not always on matters of pay. Leastwise, there has been little or no basis for the better part of 3-4 decades to depend upon ANY company to be there for you when times get rough.

    I live outside the United States, but know that it is a very rough climate there. If it’s rough in the United States, it is very rough outside of it. Greece went through month-long riots, Iceland went bankrupt and had riots. There are riots in Russia, worker strikes in England. Impossible to paint a pretty picture anywhere and every indication is that things will get worse – some are estimating that EU banks have $24 Trillion in toxic debt and that the politics of the matter could bring the EU to dissolve.

    Not to be a doomsayer, just saying what is going on outside of the US. In normal circumstances, companies with the money would be buying the companies without it. Not so under the government plans. We are rewarding incompetence and unethical practices of bad people/companies with the money from taxpayers and good/ethical people/companies.

    Defending EA/Mythic is not my job, but I think it is appropriate to point out that their making hard decisions and taking actions to avoid the fate of companies like Leyman Brothers is reasonable and justified. Someone is doing their job at EA/Mythic – whether popular or not. At many companies, people were not doing their jobs. They went from “we’re doing perfectly fine, no cause for worry” – to “Help, if we don’t get a few BILLION dollars…the entire market will crash!” – almost overnight. No one questioned or took decisive action when the problem was a mere $500 million?

    So…as a taxpayer, who would you reward with your investment dollars? The consolation is that your tax dollars won’t be going to help Electronic Arts.

  67. Robin Kestrel says:

    Who would have guessed that an amoral self-centered catasser would have such a childlike-view of the employer-employee relationship?

    It would be great if reality worked like Gevlon thinks it does and employers treated employees exactly like they do any other article of capital, but that’s not how it goes above a ceratin professional level, as Lum and others keep gently pointing out.

    An employer would not expect a truck to travel x more miles without putting y more gallons of gas in it, but routinely expects employees to perform x more effort without receiving y more dollars compensation.

    An employer would not expect a fax machine to permanently replace a photocopier (hey, both can make copies, right?), but routinely expects employees to absorb the duties of other employees who are not replaced, without a loss of productivity, of course.

    The idea that employees are interchangeable machines who can be turned on and off at will and powered solely with a salary is so beyond the pale I don’t even think Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss swallows it. Even a totaly incompentent employer recognizes that, beyond the “do you want fries with that?” level, there is more to retaining good people and getting good work out of them then putting them in a slot and handing them a paycheck.

    On the flip side of that, an employee who’s only apparent concern is his own bottom line is not going to get far, either. Said employee will probably end up with a toxic resume and lot of time on his hands to play WoW.

  68. JuJutsu says:

    @yunk

    “If the person is worth more in the market then they are worth more in the market, regardless of whether they are worth more to you or not.”

    Umm ok. The fact that they are worth more to some other employer still doesn’t make them worth any more to me. An employee can have different value to different employers…I get that but apparently it’s beyond soulflame’s grasp. His question was “Why weren’t you paying them 65k in the first place? The answer is simple: just because he’s worth 65k to someone else, doesn’t mean he’s worth 65k to me.

    “When the person is worth more than you can or want to pay, then they will leave as soon as they figure it out.”

    umm yes.

    “So you’d better pay them what the MARKET says they are worth, not what YOU think they are worth, if you want to keep them, or else lay them off and hire someone worth less but that matches your needs.”

    No, I pay them what they are worth TO ME. Period. If someone else is willing to pay them more then they can leave.

    I’m sorry you don’t care for my metaphor. If you give me the quote where I suggested in any way that companies would try to hire developers for lower salaries to fill the job of a boxboy or anything like that I’ll make a more specific apology. If you have a better example of an employee with different value to different employers post it and I’ll use it instead.

  69. Iconic says:

    JuJutsu has it right, and I think it’s interesting that any one is even going to argue it, because that’s BASIC micro economics: marginal cost vs marginal profit. When the cost of hiring (or continuing to employ) an employee exceeds the profit they’re earning for you, then you let them go. It doesn’t matter what some one else is willing the pay them, only what they will work for, what they can produce, and whether that makes sense for YOU.

  70. Verilazic says:

    Love the writing, as usual. Just thought I’d recommend a book to scan through sometime if you drop by a bookstore: The Speed of Trust. Currently finishing it, and it seems like it might speak directly to this little issue. Well, more like, it would speak directly to Gevlon. I’d recommend it to him, but I think there’s better luck in preaching to the choir this time. =/

  71. SumDumGuy says:

    @JuJutsu
    The basic flaw with your analogy is that there is a salary point at which you won’t find qualified candidates. Let’s say that an employee with a certain skillset is only worth $25k/year for you, but the general salary for people with those skills is going for about $75k/year. Why in the world would someone want to work for such a meager salary?

    Oh wait – I guess I just described why some of the big Tech companies want to increase the annual amount of h1b visas. Apparently there are some folks willing to do so.

  72. JuJutsu says:

    @SumDumGuy

    The h1b visas are one alternative, people without any kind of documentation are another. I take your point, if the potential employee is only worth 25K to me and 75k to many other employees I’m screwed. The answer isn’t to pay them 75k though, it’s time to redo the business or find a new line of business.

  73. Iconic says:

    “@JuJutsu
    The basic flaw with your analogy is that there is a salary point at which you won’t find qualified candidates. Let’s say that an employee with a certain skillset is only worth $25k/year for you, but the general salary for people with those skills is going for about $75k/year.”

    If your business depends on cheap labor that’s not available then your business is not viable. THat doesn’t mean you pretend your business is viable and spend more than you can afford.

  74. Brask Mumei says:

    The answer may to also rethink how honest you were being with yourself when you thought they were worth only $25k. Trying to calculate ROI per employee is a black art at best. While you might only see $25k in direct profit or savings by hiring the employee (In which case, incidentally, you can’t afford a $25k employee anyways since the overhead is much higher than that, but I’ll join the conflation of employee paycheque with employer costs as it does simplify things), presumably the developer is also enabling other aspects of your business. Sort of like how your lawyer has a negative ROI, but you can’t run your business without one, so you subsidize the cost with other profitable parts of your business.

  75. Iconic says:

    “Sort of like how your lawyer has a negative ROI, but you can’t run your business without one, so you subsidize the cost with other profitable parts of your business.”

    The lawyer has a value. His value is the expected cost in legal fees and fines that you avoid by employing him.

    Like anything else in business, calculating that value is tricky because of the entire premise that you, the decision maker, can make reasonable predictions about future possibilities. Obviously not every executive has that ability. Some have even argued that the entire premise is futile, and that virtually all business planning is the equivalent of putting your money on red and spinning the wheel.

  76. […] in Uncategorized I know this is a bit old, but I have something to say, as always. I find the layoff loop tragic, mainly because it is so delusional. Consider this single point: […]

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