Has the WFH hurt the video game industry? (2023)


The video game industry was better prepared than most to shift to remote work. Despite this, researchers found that companies that stayed remote during the pandemic experienced more delays than those that were able to continue working in offices. Because? Weak ties - or loose relationships - have suffered from the pandemic. Looking at data on employee communication, strong ties got stronger and weak ties weakened. This, in turn, led to broken communication that made it difficult to meet long deadlines or continue to innovate, even when individual employees were productive. In short, it was an institutional failure. So what should companies do? Going back in time is not an option – organizations need to find ways to encourage weak ties while recognizing that office culture has fundamentally changed. You must: 1) accept that a one-size-fits-all strategy for remote control is unlikely to work; 2) Consider forming a team to encourage weak ties and pursue strategies to build relationships across the organization, 3) recognize that employee expectations have changed and strike a balance between Find flexibility and time attendance, and 4) stay nimble and keep going evaluating your overtime approach.

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(Video) How COVID affected the Games Industry

Of all the industries that have transitioned quickly to remote work due to Covid-19, the video game development industry seemed to be particularly well placed.continue to work successfully. Video game companies almost exclusively produce digital products that are not encumbered by supply chain constraints - the delays they encounter are therefore mainly due to collaboration challenges. Furthermore, with much of the world's population stuck at home, video game purchases themselves have exploded - in 2020, the industrygrew more than 20%to $180 billion in sales.

As such, the video game industry is an almost ideal test case for whether a fully distributed workforce is likely to succeed. As ifsome postulated, knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely,Video game development should have accelerated in 2021 - and companies wondering whether to ditch their physical office resources and focus fully on the future of remote and hybrid working would have a role model to follow. In particular, we hope that games will be released on schedule and that developers will be less likely to complain about development challenges in their public statements.

But that didn't happen.

Instead, many of these companies struggled. A third of developers experienced pandemic-related delays, according to a "State of the Gaming Industry 2020: Home Office Edition' Game Developers Conference poll last August. In a recent GDC survey released in April,44% reported delays🇧🇷 Respondents to the 2020 survey attributed these setbacks to external factors such as B. uneven transitions to WFH at partner organizations and other pandemic-related downturns, but also to internal issues such as B. Difficulty resolving ad hoc issues without be in the same physical space. have companyalso complainedabout difficulties in recording voiceovers, increased server load and delays in delivery. As a result, famous titles were announced as Game of the Year contenders, missing their release dates by weeks or even months, costing companies up to $1 million a day in some cases.

Some of that can be attributed to burnout, extra caregiving responsibilities, and the general stress of the pandemic, but that's not the whole story. We found that video game companies that transitioned to a remote working model experienced more delays and interruptions than those that were able to continue working primarily in the office - and the specific issues faced by the gaming industry when transitioning to remote working was tackled, other industries should be concerned. As in other industries, game developers have been working longer hours during the pandemic, but have often found intense individual effort not paying off. While there were short-term production spurts, many saw innovation and important projects stall. It wasn't a failure of individual employees, but a failure of the tools and processes they — and we — used to work together.

To understand exactly what's happening in the video game industry and gain insight into how to avoid similar mistakes, we collected data from two sources. First, we analyzed transcripts of earnings statements from the top 25 video game companies in the world for the first quarter of 2019. We coded these logs for mentions of release delays and development challenges in each conversation to compare pre- and post-pandemic. Second, we compiled a globally representative dataset of collaboration data from Global Fortune 1000 companies with a high prevalence of information workers. Specifically, we collected email, calendar, and chat metadata from more than a dozen organizations over a multi-year period, with a total dataset in excess of 20 billion communication events - a dataset that allowed us to see how enterprise-wide collaboration works with workplace dynamicsconsistentwith video game companies that have changed during the pandemic.

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Organizations deciding what a return to the office would look like – or whether to return at all – should consider the results when considering their next steps.

Remote Control

There are a few reasons why the video game industry is a good subject to measure the impact of the shift to remote work. On the one hand, it advertises and is tied to key product release dates (an approach intended to reduce competition with similar titles that mayseriously decrease demand🇧🇷 On the other hand, the industry offers parallel test cases: not all video game companies have moved to a work-from-home model. In particular, several organizations in Korea and Japan, which performed relatively better than their US and European counterparts from a public health perspective, maintained a primarily desk-based work model until early 2021. Therefore, we can control A bit of market effects by looking at companies in the same industry that haven't adopted a remote work model.

The comparison is stark: public video game companies that switched to a remote working model reported 4.4 times more delays than before the pandemic. On the other hand, video game companies thatNoThe switch to telecommuting was about half as late compared to pre-pandemic times. Lest we put this down to a regional effect, Japan-based Bandai Namco, which quickly transitioned to a remote working model, reported six times as many delays compared to pre-pandemic. Meanwhile, Nintendo, which is also headquartered in Japan but will remain in offices until early 2021, reported half as many delays and development issues as it did before the pandemic.

There are some notable gaps in key release dates. Halo Infinite, designed to boost sales of the new generation of Xbox consoles,almost a year late🇧🇷 (It could end up taking longer.) Had it not been for the semiconductor crisis that put pressure on console manufacturing, the losses from this delay would have been an even greater catastrophe than spending an extra year on development. While major releases from 2020 to early 2021 were partially developed before the pandemic, developers are running out of new games to sell. 2021 release schedule looks goodhistorically barren, which means that the full impact of these delays and development challenges has yet to be felt.

When looking for causes, we can get clues from some quotes from public statements by developers reporting these challenges.

Naoki Yoshida da Square Enix,for example:

I'm sure people have realized that working from home works to some extent, but there are certain tradeoffs that we see between very fine communication and detailed communication. Those times when you're in front of the computer and your teammates are there and a programmer just pulls up his teammates and says, "Hey, can you look at my screen and check this out?" In a work from home situation, this is not possible.

(Video) Covid-19: is working from home really the new normal?

Daniel Sussmann da Harmonixreported similar issues:

Remote control made it much more difficult for the team to work directly together, which has always been a big part of how we develop games. Traditionally, Harmonix has designed and built games in a very iterative process. We have social build reviews where the team reacts to prototypes, new features, new graphics, or whatever. The move to remote control complicated this aspect of our process.

This is particularly revealingto quotepor Chad Grenier da Respawn Entertainment:

In addition to the technical challenges, there is a creative hurdle. You miss conversations in the hallway. You lose people who sit on a couch and discuss something for an hour or two. You miss the lunch conversations. All this disappears and is planned instead of happening naturally.

These statements highlight a specific potential cause of delays: a reduction in informal, unplanned conversations that lead to the tacit sharing of knowledge and new, creative ideas. (The income interview data also reflects this view, though not as succinctly.) Collaboration data collected by Humanyze, a workplace analytics company founded by one of the authors, supports the view advanced in these anecdotes. Specialhumanize observedA 21% drop in weak attachments on organizational networks for companies that have transitioned to a remote work model, defined here as attachments equivalent to five to 15 minutes of one-on-one communication (email, chat, and meetings) per week .

decades of researchpointed out the importance of these fragile ties to creativity and innovation, both of which are vital for video game companies when it comes to reaching short-term milestones on large projects. Weak ties are more likely to connect people on different teams who don't work together regularly. When these groups do not communicate, developmental delays are more likely. This is often because the formal specifications and processes that create groups to work together without communicating directly are often incomplete and lead to errors.

The changes we saw in collaboration patterns were generally not bad. On the one hand, employees were able to communicate 24% more with people at different hierarchical levels, as social cues in the office prevent them from working together - eg. B. Individual offices and separate executive suites - not available in a remote environment. People also spent 16% more time in their strong ties (those with more than an hour of one-on-one meetings per week), suggesting that many employees are proactively scheduling meetings and communicating with their key employees. Spending more time with these close associates isessential for short-term performanceand it can even improve employee engagement by building stronger relationships. However, these linkages can be counterproductive to innovation, as employees become trapped in smaller and tighter groups, prone to groupthink.


It all adds up to a story of individual success and institutional failure. In general, employees seem to have collaborated effectively on purpose, but companies have failed to create an environment in which important casual collaboration can thrive. The default mode of collaboration – both processes and tools – in remote work seems to prevent the creation of new weak ties and the maintenance of old ones. Most individual consciousness is rightly focused on short-term results, but it is much more difficult to force weak attachments to consciousness. It may take months or years for the long-term positive effects of weak attachment to be felt.

While management can certainly mitigate this with various programs, it's not easy to encourage change in a relatively small part of the work week. Unfortunately, overcoming the long-term challenges of a remote working model will likely depend in large part on doing just that. Basic data from video game companies would show that failing to make these changes has a real cost to companies that only becomes clearer over time.

A strategic update

As companies develop their long-term workplace strategy, they need to understand these risks and work on mitigation strategies.

First, leaders need to recognize that most organizations will not be able to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to remote work. What distinguishes teams that have worked together effectively? The type of work is important; Video game developers have different needs and habits than, for example, marketing teams responsible for promoting finished games. Can you transfer best practices from teams within your organization that have created and maintained weak ties?

Second, whether employees work remotely or in the same location, organizations must consistently encourage the creation of soft ties for the long-term health of the organization. Companies should consider creating a team whose sole purpose is to create and maintain loose ties through events, work strategies, and the like. Humanyze's data from a variety of companies shows that organizations need to constantly innovate on initiatives like virtual happy hours, as they only have a short-term impact on the emergence of vulnerabilities. When employees are in offices, it's important to ensure employees from different teams are present in person on the same day to maximize incidental interactions. This requires choosing specific days when people should come, rather than leaving it up to individuals.

These strategies come with risks. Employee expectations of the workplace have undoubtedly changed, and people expect more flexibility than ever before. Companies that try to force employees back to collaborating in person are likely to lose employees, which outweighs the business benefits that weak ties can bring. Revealing hard data on the macro negative impacts of remote work, which are difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to observe, can help mitigate these impacts.

After all, companies need to be agile in their strategy. Collaboration needs to change constantly, so the workplace strategy needs to change as well. Certain teams need to focus more on creating soft ties, which should result in them staying in the office longer. The same team may later need more time on your team, which could lead to them working more remotely in the next quarter.

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People have shown great resilience during the pandemic and have adapted remarkably quickly to changes in the workplace. Employees have proven that they don't need a lengthy change management process to effectively change the way they work - and organizations must have confidence that they will be as effective as possible in new circumstances. It is the task of organizations to ensure that the collaborative structure is as effective as possible. By guiding the way people work and adapting over time, we can avoid the pitfalls of remote work while reaping its benefits.


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