Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hell Week(s)

As I've mentioned before, I am a producer for a video game company in Seattle.  I've been in the games industry since 1998, and been a producer since 2002.  I've shipped A LOT of games in that time.  Some of them, I'm very proud of.  Others, I can find things to be proud of in the process and in the way the work was done.  When people ask me what it means to be a game producer, I often reply one of two ways: "I make other people make video games" and "I make miracles happen.", depending on my mood.

I've worked a lifetime in the past 14 years.  60 hour weeks were light, 80 hour weeks were normal, 100+ hour weeks were hard, but not uncommon.  I've always prided myself on never asking my team to do anything that I'm not willing to do.  I turn the lights on in the studio in the morning, and I turn the lights off at night.  I make coffee runs, I order the pizza, I scour the bug database, I run interference for my dev team when PR or marketing come calling, I find the perfect song to fit a mood and blast it out far too loudly late at night.  I've been known to bribe people with baked goods, to wear a stupid hat when things get stressful, to fire off the applause box when the team needs a boost, and to be the bad guy, when a bad guy is needed.

I've had a critical realization in the past month.  I still take great pleasure in shipping games, I still love the energy that flows during the weeks where we final, I still get a thrill when I see that finished product and I KNOW that I played an essential role in bringing the team to the place where we could say "It is finished, warts, feathers and all, it is done, and we can be proud of this.".  But that's not how I define myself any more.  I'm not as young as I used to be, a 16 hour day at work takes it's toll on me, but it's not just that.  I will continue to give it my all in a fair days work, but I do not like missing bed time with my boy.

Hubby was very supportive, he's known me long enough to know how I get when I'm in shipping mode. My eyes get a little crazy, my brain gets laser focused, and everything else takes a back seat.  The difference this time around is this is my first time shipping a game at the end of an arthritis treatment cycle, and with a pretty significant jump in the severity of arthritis.  I actually delayed treatment to be in the office for my team, a decision that I really struggled with at the time.  There were people at work pushing me to do what I needed to do to take care of myself, and people asking me if I could delay longer so I didn't have to miss any time.  That was another eye opener for me.  I compromised and pushed treatment out by two weeks, and came into work in the late afternoon after resting a bit at home to work a full day's work with the team that was trying to make a final build.

There were several nights where Hubby picked up BabyBoy and brought him to work for the three of us to have dinner together, before taking him home and putting him to bed while Mommy stayed and worked.  Other nights, I sang lullabies to BabyBoy while I was still at work and he couldn't hear me.  There were Saturdays where I brought BabyBoy to work with me, in hopes he would take his normal afternoon nap in a pack and play at my desk (he didn't).  We tried to make it work, and I certainly do not think BabyBoy OR Hubby are worse off for the experience.  But that doesn't mean I liked it.

Crunch time is crunch time, whether it lasts 3 weeks like ours did or 3 months like it used to in the early days.  We only had 2 nights that went past midnight; most nights wrapped up by 8.  We worked three 10-6 Saturdays.  In the grand scheme of things, it was a mild crunch.  I tried hard not to laugh like a cynical old man, telling stories of my "up-hill in the snow walk to school back when I was a boy" when the others complained of how hard we were crunching.  People still gave up time with their families, and with their lives and I wanted to be respectful of that reality, while thinking "you suckers wouldn't have survived the path I've lived to get here today", really loudly in my head to drown out their complaints.

The good news, my new game has cleared Apple certification and will be released in early March.  I've taken a week off for R&R (and for gathering up baby stuff to donate, finishing BabyBoy's quilt that I haven't touched since he was born, catching up on writing this blog, and perhaps cooking a meal or two for my family). I also had a pretty good response with arthritis treatment, there are spots where I have pain, but I am able to simply notice that pain and then move onto the next thought, instead of having the primary brain power dedicated to not whimpering out loud in pain while I attempt to process coherent, professional thought with what's left behind of my focus.  I also got lab results that show that my Ferritin level is at 260, 4 months after treatment (and I have to tell you, that is a MIRACLE number for me.  It will be fascinating to see how long the new type of infusion holds anemia at bay).  B12 and Vitamin B are both in single digits, so there's still work to be done, but I'll take my successes where I find them.

Last week, I went and spoke at a career day at a local college that is focused on video game disciplines for their degree programs.  I actually don't much enjoy public speaking, I talk too fast, turn bright red, and tend to throw up in garbage cans from stage fright before I speak.  This talk went incredibly well, I was on a panel with 5 other discipline leaders from my company, and I was surprised that there were several questions directed at me during Q&A.  Afterwards, the coordinator came over to ask me if I would consider facilitating a women's group for the semester, mentoring their 1% female student population.  I thought about that for a moment, and I told her "yes".  I've been doing this long enough I feel I have valuable information to share, and as a woman who was 1 of 4 women in the active production group in 1998, I've done a little path-paving for the next generation.  Perhaps I can refocus some of that old satisfaction from working harder and longer than anyone else to ship games into the satisfaction of knowing I might bring insight to a woman just starting out in the industry and help make her first steps on the path a little easier.