Work-life balance at Bioware | Patreon

This is an archive of some posts in a forum thread titled "Beware of Bioware" in a now defunct forum, with comments from that forum as well as blog comments from a now defunct blog that archived that made the first attempt to archive this content. The original posts were deleted shortly after being posted, replaced with "big scary company vs. li'l ol' me."

Although the comments below seem to be about Bioware's main studio in Edmonton, I knew someone at Bioware Austin during the time period under discussion, which is how I learned about the term "sympathy crunch", where you're required to be at the office because other teams are "crunching". I'd never heard of this concept before, so I looked it up and found the following thread around 2008 or so.

Searching for "sympathy crunch" today, in 2024, doesn't return many hits. One of the few hits is a 2011 blog post by a former director at BioWare titled "Loving the Crunch", which has this to say about sympathy crunches:

If you find yourself working sympathy crunch, in that even though you have no bugs of your own to take care of, don’t be pissed off about it. Play test the game you made! And enjoy it for what it is, something you contributed to. And if that’s not enough to make you happy then be satisfied that every bug you send to one of your co-workers will make them more miserable. (Though do try and be constructive.)

Another one of the few hits is a 2013 recruiting marketing blog post on Bioware blog, where a developer notes that "We are clearly moving away from the concept of 'sympathy crunch'. In the 2008 thread below, there's a heated debate over the promise by leadership that sympathy crunch had been abolished was kept or not. Even if you ignore the comments from the person I knew at Bioware, these later comments from Bioware employees, especially the recruiting marketing post in 2013, seem to indicate that sympathy crunch was not abolished until well after 2008.


EA gets a lot of the grief for their employment history.

For anyone considering work at Bioware, beware of them as well.

They use seriously cult like tactics to keep their employees towing the company line, but don't be fooled. The second you don't tow that line you'll be walked out the doors.

They love out of country workers because they don't understand the Canadian labour laws. They continually fire people with out warning. This is illegal in Canada. You must warn people of performance problems and give them a certain amount of warnings before you are allowed to fire someone.

They are smarter about it than EA by offering food and free ice cream and other on site amenities, but it all adds up to a lot of extra hours with no extra pay.


BTW you could say my post is somewhat personal, but I've not worked for Bioware. I have several friends that do. Three have been walked out the door in the last year for refusing to work more than the 40 hours they are paid for and wanting to spend time with their wives and kids.

The friends I have remaining there are from out of country and feel as though they are somewhat trapped. They are unhappy but will only admit it behind very closed doors because they have it in their head they will get black listed or something.

I'm an outside observer. I get paid more than these poor kids, and I only work about 35 hours a week. I've always put MY life ahead of my employers, but work very hard and dedicated at my job. When I see what in my opinion amounts to cult like mind control over these young men who are enamoured by the legend of Ray and Greg, the founders of bioware, I'm almost sickened.

I used to think it would be cool to work in the gaming industry, and now I'm just happy as hell I'm not in it.

I will certainly be pointing them to this site as a resource and hope, that like any other entertainment industry, they get organized in some fashion. It's absolutely dehumanizing what this industry does to people.


Hell is happy?

And, didn't EA buy BioWare?

Just asking, not complaining. Welcome aboard!


Yes, Bioware and Pandemic were bought by EA. However, it sounds like this started well before that acquisition. It actually sounds more like what amounts to a Cult of Personality (such as you see at Blizzard, Maxis, id, or Ion Storm) where a single person or a few people have such a huge reputation that they can get a more-or-less unlimited supply of reasonably good new hires -- and thus, someone (possibly someone in between said person and the average worker) takes advantage and pushes the employees much harder than they should.

In some cases the cults that build up around certain individuals insulates them from bad working conditions (I've heard Maxis enjoyed that happy fate while Will Wright was there, keeping the people inside in much better conditions than the remainder of EA), but in many cases it results in an attitude of "if you don't like it, we can get any number of people to replace you." Which is what EA certainly had for a long time, and several other studios still have, though the people who work at them tend to be quieter about it (and I don't think any other studios ever got to EA's legendary status of continuous crunch).


Yes, these things were happening well ahead of the EA purchase of Bioware.

You are exactly accurate about the Cult of Personality thing. People think that Ray and Greg are looking out for them. Bioware Pandemic just sold for nearly a billion dollars. People are marked for assination for far smaller stakes. Can anyone really believe that the owners are in there saying... "ya know.. I can't accept your billion dollars unless I know the employees are really well taken care of". It defies logic.

I suspect it will just get worse. Now people that have been forced to leave the company are also being told the the MUST sell their stocks back to the company.

I don't know enough about it to say if it's legal or not, but it sure sounds fishy to me. Again I've recommended to people that they check with a lawyer first, but nobody wants any more hastle than they already have. Unfortunately it's this attitude that keeps the gaming industry from getting organized.

I would love to be able to say this sort of putrid intimidation is anomalous, but that would just be the utterest of untruths plaguing the industry. Maybe we should extract this ubiquitous haughtiness from the development process, I'm crazy enough to believe this can happen without the U-word.


The truth is life at Bioware is not as bad and as bad as implied in this article. But mostly not as bad.

The original article states that Bioware uses cult tactics. I dont know what cult tactics are so I cant give a simple answer but I know that Bioware uses traditional tactics to make for good morale. They give you the free breakfast. They bring you dinner if you are working overtime. They give out Oilers tickets or tickets to theatre or gokarts and the like. They let you wander away from your desk for an hour to go to the lunch room and take a nap on the sofa or play video games. Or they let you leave to run errands or go out for an hour for coffee. They also have company meetings where they highlight the development of the various projects ongoing. On this last one some think its a great way to keep up on other projects while some think its just a way to keep employees excited about everything. Is any of this a cult tactic?

Bioware is notoriously loyal. And the managers are notoriously wimpy and avoid confrontation. There isnt a way to emphasise this enough. In fact people joke that they havent done good work in months and yet they receive a strong review and a raise or more stock options. Getting fired as a fulltime employee from Bioware is a shocking rare event that there has been company meetings or emails sent out to explain the firing. Employees are given so many chances to get it right when they do get a bad review. This is all different for contract employees. A contract employee who sucks wont be fired but they will have their contract not renewed. A good contract employee is always offered an opening for fulltime (since contract employees do get overtime and making them fulltime saves money) or if there is none has their contract renewed.

I dont know much about HR so I dont know about the hiring tactics but I can agree that a lot of employees come from around the world or outside of the Edmonton area. It was always assumed that they couldnt find good talent around Edmonton. I cant comment much more than that because I dont know. I know there are lots of recruiting drives all over.

Hours are definitely a problem and I can agree whole hearted:

Some think it gets better each project cycle but its just transposed. In the early days the staff might work 30 to 40 hour weeks for a year or two and then come to the end and realize there was too much to be done. They spend the last few months working at least double the hours. In later projects things were more controlled by project managers and producers and it turned into what some call death crunch or death marches. Employees start working 50 hour weeks a year or two before ship. It isnt much extra hours and noone complains much but there are problems if an employee wants to make plans and never knows if she has to work or not. Managers are good about making sure employees can take time off and get lots of extra time off as compensation for the work but employees are still asked a lot of them.

When the time comes closer to release the employees have their hours scaled up more and more. It might start as 9-9 on Tuesday and Thursday, and then become 9-9 Monday until Thursday. Then it's Saturday 10-4. Then it's 9-9 Friday nights too. Then it's 9-5 Saturday. And in desperate times they even say maybe 12-4 on Sunday.

Morale gets low when employees think the game is awful and they cant get it done right. Thats when management tells the staff that they have decided to not ship the game until it is done and that they are extending the release date. This is good for the title but still hurts morale when employees think of having to work so much longer when they were working so hard to make a date. For example to use the most recent title Mass Effect employees were told the game would ship in Christmas of 2006. Then it was pushes to February of 2007 and then later spring and then June. But we know the game didnt get shipped until November. That does wear on employees.

Each time it gets pushed back the management cuts hours for a few weeks or give out breaks of a few extra days off or a four days weekend to recharge employees. Plus people say "in the old days we worked 90 hours or 100 or more. Now its only 50 or 60 or maybe in rare times sometimes 70 so this is great." which is meant to make you remember that you are making a game and should be happy to hang out at Bioware for only 50 or 60 hours a week to make “the best games ever”.

After game is shipped people take long breaks weeks at a time. Then they slowly ease back into it. They get maybe 20 or 30 hours of work assigned per week. This can go on for months before employee returns to regular 40 hour weeks. And that happens for many months or a year before the project pushes for release and the cycle starts again.

This is not an indictment of Bioware. All companies in video gaming do this. It's unfair to point at Bioware as any exception but a good one to me.

People leave all the time for these reasons. More have left in the last year. Maybe two years. Maybe three. Im not sure. But Bioware hires so many people and the ones who leave are generally not as good as the ones who are hired so it works out. Many people in Bioware wish more people would leave. Maybe with less dead weight since no one gets fired ever there could be a stronger staff who works more efficiently.

When EA Spouse was out everyone at Bioware got curious about it. But then the reports about what EA Spouse's husband was working and the situations he was put into and everyone at Bioware realised that they had nothing anywhere as close to as bad as what that was. Bioware employees enjoy comfort and support by managers and long projects but not 100 hour weeks. And some employees do manage to hold on to 9-5 for very long stretches if they can get their work done to highest standards.

But still people hoped that the industry in general would improve. Many people at Bioware would be thrilled to have nothing else change other than to never have to work more than 40 or 45 hours. But also many people at Bioware are workaholics who would never work less than 50 or 60 and they always create a dangerous precedent and control the pace unfairly.

Everyone at Bioware is aware that EA owns them now but no one is more thoughtful about it. Nothing has changed. Life is the same in every way except for more money. Its easy to forget that Bioware was ever bought by EA because the culture is unchanged and no one from EA is coming in and yelling about how things have to be changed. Thats kind of amazing considering Bioware doesnt make really big selling titles and probably deserves someone like EA coming in and saying this is how to do it. Bioware titles eventually after a year or two sell a million or two m but they never have that 5 m in the first month kind of release that the big titles get and that Bioware sorely wants.

If you want to work video games you are going to work lots of hours no matter where you go but Bioware is a great place to do it because they do treat you well. Many people leave Bioware and write back to say they regret it. Some come back. Some also do find a better life elsewhere but say that Bioware life is good too and that they miss many facets of it. I think more people leave Bioware to get away from Deadmonton then any other reason!!

Bioware censoring that article if they did isnt surprising to me because they are very controlling of their image. They only want positive talk about them and want to protect fragile egos and morale of the employee staff. Censoring bad publicity doesnt make the bad publicity true. Bioware just doesnt want that out there.


I've worked my share of crunches (over almost 400 hours in three months during summer) on various projects. My takeaway from that is:

1) Don't be an ass about it. If you need to crunch, admit what the reason is and create a sensible plan for the crunch.

People will take their free time any way they can. Crunches that last over two weeks are too much without breaks in-between and lead to more errors than actual work being done.

2) Realize that full day's job has about average 5-6 hours of actual work that benefits the company. With crunch, you can have people in the office for 12+ hours a day, but the additional hours don't really pay off that well in comparison.

3) Pretty much every developer I know is very savvy with the industry and how it operates. Most of them put their family and life above work and wouldn't hesitate to resign in a minute if the crunch or the company seems unfair or badly managed. Again, don't be an ass about the crunch.

4) I don't want to spend years and make a shit game. It's a waste of my life and time. I'll crunch for you if you plan it with a brain in the head. If you don't, I'll do something more relevant with my life.

What anonymous posts about Bioware sounds very much like normal circumstances and I'd be willing to work in a company like that. I want to wander away from my desk to play a demo or whatever and I like people trusting me that yes, I will do my tasks by the deadline. In fact, I think that's how every game company should operate. I'm glad I haven't experienced it any other way yet during the years.


While those kinds of hours may be typical or expected, they are in no way excusable. Companies that ask people to work 60 hours weeks for long periods of time in the middle of a project are either a) incompetent project managers or b) guilty of taking advantage of their teams.

Just because it's the video game industry, many people think that it is just par for the course. I call shenanigans, and so did Erin Hoffman (EA Spouse). Thank you, Erin, for getting this kind of crap out of the closet.

Not every company is like that. I work at a fantastic game company right now that is creating a AAA game for the Wii. We've hit some tough times at points, but our crunch times are 50 hour weeks, and we almost never do them back-to-back.

The idea that you have to suck up and deal sometimes in games? Yes, absolutely. We're way too young as an industry with our production practices and there is a ton of money at stake. The idea that you should be forced to do long stretches of 60 or more hour weeks out of love for a project? As a responsible company owner, you need to turn around and either put some more resources onto the problem, or start cutting scope. Because at that point, you're abusing your team for the mistakes you have made.


WOW, you folks are lucky to think that 60 hour weeks are some kind of exception in modern corporate America. I'm a gamer, not someone who works in the games industry, but I do work in film production in Hollywood, and these hours are truly par for the course out here. I'm talking about EVERY DAY, in by 9 am and you don't leave before 7:30 pm, and you're expected to take home scripts or novels to read and write up for the following day. This is not high paid, either, average salary for a "creative executive" is in the 50K range and you're working 65 hour weeks, not including any reading or additional work that's required outside of the office.

I'm not saying this is excusable, just that this seems to be the trend in America today, and it's afflicting a lot of industries, from banking to lawyering to consulting to video games and film. And the sad truth is, most of the "work" people are doing during their 10 or 12 hour work day could be finished in 5 hours if employees weren't such believers in presentee-ism, or the idea that the amount of hours you sit at a desk = your productivity as a worker.

Anyway, I just wanted to chime in to say these abuses are not symptomatic of the games industry but American white collar work in general, so... beware! The fact is, in competitive industries like these, there are so many willing workers who will step in and suffer these kinds of abuses that we have little power to organize or protect ourselves. Good luck out there.


I worked at Bio for a few years and I can verify that what the OP said is true. Greg and Ray have spent years cultivating a perception in the gaming industry that they are somehow better then other companies. They aren't. I am not saying they are monsters, because in person they are both pretty cool guys. However, when it comes to business they are pretty ruthless. I think it's mostly Ray. They continually promise that things will get better and they don't. Almost every project at Bio has had extended crunch because the project directors always plan way more than they are able to deliver. So, the employees suffer and the directors get a pat on the back and bigger and more shares. The latest example is Mass Effect. There was a 9 month crunch on that game. Some people came close to nervous breakdowns. They implemented sympathetic crunch which they also promised they had abolished. That's where the whole team has to be on site just in case something goes wrong even if they don't have anything to do. What it's really about though is the politics of making sure that the programmers don't get pissed that the artist got off early or whoever. I think it's just going to get worse under EA. Eventually people will realize that BioWare is just like every other crunchy game dev out there.


(FYI, I posted before, but with the amount of anonymous posters I'll clarify I'm the one who spoke about a 400 hour summer crunch)

I've never understood or had to withstand a sympathetic crunch - Even though our projects had crunches, it was more about sharing workload or just realizing that yes, the coders do have more work ahead for them.

I recently talked to an U.S friend of mine who was astounded by my 4 week summer vacation and 1 week winter vacation. She couldn't really imagine it since she had never had one. Most she had was max 1 week off during a year. Add to that the 10+ hour workdays and I can't understand how you cope with that.

I work in northern europe, do 8 hour days 90% of the time and at my current place I can show the total crunch hours with 10 fingers.

When you're young, 400 hour crunches and sleeping in a sleeping bag might not be a big deal, but nearing 30, you'll get more interested about your rights and such. The 400 hours for me was a good eye opener on how not to do things. It was valuable, but never again. It took me more than a year to recover the friends and social aspects of my life to recover from that.


I think more people leave Bioware to get away from Deadmonton then any other reason!!

Hey! Nuts to you!

(Edmontonian here)

I'm acquainted with some people in Bioware. Their loyalty to the company is astonishing - if, as previous posters have said, there is a cultivated sense that Bioware's better than other game companies then it's absolutely taken root. They joke that it feels like almost living in a self-sustained arcology.

I remember one of them dismissing EA's Bioware takeover as no big deal, business as usual, why would anything change blah blah blah. I'm sure it was supposed to sound reassuring but it came off as naively dismissive in light of EA's infamous track record.

This is the first time I've actually seen numbers of their crunch time which is disappointing if true. It smacks of poor management and I guess I had some of that fairly-tale view of the company. I hope for Bioware's sake it doesn't get any worse.


One anonymous (or, from this page, I'm the anonymous [who defended Bioware earlier] to another I will respond to this comment -- They implemented sympathetic crunch which they also promised they had abolished.

My response is that they didn't implement that (??). People were on call of course but they didn't tell every one to be there because some people had to work. That's incorrect. If a manager thought their team had deliverables to make for sprints then they told their team to be there. If people were behind they had to be there. If people could help the team they had to be there. But that was almost always up to individual managers and if an employee had to be there just because then that is the fault of an individual manager and that individual manager should have been discussed with Casey or the project manager.

Not disagreeing with the rest of your post which pretty much said the same as mine. But this one point was inaccurate.


Anon in response to your argument about the sympathetic crunch; Of course it's the manager's fault, but do you really think anyone is going to buck Casey and not suffer for it? They never come right out and say that people have to be there for political reasons, they couch it in all kind of ways. All I know is that I spent more than a few nights at work until 2:00 or 3:00AM because something might go wrong even though I lived less than 30 minutes away and told them I could be called at any time. I also know that I was taken to task for always asking to leave when I was done because of the perception it created amongst people that were forced to stay.