Game developers are struggling to stay productive during the pandemic

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As the pandemic continues to keep people inside, some jobs have shifted from office culture to working from home. For developers adjusting to this new reality, many say they’re struggling to stay focused and productive under the new conditions, according to a new survey published by GDC. The results, released today, include almost 2,500 developers.

Of those who responded to the survey, 70 percent say they’ve switched to working from home. Workers cited specific problems around child care, communication, distractions, as well as general anxiety over larger troubles. “The biggest overall team challenge has been managing ambient stress,” wrote one respondent. “Everyone has been affected by the pandemic in some way, even if not directly, and the general atmosphere of anxiety is impossible to ignore completely.”

Shortly after the beginning of quarantine for many US-based employees, developers who spoke with The Verge cited similar problems. While some, like developers at Bungie, quickly pivoted to setting up infrastructure for their employees to adjust to home, others struggled to generally focus.

Although GDC’s survey shows that developer jobs have been largely unaffected by COVID thus far — 8 percent reported job loss due to the pandemic — it’s harder to account for the impact on mental health. While 32 percent reported that they felt productivity had decreased at home, developers also report their creativity has somewhat decreased (28 percent) or greatly decreased (7 percent). However, that doesn’t necessarily point to troubles with home itself. As one respondent put it, “The overall situation (financial troubles at company level, additional meetings and overhead, anxiety going to the grocery store) is probably more to blame than staying at my home is.”

Business appears to be have been “meaningfully affected,” surveyors say, “with some seeing upticks in earnings even as others suffer significant business downturns.” Thirty-seven percent of respondents reported overall business is “about the same,” while another 24 percent said “somewhat increased.” On either end of the spectrum, 7 percent said their business has greatly increased, while another 8 percent say it’s greatly decreased. Roughly 33 percent of developers, or 1 in 3, say they’ve had a game delayed.

The game industry, notorious for crunch, may still need to grapple with how employees find work-life balance under these new conditions. Many developers (39 percent in total) say that they’re working longer hours than pre-pandemic. “It’s harder to establish limits when working from home,” one wrote. “You feel you’re at home so it’s okay to do 2, 3, 4+ extra hours. The company also encourages (unpaid) crunch.”

As for what the future holds, more than half of developers (64 percent) say that their companies have adopted new practices and processes that will continue once lockdown ends. For some, that means more freedom to work from home. “We had to make some changes on our daily tasks to compensate not being at our office working physically together, but those have proven to increase our efficiency and productivity,” wrote one developer. “Lately we have even talked about embracing the home office configuration even after the pandemic.”

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