Though we regularly discuss the “quality of life” problem in Western game development, the Japanese have it even worse. There, long hours and sleeping at the office aren’t exceptional— they’re a matter of course for all kinds of businesses. But the combination of the culture of the game industry combined with the culture that produced karōshi (lit. “death by overwork”) can be especially potent. One anecdote I’ll always remember illustrates starkly how wretched it can become.

A large Japanese game studio was crunching, as usual, to get the next game out the door. The hours were insane and those employees with families hardly ever got a chance to see them. One day, a worker went to his boss and begged him to let him leave early that evening. It was his daughter’s birthday, he explained, and he wanted at the very least to have the chance to celebrate with a nice dinner together with his family. “Fine,” the boss said. The man went home at an unusual five o’clock that day.

Then, a little past midnight, the phone rang. It was the boss.

“Your daughter’s birthday is over. Get back to the office.”