I have to step in on behalf of the game industry here. It's not all bad as is being told here. My experience is a different one. Since everyone can only tell from his own experience, i'd like to share mine too ...
First of all, i've been working as a game developer on Game & Level Design and foremost Scripting, Game Logic & Tools Programming. Over the course of nine years and two companies (one handheld and a PC developer) i worked for I have accumulated a highly diversified amount of working knowledge under my belt. Here's a quick rundown:
- Game Design (small scale, eg. for handheld devices)
- Level Design (2D tile based, 3D freeform landscaping)
- Scripting (Levels, Gamelogic, Controls, Menus, Missions, Quests, Dialog)
- Game Logic Programming (Lua, Scripting, Combat)
- Tools Programming (MFC, C#, .NET, Lua, remote debugging)
- Database Setup, Programming, Tools (SQL, nHibernate, C#)
- Localization (tools, processes, workflow, Excel, Unicode)
- Wiki (setup & administration, support)
- Leadership & Management (small to medium teams)
Note that I'm not listing anything i remotely worked on here. No, these are actually my major areas of expertise which i would pull out if i had to apply for a job. I don't claim intimitate knowledge for any of these technologies or skills, except maybe for Lua which i know inside and out (ok, more out than inside but nevertheless).
I also am not looking down on other developers, especially not web developers. I've had a good deal of exposure to the web world to know i honestly wouldn't go there for anything in the world, and i admire every web developer who can build a site like stackoverflow or or has the writing skills to maintain a highly frequented blog. I for that matter can't even use a simple CMS to build a website that displays even remotely the same across all common browsers. Curse you, CSS!
As for working conditions: the first five years i've happily put in long hours. It was rewarding actually, it seldomly was forced and there were only very few times i wanted to opt out. I've worked with great teams where people tried to balance work with life, and if life was more important to them that was ok with everyone because you could still rely on them being there when it counts.
The longest crunch time i've been through was about 3 months of 10-12 hour days in one of my first years, working for the handheld company and maybe another 2-3 months for the PC company. Other than that, crunch time was often only 1-4 weeks a time every 6 months or so. Currently we barely have crunch times at all. The last one was a year ago, it was a mild one with most people working regular hours plus a day on the weekend and went on for 3 weeks.
Now you might think that this isn't very convincing. 3 months crunch time still sounds terrible (or roughly 1 month of crunch every year), and so does working on the weekend. I admit it, yes, that is indeed daunting. It sounds awful. But trust me, in both companies, if you have a life no one would have forced you to put in long hours at these companies, and as a matter of fact, several people chose not to crunch, or only when they actually were able and willing to.
Also, we've always got enough slack and days off to make up for at least most of the crunch time stress. And that was well received and deserved. And of course, crunch mode is nothing specific to game development. It happens everywhere, in banking, security, web development, you name it. It's just that the game industry has become synonymous with long hours and crunch mode. But the way i see it, there's no kind of software development like game development where developers are more eager to put in their best efforts. It may not always be to the best of our health and relationships and certainly, by far not in all cases has it been voluntarily or in other words it certainly has been exploited by employers. Honestly, if i were to put in long hours for anything, it'd be for games, period! But certainly not under any condition. And the one's described by EA spouse, i was shaking my head all along. Just quit yer fracking job, will you!? No, there's no excuse to put up with working conditions like these. If worst comes to worst there's always an alternative. That's how i see it.
If i had to pick one thing that i could have done without in the early years, it's certainly not the overtime. I would have to pick working on the top floor in a room with 9 other developers during one of the hottest summers in our region with barely working air conditioning. We were a hot and smelly bunch. ;)
Now over the course of the last 5 years i've seen a steady decrease in overtime (in the PC company i work for), both in the amount i put in voluntarily as well as what is required from us. As a matter of fact, we're just past feature freeze of a 2-year project and we haven't had a single day of crunch mode this year. I didn't put in extra hours, nor will i have to in the remaining 2 months, i'm already scheduled to work on another project even before this one has gone gold. We're using SCRUM for two years now and that has certainly paid off. And that's the state of a good company in a great industry. Should you ever find yourself in a severly inferior situation, or being forced to crunch with no will to do it - get the F!"K out of there! Seriously.
One word about salary: it may not be as much as you can earn elsewhere. But elsewhere is where the boring development jobs are, and no money in the world can get me there!
I earn a respectable yearly amount for my programming job (rough guesstimate is over $60,000 per year all in all), especially if you consider that i have no formal training and haven't been to university. I get regular pay raises, i get bonuses and stock options, we also have an employee stock purchase plan.
By this time you might have figured i'm working for one of the major houses in the games industry. I believe that certainly helps, your job is more secure, the working environment is likely to be much better (despite what EA spouse implies), the payment is solid, making a career is possible, the information exchange is just awesome and the amount of professionality in all areas of expertise around me is astonishing.
Right now, I certainly don't see myself wanting to work for anyone else but this game company. :)