One day during the development of Final Fantasy 15, as director Hajime Tabata was leaving for work, his six-year-old daughter came up to him and gave him a hug.
"Without letting go," Tabata said at a panel during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this morning, "she asked me, 'How much longer will you be busy?'"
Tabata didn't know how to respond, he said, so he told his daughter that it was going to be a while.
"On hearing that, she held her tears back," Tabata said, speaking through a translator. "With a big smile, she said, 'Chin up and keep up the good work, Daddy.' Then she went back to her room and brought me a picture drawing of me working. It wasn't a good drawing, actually. She obviously put her worry for me ahead of her own loneliness. Seeing her fight to hold back tears hit me very hard as a parent."
Shortly afterwards, Tabata met with his team at Square Enix and put together an event: Family Day, where they'd all bring their parents, spouses and children to work. They set up special versions of the then-in-progress Final Fantasy 15, which they let their kids play on the office PCs. It was, Tabata said, an extraordinary boost to his team's morale, just as they were going through the horrible crunch of their first open-world game, one that sounds like it was hellish to make.
"The object was to achieve a better work-life balance, to show appreciation to our families, to give them peace of mind," Tabata said. "The key to having a stronger team is to have your families behind you."
Of course, one could certainly argue that events like this wouldn't be necessary if the video game industry had more worker-friendly practices in the first place. But that's a complicated conversation. And this is still a cute story.