Thoughts on Crunch in the Games Industry

Hey, all!

After a dearth of posts, a relaxing trimester break, and a return to study, it is time once again to return to blogging. This time, I’ll be talking about a subject that’s close to my heart, because that I’ll never be in a situation like the one below.

Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at King’s College, London, Rosalind Gill is no stranger to examining vertical slices of our culture. Gill explores the trials and tribulations that occur within the New Media space. In her paper Life is a pitch: Managing the self in new media work she focuses on the individuals that work in these professions, their representation, and the place they take in the workforce. Gill raises many valid points regarding entrepreneurialism, job prospects and technological evolution. I wanted to elaborate on one point in particular – the subject of Crunch Time.

I speak specifically for the games industry, but it isn’t a stretch to imagine these problems affecting all other creative disciplines. Crunch Time is an ethical phenomenon where project managers will encourage their workers to work overtime to get a project completed as quickly as possible, or to meet a looming deadline. The Games Industry is the most prevalent in this culture, where months before a major release a studio will work overtime into the evenings and on the weekends to implement as many features and polish the product as much as they can. There is some merit to this. The project “should” benefit from the extra time spent on it. However, the opposite is usually true. As Matthew S. Burns highlights in his game The Writer Will Do Something the culture of crunch damages all aspects of the project (Burns, 2016). Overworked developers will find their personal lives and partnerships severed because they are always working. Exhausted developers will not create a quality product. Crunch Time is almost always a management problem. Bad workflows, ineffective staff and poorly planned deadlines will throw developers to the wolves. Most infamously, founder of Team Bondi, Brendan McNamara severely mismanaged his company over the seven years that preceded L.A. Noire’s release – the studios first and last game. McNamara is reported to have regularly yelled openly at employees and expected them to work seven days a week, for 15 hours a day (McMillen, 2016). Reports also suggest that some staff would lose hundreds of hours of work because of management-related oversights. It was no surprise to anybody when several artists left and said they never wanted to work in the Games Industry again.

This year we were reminded of these disgusting attitudes to Crunch when Alex St. John wrote a piece detailing why paying developers for their work was not a priority. He said that game development was an “entrepreneurial endeavour“, and therefore exempt from the usual trappings of a 9-to-5 job. He went further to say that “pushing a mouse around” couldn’t be considered hard work, and that game developers shouldn’t be compensated for their overtime work (John, 2016). Understandably, his words were met with a fiery uproar from the gaming community, even from his daughter. It’s clear that while Crunch can be a product of a developer’s passion, it can be abused through a damaging system that victimises developers at the expense of managers sucking up to their investors. The industry can and must do better to nurture the creative minds they need for commercial success.

References

Burns, M. (2016). The Writer Will Do Something (Version 1.0). Seattle.

Gill, R. (2016). Professor Rosalind Gill. City University London. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://www.city.ac.uk/people/academics/rosalind-gill

John, A. (2016). Game developers must avoid the ‘wage-slave’ attitude. VentureBeat. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://venturebeat.com/2016/04/16/game-developers-must-avoid-the-wage-slave-attitude/

McMillen, A. (2016). Why Did L.A. Noire Take Seven Years to Make? – IGN. IGN. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://au.ign.com/articles/2011/06/24/why-did-la-noire-take-seven-years-to-make

Takahashi, D. (2016). Why ‘crunch time’ is still a problem in the video game industry. VentureBeat. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://venturebeat.com/2016/03/20/why-crunch-time-is-still-a-problem-in-the-video-game-industry/

 

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