I’m passionate about making games. Many people are. We want to go to work every day and make them from 9-5, and show them off at trade shows. We want lots of players to enjoy our game the way we intend and for as many interested parties to see our game as possible. We want our games to sell as many units as possible to pay everyone’s bills and set the studio up for a lucrative future. But at what cost? With game studio sizes and budgets ballooning, so much is riding on the people at the frontline. The designers, programmers and everyone working in a studio is to some degree responsible for the final product, which they all want to put on their resumes and hold up as the gold standard of their work. That’s why we crunch to get everything done that we want, to fully realise the product we want to create. And that’s the problem, crunching the worst possible way to make your game, and it’s unhealthy and exploitative and will cause significant damage to the quality of life on your teams.
VentureBeat reports that 76% of game developers still work under crunch conditions at their studios, and a third of those do not receive paid overtime for their work. 65% of respondents indicated that crunch was a regular part of their jobs, and an additional 32% said that while crunch isn’t a regular part of their job, they were still required to work overtime at some point or another. VentureBeat continues to state that developers work 50-70 hours per week during crunch periods, with 34% of those receiving no compensation whatsoever for their overtime. What the hell?
It’s a pervasive attitude in the industry, particular the AAA industry. In April 2016 Alex St John wrote an article for VentreBeat in defense of the industry’s poor working conditions. He argued that crunch is part of the fun, that you should be grateful to be working in the games industry at all. There’s clearly a cultural problem within the games industry. The terrible working conditions only serve to undermine the game’s development and hurt its creative potential.
In a piece by Kotaku, The Horrible World of Video Game Crunch, Jason Schreier highlights the long-term effects of this kind of behaviour. An anonymous developer burnt out after a few months and walked out of the studio. Schreier mentioned that many developers gave “war stories” of their times in crunch, which have the danger of turning into a bragging match, further embedding the attitude that it’s “not that bad”, or the peer pressure of feeling like you’re letting your team down by leaving so early. What’s worse is that crunch doesn’t actually work.
But Paul Tozour in the article highlights that the effort involved in crunch doesn’t compare to the benefits that “team cohesion, compelling direction, psychological safety, risk management and cultural factors” will have on everybody. Schreier uses this to mention that crunch doesn’t work.
What will fix crunch is undoing all of the negative attitudes that are making the games industry toxic. Removing the need for crunch with more generous planning and project management is what will fix this. An all nighter can make miracles happen but won’t compare to a bright and alert mind. There should never be a need to crunch, and no developer should feel isolated from their families and partners in the deathmarch.
Schreier, J. (2016). Game Industry Veteran Writes Horrifying Article In Defense Of Poor Working Conditions. Kotaku.com. Retrieved 25 August 2017, from http://kotaku.com/game-industry-veteran-writes-horrifying-article-in-defe-1771434170
Schreier, J. (2016). The Horrible World of Crunch. Kotaku.com. Retrieved 25 August 2017, from http://kotaku.com/crunch-time-why-game-developers-work-such-insane-hours-1704744577
Takahashi, D. (2017). 76% of game developers still labor under crunch conditions. VentureBeat. Retrieved 25 August 2017, from https://venturebeat.com/2017/02/28/76-of-game-developers-work-crunch-time-without-paid-overtime/