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Game Devs: When Does Crunch Cross The Line?

Game Devs: When Does Crunch Cross The Line?

Thu 24 Oct 2013 2:05pm GMT / 10:05am EDT / 7:05am PDT
Business

Rubin, Spector, and more on crunch and why it won't ever die

Last week, Crytek stepped into a world of trouble with a tweet about the development of Ryse: Son of Rome for Xbox One. The company boasted of feeding its crunching team members "more than 11,500 dinners" during the game's development. The #RyseFacts hashtag was co-opted by Twitter to strike out against the idea of crunch development as a good thing. Among those who had negative tweets about crunch culture was former Epic games designer Cliff Bleszinski, who said the practice was "unsustainable".

"'Crunch time' = bad management," tweeted Bleszinski. "This just in: Next gen AAA console launch game with many scripted sequences required lots of crunch."

Is crunch a necessary part of our industry? Is it a result of bad management and should be avoided at all costs? GamesIndustry International reached out to a number of industry veterans to see how they felt about crunch. Despite disliking forced crunch, the folks we spoke to seemed to believe that crunch is something that will remain in the industry.

01

"I'm going to go out on the limb here and might be answering in a way that strays from the quality of life conversation. My belief is that crunch will always occur in our industry, but it's never something that should be relied on," said Obsidian Entertainment CEO Feargus Urquhart. "Why do I think it will always exist? Because, as game makers we create things. Creation is hard. I doubt that Einstein packed it up after 40 hours a week and I doubt that James Cameron puts in his eight and then turns in for the day."

Junction Point Studios founder and game designer Warren Spector said crunch was the result of working with a host of unknown factors in creative mediums. Since game development is always full of unknowns, crunch will always exist in studios that strive for quality.

"Look, I'm sure there have been games made without crunch. I've never worked on one or led one, but I'm sure examples exist. That tells me something about myself and a lot about the business I'm in," said Spector.

"I'm sure there have been games made without crunch. I've never worked on one or led one."

Warren Spector

"We work in a medium of unknowns. We go into projects with, usually, a high level idea and a ship date. We rely on others to execute against those ideas, bringing their own creativity to the table. As we get deeper into the process we discover that things that sounded good on paper don't work in practice. Things that worked in prototype don't work in a fully textured and lit level. And then the folks providing money or distribution randomize and disrupt by demanding demos or screenshots at the most inconvenient times!"

"What I'm saying is that games - I'm talking about non-sequels, non-imitative games - are inherently unknowable, unpredictable, unmanageable things. A game development process with no crunch? I'm not sure that's possible unless you're working on a ripoff of another game or a low-ambition sequel. And I've never, personally, been much interested in either - as a player or as a developer. I've never had enough time or money."

There are some positives to crunch: working through adversity helps bring team members closer together. Former 2K Marin creative director Jordan Thomas and Naughty Dog co-founder and former THQ president Jason Rubin agreed with this idea.

"To me, the sister concepts of voluntary crunch and even focused, near-term crunch intended to hit specific goals -- are natural when groups of humans compete," Thomas said. "In my personal experience on both sides of the manager/employee divide, if a leader keeps his or her promises about what it's for and when it will end, there can be a net increase in team morale after a sprint finish."

"Crunch sucks, but if it is seen by the team members as a fair cost of participating in an otherwise fantastic employment experience, if they value ownership of the resulting creative success more than the hardship, if the team feels like long hours of collaboration with close friends is ultimately rewarding, and if they feel fairly compensated, then who are we to tell them otherwise?" asked Rubin.

If the team feels like long hours of collaboration with close friends is ultimately rewarding, and if they feel fairly compensated, then who are we to tell them otherwise?

Jason Rubin

"The question is: are we looking at a crew team rowing together to the point of collapse and savoring victory together, or are we looking at a drummer beating a drum as the rowers are worked to collapse? I think that can only be answered by the team members themselves."

"At times, usually on a Sunday at 2 AM, I've even asked myself, 'Do you like crunching?' When I was younger, I often found myself answering, 'Yes.' There's something about working late into the early morning that binds people," added Spector. "Overcoming adversity can be exhilarating. Seeing the impossible happen because people care that much about what they're doing can turn a group of talented individuals into a team - into a family. And, in retrospect, in later years, when the pain of crunch is forgotten, what you're left with is the pride of having worked on something amazing. Those aspects of crunch are all positive and not to be undervalued."

One of the big questions that surrounds crunch is why it happens. Was it a result of bad planning and management? Did features just not work and need to be redone? Did the publisher decide that the game needed to go in a different direction? How studios reached crunch time and how long they spend there is important.

"What I think is important in the conversation about crunch is to talk about why it happened. If crunch happens because it was initially planned for (i.e. there was no way to get the game done from day one without crunch), then that is poor planning, bad management, and putting an unacceptable burden on people and their families," said Urquhart.

"If sustained involuntary crunch is fundamental to your business model, something is deeply wrong," added Thomas. "If a manager sets unrealistic goals, the sprint will fail, and become a death march. Poor decisions multiply as fatigue sets in, relationships decay beyond repair, and so on. Similar to cellular damage from radiation, there's a 'walking ghost' stage where you've already ruined your best people from over-exposure to it, and they're not even manifesting symptoms yet."

"If I had to sum it up - crunch time, duct tape, and the force all have something similar - they each have a light side and a dark side."

Feargus Urquhart

The developers that spoke to GamesIndustry International seem united in the idea that crunch is a necessary evil and can even be positive in some aspects. There are negative aspects that should be avoided, but some believe there's a certain creative fire in the race towards a deadline.

"I've gone through periods of crunch that have exhausted me and strained my personal life," said Urquhart. "I've also gone through crunch periods, albeit much shorter ones, where I feel I was extremely productive and created amazing things. If I had to sum it up - crunch time, duct tape, and the force all have something similar - they each have a light side and a dark side."

"Can we do better?" asked Spector. "I'm sure we can. We probably should. Excessive crunch - anything more than a couple of weeks to a month at a stretch, to my mind - puts relationships and health at risk. That's a high price to pay for a quality game. But 'can' and 'should' are easy words to throw around. After 30 years of making games I'm still waiting to find the wizard who can avoid crunch entirely without compromising at a level I'm unwilling to accept."

In the end, Thomas cautioned studio management to think about the human costs of crunch. It's a tool in the toolbox, but not every problem is a nail requiring a hammer.

"Questioning the ethics of crunch is sane, yet I find that it quickly escalates to 'is hierarchy inherently evil?' or degenerates into a lot of conditional statements about when it's 'worth it'," he said. "But even from the tactical perspective of some bipedal reptile, long inured to any concern over quality of life, there are seriously diminishing returns with crunch as policy. A business is made of human beings. You invest in them, or you're the lord of an empty house."

50 Comments

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

558 607 1.1
Crunch is still seen by too many developers and publishers as an acceptable way of project planning. I have worked for companies where crunch was planned in from the very start. All in the name to make a project more palatable for a publisher. And that despite the fact that there is evidence it does not work. On top of that there are still many who see working crunch and coming through crunch as a badge of honor of sorts.

http://notplayed.com/2013/10/16/crunchtastic/

Posted:10 months ago

#1

Thomas Perry
Game Developer

4 12 3.0
Popular Comment
Crunch "is" bad management and should not be an acceptable practice. I love how they justify it, the truth is, time is money and they want to make their money faster regardless of who they hurt doing it.

Posted:10 months ago

#2

Rolf Klischewski
Founder & CEO

43 117 2.7
Popular Comment
There's no better evidence for an irresponsible lack of planning than "crunch mode". And it's definitely not cool.

I've had to go through several crunches, watching kids visiting their dads at work, because he'd stopped bothering going home, and at the same time the Head of Development and the Project Manager pretended it was the coolest thing ever, making their own lack of a life the role model to live by. Pathetic.

Posted:10 months ago

#3

James Barnard
Founder / Developer

12 17 1.4
As a game developer, I always want to see one more awesome thing in any game I make...no game is ever finished, so as long as there are hours in the day, and I have the chance to improve something, it's what I want to do. I am not a bad manager of my time, or the time of those in my studio, I am just passionate to make the best games I possibly can. If people on my team want to go home, I never stop them, I never ask them to work late, but they often do, because they too want the game to be as good as it can be...we picked this industry because we love it! If it were for the paycheck, then there would be plenty of more lucrative places for us to spend our time.

Posted:10 months ago

#4

Dan Wood
Visual Effects Artist

32 51 1.6
I can only go by the VFX industry, but I get the feeling it's not so different.

I think crunch time is a byproduct of endless financial pressure, which cannot help but lead to "bad" management decisions.
When most clients come to me as a specialist freelancer, they have usually already planned the project, accepted a budget, and a schedule. They'll ask me how long I think it'll take... I'll say 3-4 months absolute minimum. They'll respond "we just don't have the budget for that, and it has to be finished in 6 weeks". I wonder why on earth they asked my professional opinion if all they wanted to hear was affirmation of the uninformed decision they already made.
The project ends up taking 3 months, even with crunch time, because we approach it attempting to complete it in 6 weeks, eventually they realise it isn't possible, and we end up redoing a bunch of work that we cut too many corners on, which we could have avoided if they'd just scheduled 3 months to begin with.

Next time, they'll do the exact same thing again, because nobody is willing to pay for a job to be done well, when they can pay for a job to be kicked out as fast as possible... despite the fact that it ends up taking just as long, and costing just as much when things overrun, and everyone gets burnt out doing crunch time.

I don't know how to break this insane cycle, besides attempting as an artist to be a lot more selective with what projects I take on, and for what companies. Unfortunately that isn't going to be an option for everyone, as a lot of people have families and mortgages to consider.

Posted:10 months ago

#5

Tim Carter
Designer - Writer - Producer

562 311 0.6
More intellectual arguments about crunch.

Useless waste of thinking.

Either do something about it or just go home.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 24th October 2013 5:25pm

Posted:10 months ago

#6
Popular Comment
I *completely* disagree with the experts here who claim crunch is a necessary evil. Crunch is poor planning and a lack of willingness to take a stand. Know you are going to be doing iterative, creative work? Plan for it. Schedule for it. Stand up for your folks and their quality of life!

Posted:10 months ago

#7

Colin Berry
Game Developer

2 9 4.5
Crunch for a few weeks towards project end, not great but it can be understandable. Crunch for months on end and the production and management of the project has likely been screwed up to the point of negligence.

I've been lucky to have never worked on a project where we crunched for more than 3-4 weeks, but I've seen enough close at hand to know the detrimental effects it can have on peoples health, and also to know that its often born from poor management and planning. All too often the easy route is to get the staff below you to work more hours rather than tell the boss above you something needs to be cut or more resources are needed.

Crunch might not be avoidable, but it can be better managed. It should be rewarded (not just free pizza). It should never be built into the schedule pre-production, and staff should never be pressured or treated like outcasts if they go home on time. Clever managers, good managers (they do exist - I've worked with several) will ensure staff dont over crunch and burn themselves out, as opposed to whipping the horse til its on its knees. Also the bravado around crunch needs to go, everyone has a crunch story, whether its working 30hours straight to hit an E3 deadline or working every weekend for 4months, but these shouldnt be seen as achievements.

Yes its a creative industry and you cant always plan accurately, but collectively as an industry we have to improve and not use that as an over riding excuse to suck it up. Ultimately I guarantee no game developer on their deathbed will be wishing they spent more time crunching and less time with their family.

Posted:10 months ago

#8

Dan Wood
Visual Effects Artist

32 51 1.6
Warren mentions
still waiting to find the wizard who can avoid crunch entirely without compromising at a level I'm unwilling to accept
- what exactly is being compromised?
There's no reason a project's quality should be compromised by not going into crunch time... quite the opposite. The only thing that gets compromised is scheduling and finances. Things that should and certainly could have been planned better.

The number of times I've had clients put it to me - "we'd love to have longer, but that's all the budget we've got", as though somehow just by saying it offloads the blame onto the people they negotiated the budget with, and lays the responsibility of living up to that decision on me. I fail to see how it's my problem as an artist. It's THEIR job to negotiate a suitable schedule and budget.

If you set unachievable goals, you should answer for your own failure, and certainly NOT offload your responsibility onto your artists and make them pay for it.

Posted:10 months ago

#9

Kirby St. John
Game Designer

1 0 0.0
I agree it is wrong to plan for "Crunch Time" from the very beginning, as that instantly puts everyone involved in the game development process in a mindset that what we do early on is not nearly as important as what we do at the end. It basically builds in time for people to spin their wheels. HOWEVER, I think there is one gaming genre that could be the exception to this: Sports. Console sports games are most often on a yearly cycle, meaning they really have about 9 months to achieve all their milestones and then produce a game that is compelling and different enough from the previous year's edition to inspire consumers to spend another $60. Having worked on such games, I can't really imagine a cycle without a decent amount of crunch built in. It's not always fun, and some people do obviously struggle through it, but in the end, like many of the commentators above mentioned, there is a sense of bonding and togetherness that is a result of overcoming the extreme circumstances and producing a sports game that fans around the world truly appreciate. Every cycle has scheduling and prioritization decisions that probably could have been better, but the beauty of the yearly game cycle is that you immediately get the chance to learn from those mistakes and make an adjustment. If the team as a whole is a good one, every year should be slightly better than the last.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kirby St. John on 24th October 2013 6:07pm

Posted:10 months ago

#10

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

558 607 1.1
Some "crunch" or overtime to hit certain deadlines and push quality is ok - as long as it's short term. Many industries have that kind of overtime and, as studies show, short term OT does increase productivity. In those cases employees should be compensated accordingly though. Either paid overtime or proper time in lieu.

What is not ok, and a sign of bad project management (or flat out lying by the studio to the publisher - which i have seen before as well) is extended crunch periods just to get the game done in the first place. I have worked at studios which had up to a year of crunch. I know studios which do the same.

Not only do you burn out people and quality can actually suffer, but you also lose valuable people at the end. people who have knowledge and experience. they just move on in search of something better. So it's not only detrimental to the current project, but it actually affects the next project - because you once again lose time in training people up and valuable knowledge on how to do it better might get lost.

@Tim: it's a bit of a harsh statement that. I don't think discussing it is pointless, but i do agree we need to do something about it. It took me a while to find a company with great working conditions, were employees are valued, and i have the luxury of choice. Not everyone can do that though, some people simply need the job. So what, in your opinion, can we do about it? we can't all just go home.

Posted:10 months ago

#11

Salwan Hilali
Software Engineer - Game Developer

1 0 0.0
All it boils down to is getting game X faster so the financing source can make money faster. As a developer I know and say it out loud when the production people are planning for something and not giving development enough time, product managers are great at becoming deaf at that point.
I've been in situations when they just nod and say "Okay, we'll add that extra time" then later on develop sudden amnesia and demand that the project be finished based on the time table that exists in their heads instead of the agreed upon one.
I often wonder.. how come even after many years of experiencing it first hand they don't seem to develop the realization that crunching has only one certain outcome, lower quality products.

Posted:10 months ago

#12

Darren Adams
Managing Director

240 436 1.8
What is this 'crunch time' you speak of? I always thought it was when you pass the cookie tin around. :D

Seriously though; I don't think there is any reason for crunching apart from (as mentioned) bad management and unrealistic goals. But then again I am biased because we come in at 10am and go home at 6pm without fail. No project should ever have to sacrifice your staffs personal time to get work done, period.

Posted:10 months ago

#13

James Barnard
Founder / Developer

12 17 1.4
I guess I really am on my own here, Oh well, for me it hasn't always been just "get the game done or else" kind of overtime. Its been more, "well we can ship it, but we have to cut this thing"...and because I want to make the game better I'd rather try and do that thing even if it means working a extra to do it....Also I don't agree with the sentiment that overtime is a badge of honour, but I do believe wanting to do everything you can to make a game great is a natural thing for people who are determined to make something special, and that is what I think the people above were touching on, rather that tirelessly slaving away on a corporations whims just to make another sub par sequel, Making epic things takes dedication, and some people aren't forced to do overtime, many people actually want to do it..

Posted:10 months ago

#14

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

842 1,089 1.3
Crunch ended for me over 9 years ago when I set up my own company to treat people like humans. It's not hard.

Posted:10 months ago

#15
sorry Spector, but managing creativity is not oxymoronic. you can be trained for it, you can be good at it, the projects can actually be better for it. the game industry is still weak at management, and waving the artistic genius flag doesn't cut it.

Posted:10 months ago

#16

Kyle Wilson
Lead Software Engineer

2 1 0.5
Creation is hard. I doubt that Einstein packed it up after 40 hours a week and I doubt that James Cameron puts in his eight and then turns in for the day.
The question is, what do James Cameron's grips and scene painters do?

Posted:10 months ago

#17

James Ingrams
Writer

215 85 0.4
As long as crunch still occurs, indie gaming will continue to grow at the cost of the larger publishers.

Posted:10 months ago

#18

Heinz Schuller
Art Director / Artist

15 22 1.5
Popular Comment
>>"There are some positives to crunch: working through adversity helps bring team members closer together."<<

Yep, similar to how having abusive parents brings the siblings closer together.

Posted:10 months ago

#19

Rolf Klischewski
Founder & CEO

43 117 2.7
If you're the boss of a studio (no matter how you got into that chair) you have a responsibilty, a duty to care for your employees and external vendors. You have to set an example. And that's also true for all PMs and Leads. If you promote crunches as a part of development, the devs looking up to you will do the same. Believe it or not, but being the boss also means protecting your staff from themselves, especially when they're new on the job.

Yes, things can go wrong, people get ill, people quit, so extra work is usually unavoidable. But making that a part of a company's culture will eventually backfire.

And if you can't stop creating new features, great, turn them into DLC or a sequel or both. But please do some planning and please do have some life. Your games will be all the better for it.

Posted:10 months ago

#20

AKE STREET-CONAWAY
IT

12 0 0.0
So only studios with powerful ip ex. Rockstar and ubisoft are allowed to delay there games so there staff can have enough time finish and deliver a quality game. I an not saying these studios dont have crunch. I am saying that they have the power to tell everyone you will have to wait.

Posted:10 months ago

#21

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

558 607 1.1
@James Barnard: Hey! that's not crunch what you are talking about :)

I for one absolutely believe in individuals going above and beyond to create the best possible experience. Staying longer to get something done or get something even more polished - i'd be the last one to say you should not do that! But, and this is the key i think, it has to come through motivation and desire. There has to be passion and a drive by the individual to do that. It takes personal responsibility to do that.

What i am against is a crunch called by the studio, either because it was planned all along, or because project management has gotten so bad that without prolonged crunch the game would not be released. This is not individuals (or even entire teams) saying "come on - with a bit extra effort we can make this even better!" - this is management saying "yep we signed up to bad milestones and you guys will have to crunch to make up for it".

If you motivate people and a team right, if you tell them why something is important and if you treat them like human beings (this also means compensate them accordingly for their work), then these people WILL step up and ensure the product is as good as it can be. But that then is natural and awesome, not forced and de-motivating.

Posted:10 months ago

#22

Bryan Robertson
Gameplay Programmer

86 210 2.4
Popular Comment
I never ask them to work late, but they often do, because they too want the game to be as good as it can be...we picked this industry because we love it! If it were for the paycheck, then there would be plenty of more lucrative places for us to spend our time.
Be mindful of falling into the common trap of conflating passion for your job, with a willingness to work months of unpaid overtime, or a willingness to work overtime full-stop. Sorry, but that's just bullshit, and that kind of attitude has been responsible for this industry losing a lot of very passionate and skilled developers.

Maybe the developer that works 9-5 is extremely passionate about their work, but has children, and values the irreplaceable time spent with their children while they're growing up? Maybe they're also extremely productive, and produce more than a less experienced developer that works twelve hour days, six days a week? I can think of a great many fantastic developers I've worked with in the past that fall into this category, and would work with again in a heartbeat.

Given that there is almost a century's worth of research showing that working beyond normal hours for more than a couple of weeks, is actually detrimental to productivity, I'd argue that passion for your work can also be expressed by making sure you have enough relaxation time to ensure you're creating the best and most creative work possible, rather than burning the candle at both ends and massively compromising your efficiency.

(This is coming from someone that has voluntarily put in a lot of extra hours in my time in the industry, but thankfully has never worked anywhere that has forced me to put in ridiculous hours.)

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Bryan Robertson on 24th October 2013 8:54pm

Posted:10 months ago

#23

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

925 1,381 1.5
This is probably why some companies merely say "the game will be finished when it's finished". Once you start making release dates public soon after(or at the same time) your game is formally announced is when you can sometimes run into trouble near the planned release period if the final product isn't really ready yet.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 24th October 2013 10:33pm

Posted:10 months ago

#24

Ben Stanton
Senior Gameplay Animator

3 2 0.7
I've never worked at a studio, large or small, that didn't have a level of crunch. I agree, that this being a creative and iterative industry, there will always be 'some form' of crunch and many times it can be very beneficial to the quality, experience, performance, etc. Some of the best decisions I've seen and/or made have been in the eleventh hour when I was on my 10th cup of coffee and one skittle away from diabetes. Crunch in the form of making changes to better the game, in my opinion, is totally acceptable and if you're working on a game everyone believes in will only improve because of it.
That said, crunch should never be factored in from day one. It not only shows a complete lack of confidence in managements ability to create a solid production schedule (iterations factored in), but instills a sense of dread in all the developers, and their families, who know it's coming.

Posted:10 months ago

#25

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

842 1,089 1.3
there will always be 'some form' of crunch
@Ben. Shit happens. Sometimes you just need to get the guys in over a weekend because the server exploded or something. That's not crunch though, that's crisis management. Buy em dinner and give em Monday off.

To even call something "crunch" makes it part of the expected routine and that's just not acceptable. It's "management fail" and no amount of wooly art excuses can cover that up.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 25th October 2013 12:27am

Posted:10 months ago

#26

Ben Stanton
Senior Gameplay Animator

3 2 0.7
@Paul
Crisis management isn't changing a whole gameplay mechanic due to the early previews or extensive playtesting and it most certainly requires more than a weekend. Usually the term 'crunch' crops up in devs ears/emails sometime around '4 months outside of alpha content lock' and will always center around some major design changes made after said preview and/or playtesting. Server explosions, someone contracting sars and needing to be out for 3 months, etc.. THAT'S crisis management and will require others to pick up slack.
I've been in this industry for 9 years, still believe in the games I make, and don't consider something I'm putting my name on for the world to see to be 'wooly art'. If the game benefits from a little crunch due to playtesting and previewing, then so be it.

Posted:10 months ago

#27

Marty Howe
Director

62 27 0.4
How about other industries, like Hollywood cinema, television, do they have crunch? If not, what do they do - that we can learn from.

The issue is that video games are so malleable, things change, things get added\removed, things get 'discovered' during development. It's difficult to do rigid scheduling (things you know you want, and plan for) with the myriad of things that crop up during development. We're a young industry too, we're still learning the best way to do things etc

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Marty Howe on 25th October 2013 6:30am

Posted:10 months ago

#28

James Prendergast
Research Chemist

735 432 0.6
@ Dan Wood

I think crunch time is a byproduct of endless financial pressure, which cannot help but lead to "bad" management decisions.
When most clients come to me as a specialist freelancer, they have usually already planned the project, accepted a budget, and a schedule. They'll ask me how long I think it'll take... I'll say 3-4 months absolute minimum. They'll respond "we just don't have the budget for that, and it has to be finished in 6 weeks". I wonder why on earth they asked my professional opinion if all they wanted to hear was affirmation of the uninformed decision they already made.

The project ends up taking 3 months, even with crunch time, because we approach it attempting to complete it in 6 weeks, eventually they realise it isn't possible, and we end up redoing a bunch of work that we cut too many corners on, which we could have avoided if they'd just scheduled 3 months to begin with.


I think you're spot on. It's not just the entertainment industries that come up against this either - it's a prevailing mindset in current business best practice unfortunately - along with the mindset that working longer hours results in more things done and therefore infinitely longer hours result in infinitely more stuff done. Next on the agenda: Removing weekends and holiday!

We work extra hours when we decide we need to, usually. But if a project gets delayed for some reason we reschedule - we don't punish the people we told to do the work that was impossible to do (for whatever reason). I think one of the problems in the games industry is this lack of ability or desire to reschedule. You do hear about the occasional tale where a team got to redo the art style, say, but I don't think it's very common.

One of the things people are always going on about is "owning" your work and taking on the company values and ethos. Unfortunately, I see this punted onto the lower rung workers whilst the management never seem to take any responsibility except for the credit for other people's work (obviously, not all managers are like this but it appears [from my view] that many upper management tend towards this set).

Posted:10 months ago

#29

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

842 1,089 1.3
Usually the term 'crunch' crops up in devs ears/emails sometime around '4 months outside of alpha content lock' and will always center around some major design changes made after said preview and/or playtesting.
If even you know this, then management should have allocated a couple of months contingency. Sorry, there's no way to cut this that it should come as an unplanned surprise.

Posted:10 months ago

#30

Robert Nzengou-Tayo
Independent.

13 77 5.9
The visual effects industry in film also has crunch. In fact, it relies on it. And that's only part of the many unsustainable practices they depend on. Don't look that way for a solution. In my experience, television work doesn't rely on it despite tighter deadlines, but only because they know the finished work won't be to film standards anyway.

My personal view is that great monuments can and have been built on slave labour. Maybe the solution is smaller monuments.

Posted:10 months ago

#31

Gil Salvado
3D/2D Artist

33 37 1.1
In order to hit a milestone or as a final rush to the gold master it is acceptable, because your crunsh for a goal that is achievable. Constant crunsh for any reason is simply bad management and causes bad quality work, but being proud or blind of ones bad skill level and making it public, even demanding approval of this is unbelievable.

Posted:10 months ago

#32

Thomas Dolby
Project Manager / Lead Programmer

334 283 0.8
It's unacceptable that the industry is growing so big and yet every young student is still told "you wont get paid as much as other sectors and you'll have to work a lot more hours, but hey you'll be doing what you love right?"

It makes me happy to see so many here speaking out against crunching. It gives me hope that the industry can actually move away from this style of work in the future, and hopefully stop numerous talented people being burnt out and leaving for other sectors with greener pastures.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Thomas Dolby on 25th October 2013 1:09pm

Posted:10 months ago

#33

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

314 206 0.7
I know a girl who works at Weta Digital in NZ. They are expected to put in 75 hrs a week. Wages and overtime pay are excellent though, which might be why they are willing to do it (at least for a while). Done it before here and there myself on games, but personally I would never do it after having kids. Aside from continued chaos, there is nothing to be gained for anyone involved. You are far better to put in a productive day and go home.

With all this talk of slavery, here's a fun read...

http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2013/09/how-to-be-a-slave/

Posted:10 months ago

#34

Ben Stanton
Senior Gameplay Animator

3 2 0.7
@Dan Lowe
Your comment is exactly right. I tell my team to work what you can to work, no one ever looks down on you if you put in 1 hour instead of 2. We're all in the trenches together, we all 'get it'.
It's hard to understand the need of crunch until you've worked on a project with a 100+ team, millions of dollars in development costs, and huge expectations from the fan base. You get one shot at delivering the best possible game you can and if a small amount of crunch will help achieve that, then it's acceptable. I've worked on titles that I've regretted not crunching a little and adding that extra layer of polish or pushing to get that last gameplay mechanic in that would have helped tremendously. I totally understand the need to balance work life and well... life. But these games take years to make and is, in some small way, our mark upon the world. In that it represents us as individual developers, artists, creators across the world. If staying an extra 2-5 hours a week helps me achieve that, then I'm all for it.
That said... like I previously stated, planned crunch from day one is never acceptable. I've worked for studios that say 'well ok... we have a 2 year development planned, but those last 6 months will be crunching, so we should make it.' This is wrong on all counts and should never be considered when creating the initial scope of the game. Our industry has been taken over by people who don't have a clue how long it takes to make the 'product' (managements new term for 'game') they're creating. This practice should be abolished and is what, in my opinion, is causing the problems we're facing now.

Posted:10 months ago

#35

Rolf Klischewski
Founder & CEO

43 117 2.7
If there's work for two, why don't they just hire more people?!

Posted:10 months ago

#36

Roman Margold
Rendering Software Engineer

24 34 1.4
What I'm saying is that games - I'm talking about non-sequels, non-imitative games - are inherently unknowable, unpredictable, unmanageable things.
Mr. Spector forgets that 99% of games are sequels, rip-offs, or a 90% copies of previous games. I'm not saying there isn't creativity involved in making those, combining all those known elements together etc. But reality is, the majority of the work is done over and over, is measurable and can be accounted for in your planning. The remaining 10% (and I'm generous here!)? Well, that's where good management comes in - you give yourself more time.
"What I think is important in the conversation about crunch is to talk about why it happened. If crunch happens because it was initially planned for (i.e. there was no way to get the game done from day one without crunch), then that is poor planning, bad management, and putting an unacceptable burden on people and their families," said Urquhart.
What Mr. Urquhart seems to suggest here is that when crunch wasn't planned for, it is ok. But management shouldn't only allow just enough time to finish every feature required for the game, it should allow lots more time for experimentation, redesigns and failures. That's what good planning is. Sometimes too many things go wrong or any other reason makes it necessary to reschedule or even crunch, but if it's happening consistently to the same people, that's because those people don't plan properly.

I remember talking to one very successful manager of a big programming team (outside of games), who told me that every feature gets talked through several times with the customer, gets drawn and designed, and then a programmer is asked how long that would take to implement. And then whatever number of days the programmer says, this manager would multiply that number by 4. Four! Now in most game companies you'd probably get told that you are crazy, because it would cost this much and there's not enough money for that. But we still want it, right?

So reading these lines from people that have weight in this industry makes me feel sick. And yes, I love my job and am happy to throw in many extra hours where I see fit.

Posted:10 months ago

#37

Paul Shirley
Programmers

178 150 0.8
The idea that inherent unpredictability in the creative process justifies crunch (or any other abuse of workers) is ludicrous and insulting. Crunch is just one solution to dealing with the unpredictability, the one that takes least courage for those that lack the balls to change schedules and deadlines, hire more staff or build mitigation proactively into scheduling.

They simply take the risk in the project and impose it on the workers least likely to be able to say no, least likely to actually be responsible for creating the risk, least likely to be rewarded for their sacrifice. They do it because its cheap and as long as they don't have to pay the true price of crunch to workers they'll carry on doing it.

Posted:10 months ago

#38
If people in charge really want the games industry to grow up rather than appear to want to the industry to grow up then fixing the issue of crunching should be their number one goal.

Every job requires for one or two late nights occasionally due to genuine unforeseeable circumstances but building crunch into the schedule is exploitative and reeks of poor resource management.

Posted:10 months ago

#39

David Serrano
Freelancer

300 272 0.9
@Bryan Robertson
Be mindful of falling into the common trap of conflating passion for your job, with a willingness to work months of unpaid overtime, or a willingness to work overtime full-stop. Sorry, but that's just bullshit, and that kind of attitude has been responsible for this industry losing a lot of very passionate and skilled developers.
I agree. The lesson I learned in another industry was there will always be managers and supervisors on every level who simply don't know how to say no when unrealistic and unreasonable requests and goals are made, or set by their managers. And unfortunately, the people who ultimately pay the price for this are their most passionate or accommodating employees. What I eventually figured out was by always accepting unrealistic deadlines, and always agreeing to work an unreasonable number of hours without challenge, I was enabling bad management and creating an unhealthy environment for myself.

The other lesson I learned was the most effective method for becoming a valued member of a team was to balance passion or the desire to accommodate with pragmatism. Because sometimes being the voice of reason is more valuable to a team than being the most passionate or most accommodating.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 27th October 2013 5:26pm

Posted:10 months ago

#40

Marty Howe
Director

62 27 0.4
I'm not condoning crunch, I'm explaining the reality (games development is unpredictable)

The obvious thing to do, is to add a 'buffer' of a few months. We can moan and discuss it endlessly, lets just get to work, and better ourselves at scheduling.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Marty Howe on 28th October 2013 3:31am

Posted:10 months ago

#41

Shane Sweeney
Academic

365 292 0.8
Comparing the video games industry to the film industry for workplace rules is pretty crazy.

Video games are just one tiny sub field of the wider Software Industry. Silicon Valley is a better player to compare the Games Industry too.

Posted:10 months ago

#42

Keldon Alleyne
Handheld Developer

442 410 0.9
Well game development suffers from economies of scale. Doubling the workforce does not double the output, which leads to an inevitable dilemma with short development cycles for iteratively developed products. Edit For this reason it is easier to increase the time commitment per developer than increase the number of developers to meet a demanding deadline.

As for the concept of 'passion', it is often misused. Being passionate does not mean being submissive or motivated to fulfil the demands from above that conflict with your own life and health out of fear of losing your job or that bonus that made the job so appealing. If it does occur then it is the company's onus to generously compensate them. Working 'hard' in overtime can be a thrilling experience so long as it is your pleasant and positively motivated decision to do so.

I do like the Call Of Duty development approach of alternating between development teams, which allows for much longer development cycles.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 28th October 2013 5:14pm

Posted:10 months ago

#43

Rogier Voet
Editor / Content Manager

71 31 0.4
Crunch is a result of poor project planning, you don't plan crunch - you should plan enough time for every sprint of development without too much features per sprint (which happens a lot). As a project planner you should make it very clear to your stakeholders what is required. And only if those demands are met, you can deliver on time.

The problem is that some things just take time and if you don't focus enough on effective collaboration and quality, you will get builds with enormous amounts of bugs. My experience with big teams that communication really becomes an issue (endless discussions about who needs to fix what) instead of effective collaboration people point to each other. Poor documentation and people leaving can also cause lot of problems. Because knowledge transfer and getting new people up to speed takes time. A other pitfall with new People is the not invented by me-syndrom which can question every thing which has been decided earlier.

The most evil crunches are projects when management signs a contract with a deadline which is unobtainable from the start and use excessive crunch time to make the deadline with as little regard for people and quality of the product.

Posted:10 months ago

#44

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

132 84 0.6
I have worked in many other industries outside of (gaming) software development. They all have 'crunch' time in some respect. Building a house/building, crunch time at the end. Inspection and maintenance of an aircraft, crunch time. Managing a restaurant, crunch time. Crunch time is the byproduct of meeting a deadline with limited resources. It is NOT a bad thing, in of itself. It is that last minute rush to complete and check all the little details. The fact that it exist, shows that there is a sense of urgency, and that people care about the product that they are putting out.

Having said all of this. Software development (not just gaming) is the only industry I have worked in where crunch time was a normal work mode, and not just the result of the expected rush at the end of any product cycle. The software industry in general seems oblivious to the fact that extending crunch time actually makes a product more expensive, and lower quality. It seems that there is unspoken belief amung managers, that longer hours are more productive (when they are usually the opposite). This seems to be coupled with the belief that features will be dropped at the last minute, or put out in an unworkable state, just to make the deadline. This results in a situation, where the behavior, drives the results (lots of overtime = less/broken features).

'Crunch Time' like any other behavior, is appropriate in the right time and place. Trying to force it does not extend its value, it in fact degrades it. More of something is not always better. The best result is often obtained by using the right tool for the task, not just using the most convienent tool, for every task.

Posted:10 months ago

#45

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,165 948 0.8
If its a policy, immediately.

Posted:10 months ago

#46

Rogier Voet
Editor / Content Manager

71 31 0.4
It's not only games, normal software development, financial consultancy, visual effects, animation studios they almost all demand extreme long hours from their people. (which is so shortminded). People don't run like machines. Crunch should be the exception not the rule. If it is the rule you need more people simple.

Posted:10 months ago

#47

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
The thing with crunch time, is that once a company starts asking for crunch time from its employee, there employee's are expected to do so in the future. And as an employee, if you dont there is a tremendouse amount of pressure. Me personally if Im working on a project I like I dont mind staying. However when crunch time starts becoming routine and the norm, its hard to stop. And crunch time is particularly dangerouse for burning out employees and ruining there family relationships.

But I find working overtime is dangerous for family relationships. Once it becomes routine and part of the culture of the company, its expected of you to do crunch time all the time and there is always that "just a little bit more factor" to take in to account. Because there will always be that feeling of just a little bit more, which can then turn into days or weeks of extra crunch time.

And before you know it your wife is sleeping with another guy cause your never with her and your kids resent you for not being with them more often.

Crunch time is cool when the team wants to add more to the game than originally planned or polish it up better and you talk with a few guys and agree to do an over nighter together(sounded gay)... anyway the original development time should not account for crunch time. And crunch time should be used sparingly and avoid it becoming routine (expected) in the work enviroment culture. Ive worked in places that cannot obligate you to stay, but if you dont stay, they look at you with dissapointment, give you a huge guilt trip, and put the weight of the things that couldnt be done on you for not staying. And if you dont stay to work, they make your life tough afterwards so you can quite.

Posted:10 months ago

#48

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