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IGDA to name best companies for crunch

Dev group hopes transparency around uncompensated overtime will improve employers' behavior, will name-and-shame if it doesn't

The IGDA is threatening to name and shame the game industry's biggest offenders when it comes to uncompensated crunch for developers. As part of its 2016 Developer Satisfaction Survey launching this week, the group is polling developers on how their companies handle crunch, with the best performers to be held up by the IGDA as models to follow, and the worst called out in public if they refuse to shape up.

The IGDA's previous developer surveys have found that among developers who crunch, roughly 38 percent do not receive any additional compensation from their employers for the overtime they put in, which can be more than 30 hours of extra work a week.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, IGDA head Kate Edwards acknowledged that crunch is a common part of the creative process in many industries.

"Crunch is a persistent issue. But when we're looking at it being uncompensated, that's a whole other layer of problem."

"You see it in film, TV, writing," Edwards said. "For a lot of creative people, the only reason anything ever actually releases is because they had somebody telling them there's a deadline, whether it's the production company or distributor of a film saying this is the day it opens or a publisher saying this is the date your book's going out the door."

That said, the IGDA's new policy isn't necessarily aimed at reducing all crunch.

"Crunch is a persistent issue," Edwards said. "But when we're looking at it being uncompensated, that's a whole other layer of problem. The fact that it's going uncompensated to that level is pretty shocking, so we thought it's about time we do something about it."

She added, "The problem we're seeing to some degree is that--especially in the console world with things like add-on DLC. it's almost like they're trying to apply the mobile model to the console world, but the scale of content is vastly different. So we were hearing stories of developers were crunching like crazy to get the original game out the door, then it's like, 'OK, see you on Monday; we're going to start DLC. And we're going to do three DLC packs, so basically for the next nine months, you're going to be crunching. Again.'"

To address this, the IGDA is working on a way for developers to safely report their employers' uncompensated crunch and other concerns to the IGDA, giving the group direct insight into each company's policies and practices. When the group sees a clear problem with a particular company, the plan is to privately approach them and work with them on improving their practices. If that doesn't produce results, then the "name and shame" option could be used.

"This is one issue I'm passionate about... And our data is showing this is an issue that needs to be addressed. And I guess part of me is tired of just letting it go."

Ultimately, Edwards just said she wants developers to have transparency into a company's practices before they take a job with them, which is far from the norm at present. Naturally, any company that mandates excessive crunch with no additional compensation for it would find itself at a disadvantage in competitive hiring for top talent.

Edwards says she "absolutely" expects from push back for this effort. The Entertainment Software Association, which previously lobbied on overtime laws as well as meal and rest period regulations for workers in California, seems a likely source for some of that push back.

"For the most part, I think the ESA and IGDA are very much in agreement on a lot of issues that affect the industry," Edwards said. "There are some issues we probably see differently. Certainly labor issues are the one area we will see most differently than anything else."

Uncompensated crunch is nothing new to the industry, so why has it taken the IGDA this long to take such a (potentially) contentious stand on the issue?

"I came into this position for one reason, primarily, which is that this organization is an advocacy organization," Edwards said. "I've been a member since 2004, and it was one of the reasons at one point I was a little dissatisfied, because I didn't see it doing what I felt it should be doing. It was still doing things, but maybe not to the level I felt it should be.

"This is one issue I'm passionate about, and the board of directors is likewise passionate about it. And our data is showing this is an issue that needs to be addressed. And I guess part of me is tired of just letting it go. Because it's one of those things everyone talks about, everyone commiserates about it, and yet, it's still around. And it's still seen as a negative issue this industry is dealing with."

While the IGDA is stepping up its efforts to curb crunch, the actual problem may already be improving.

"You don't have to drive your people into the ground in order to make good games."

"In general, the amount of crunch has decreased and the periods of crunch have decreased," Edwards said. "So we are seeing a certain amount of contraction around crunch, and hopefully, that's a sign that we as an industry are getting better at managing our projects... And maybe companies are finally getting the message, however they're figuring it out, that there's a better way to do it. You don't have to drive your people into the ground in order to make good games."

Improvement aside, there was a moment at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last month that underscored for Edwards how much more progress needs to be made.

"I thought it was telling at the DICE Awards this year when some of the winners were up on stage, I think it was specifically one of the groups from Fallout 4, and at least a couple of them mentioned something about missing their kids. And the thought crossed my mind that I would love to ask them in 10 years, 'If you could have the award or have the time back with your kids, which would you take?' Speaking as a parent myself, obviously there's no choice there. You take the time. The time is precious. The award? It's an award."

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