Former Sony Worldwide Studios boss Phil Harrison has said that the problems of crunch are primarily linked to physical products, and as the industry adopts more digital models, traditionally long hours, weekend working and demotivated staff should ease.
Speaking at a panel at the Develop Conference in Brighton today, Harrison, FreeStyleGames co-founder Chris Lee and Frontier's David Braben all agreed that the industry is getting better at handling crunch although it's still a serious issue.
"Crunch is a relic of the 20th Century," said Harrison. "Products have crunch, services have a constant hum.
"If you're building products for Blu-ray or DVD or a particular release date, we always talk about 'finishing' them with a crescendo of energy and activity. But a service is when you launch, it's when you start. Services have their own updates and crunch therefore should disappear in the future."
Products have crunch, services have a constant hum
Phil Harrison, London Venture Partners
The issue of crunch has been raised again this year after the completion of hit Team Bondi title L.A. Noire, where a troubled seven year project led to accusations of a broken development environment, overwork and exploitation.
According to Chris Lee, part of the problem is not communicating clearly to staff why crunch is necessary and the financial and product rewards for putting in more extreme working hours.
"For many years there was an assumption of crunch," he said. "A lot of people indulged in it because it seemed to be the industry norm. From a product management perspective we've go better, from a scheduling perspective we've got better.
"The thing I've made a mistake with in the past is not communicating why we're crunching, why it's important, that's it's not just something that we do because we can, it's not exploitative, we're not doing it in the naivety that it doesn’t impact on their lives."
Elite creator Braben added that it can be difficult motivating a team working on projects with such long development cycles.
"It's a difficult thing to manage and an easy thing to be complacent about," he added. "Any product related business tends to have crunch whether it's making hardware or shipping devices. Motivation is the challenge. The longer the games cycle, there's a point where you hit a real low where nothing's being shown."
Harrison also said that part of the problem is that the games business continues to build new technology, increasing the workload of developers on top of their creative output.
"I think it's a huge part of it. When Spielberg goes to make a new film he doesn't reinvent the Panavision camera. With the exception of special effects, the traditional craft of making films hasn't really changed in the past 50 years. We throw away the Panavision camera every time we start a new game.
"It's getting better, the fact that middleware is more accepted way of deploying and building high-end products, if I was building a game for a major console release I would think very hard about building my own tech. I would almost certainly licence something," he added.