Two thirds of devs still working crunch, some at 70 hours a week

Over a third aren't compensated for the overtime

A developer study from the IGDA has revealed that, despite increased awareness and a general improvement of working conditions within the industry, 62 per cent of industry workers still consider crunch time to be an inescapable part of their careers. Almost half of those working crunch are pulling 60 hour weeks, with 17 per cent clocking up 70 or more hours of office time during the crunch period.

What's worse is that most studios still don't properly compensate their employees for all the extra work. 37 per cent of those who said that crunch was part of their job said that they received absolutely no recompense for it whatsoever. A further 28 per cent said that they were offered non-monetary rewards such as meals whilst working into the small hours, and 18 per cent were given time off in lieu. 12 per cent got both small perks and extra time off.

How many of those felt that free pizza was adequate compensation for their time was not reported, but 55 per cent of all respondents did say that they felt that poor working conditions were a major contribution to a poor public perception of the sector, driving away talent. Still, sexism amongst the gaming audience trumped long hours as the biggest factor, with 57 per cent of developers feeling that it was putting the industry in a negative light. In third place, with 52 per cent choosing it as a factor, was a sexist attitude within the games themselves.

The entirety of the report, which was open to all developers is available online here. It's an extensive and detailed examination of a snapshot of the industry, largely in North America, which covers everything from platform to genre to salary, for workers at multinational publishers, small scale studios, freelancers and lone-wolf indies. Nonetheless, the IGDA recognises that this is not a complete or balanced representation.

"However, we should bear in mind that the majority of respondents were working in the United States and made up more than half of the sample, while the overall North American representation was brought to 67%," the report reads.

"While North America plays an undeniably large role in the global video game industry, developers in this part of the world may still be overrepresented in the picture painted here. The same can be said of people who work at large studios, as 37% of all respondents and more than half of salaried workers share the workplace with more than 100 other workers. Among salaried workers, only 15% indicated that they work at a company with less than 10 people, though this increases to 36% when freelancers and the self-employed are included.

"Developers are still young, male, white/Caucasian/European and most of them do not have children or elder care responsibilities. They are highly educated and two-thirds of them have been trained in specialized programs relevant to game design or game development."

In an analysis of the results, the survey identified some points of action - the clear issues which must be addressed by the industry as a whole and the individuals within it.

  • The demands on employees' contributions versus fair compensation for their time spent at work (i.e., compensation for "crunch" time).
  • The continued underrepresentation of women and the incidence of sexism in the workforce, in games themselves, and in the broad gaming community - combined with a perception that the industry doesn't provide equal opportunity for all.
  • A strong desire by employees to give their time and passion to an employer, sharply contrasted by high rates of job changes over short periods of time.
  • The diverse experiences and challenges of different workers in the industry (i.e., salaried employees, freelancers and the self-employed) and the need to devise suitable approaches to support each group

"Insights from 2015 show that those who work in the game industry are passionate about their jobs and the number who desire to contribute to the industry for the entirety of their careers is steadily increasing. The global workforce is slowly increasing in its diversity while developers are generally gaining better wages and benefits. "

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Latest comments (19)

Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
"However, we should bear in mind that the majority of respondents were working in the United States and made up more than half of the sample, while the overall North American representation was brought to 67%," the report reads.
If a third of respondents said they haven't been compensated for their overtime than I'm going to surmise that US workers make up a pretty good chunk of that third. But I still don't understand why that is happening when we have laws in place to prevent this from occurring any more, with most covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act. There are some exemptions but I'm sure many of these workers are being unfairly withheld overtime pay. If I worked 70 hours a week I would not idly sit by and work 30 free hours for my employer without being paid for those extra hours.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 19th September 2015 6:11am

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Dan Wood Visual Effects Artist 5 years ago
I don't know whether they have a similar system in the US, but in the UK, the liberating freedom of capitalism has allowed me (and as all employers in my industry without exception request the same thing, requires me) to sign a waiver exempting me from the laws designed to protect my rights. Personally, I think it should be illegal to require anyone to waive their rights to anything explicitly protected by law, but I suspect that would be a more than a spot of lobbying should anyone ever try to push that one through :-)
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
If I worked 70 hours a week I would not idly sit by and work 30 free hours for my employer without being paid for those extra hours.
Fear of loss of job probably weighs heavily in playing along with employers, sadly, and is also the retort to people who say "unionize!" Whilst forming a union (and somehow mandating joining that union if employed for any role in the industry) would help greatly in situations like this, I would not want to be the first person to mention it unless I had an alternative revenue stream.

I would be interested in seeing figures for other industries (both unionized and not), to compare - I can't imagine factory workers, oil-rig workers, flight attendants and hospital staff being this bad, but perhaps they are? Any chance of an in-depth follow-up and compare/contrast article, GI?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 19th September 2015 6:43am

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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
The single word that explains why this is still a thing in 2015 is "GREED", plain and simple.

Btw, does anyone know if the games industry is unionised? If it isn't I would advise that we really should do it to protect workers rights and strike when the fat cats demand more work for nothing. Lets call a spade a spade and state that an employee is essentially exploited to a certain degree by an employer. Now to a point that is acceptable, but when you are working 70hr weeks and only being paid for 40hrs then you are being screwed.

I don't have a beef with capitalism, at its core it is a good system to allow free trade and peoples ability to buy what they want from different suppliers. But one thing I do have a problem with is 'Profit over People'. If I could change one thing about capitalism I would make the simple change of ensuring that your focus is people. Profit will still come if your employees are well looked after and paid correctly. Sure, you won't get quite as much profit, but it is what needs to be done and we all know that is true.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 19th September 2015 10:01am

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
You can't sign away your rights in law. State law trumps civil law in much the same way as you can't sign a piece of paper that allows someone to murder you.
Again, in the UK, you kind of can... Having registered with multiple employment agencies, I can tell you now that all of them require you to sign off saying you exempt yourself from the EU Working Time Directive, which stipulates a maximum 48 hour working week. Whilst you can refuse to sign this, you're essentially locking yourself out of work by not signing it. Obviously, not having worked in a studio, I couldn't say whether this is part and parcel of the games industry... Again, maybe something for GI to follow-up on?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 20th September 2015 1:29pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee5 years ago
@Morville Personally I've never been forced or encouraged to exempt myself, either through agencies or any of 4 studios I've been with. Though I couldn't vouch for every studio out there.
Btw, does anyone know if the games industry is unionised?
Not really, no :(
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Lucky for me that it never came up, but I just looked at an old contract and it contains a waiver for the Working Time Directive. If you wanted to un-waive your rights you had to give three months notice! I'd give such a contractual term a rather more cold eye these days, but well, the directive doesn't apply to the self-employed anyway.

Frankly, I think 'allowing' people to opt-out of the Working Time Directive is ridiculous. The directive itself is already extremely generous to employers - employees can still work up to an average of 48 hours per week calculated over a 17-week period, meaning short periods of even intense crunch come under the rules as long as it's compensated for with shorter hours or time off outside of the crunch period. If that's not enough for a studio, I would be very concerned about the competence of their project management.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam5 years ago
"Personally, I think it should be illegal to require anyone to waive their rights to anything explicitly protected by law"
It is. They can ask you to opt out, but they can't force you to or fire you for refusing to do so. I'm not sure if they're still allowed to include an opt out in your initial employment contract (I've a feeling the rules on that changed a while ago, but I could be wrong), but if they do you should be able to ask them to remove that clause from your contract before you sign it. Even if you've already signed a contract that includes opting out of the WTD, you can cancel that opt out at a later date, although your employer can ask for up to 3 months notice of that decision. They won't be able to discriminate against you in any way for making that request.

Info here.

Of course, this is one area that Cameron and chums apparently want to be able to opt out of EU law on nationally, so we may all lose this protection (and other European employment rights) soon...
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
@ John Owens

Well, the EU is aware of some form of abuses regarding the Exemption, so uncertain how it would play out in court. The UK government attempts to play it like a freedom-of-liberty issue, not a compulsory-in-all-but-name way for some employers to take advantage of their workforce. I suppose if you could prove the employer was abusing it, then it wouldn't stand-up, but trying to do that? Tricksy, I imagine.

Whilst Googling the above, btw, I came across this: The exemptions in the FLSA might be relevant to unpaid overtime in the games industry?

(Also, apologies - not 40 hour working week exemption, but 48 hour. :) )

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 20th September 2015 1:30pm

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Dan Wood Visual Effects Artist 5 years ago
It's an interesting dilemma - even if you're within your rights to refuse to opt out, or to un-opt-out after signing a contract, or even have a fair chance to challenge such a requirement (/strongly implied necessity) in court... nobody wants to rock the boat in relatively niche, everyone-knows-everyone industries which they've had to work their way into over many years, often at the great personal expense of a university education.

Therein lies the problem as far as I see it. It's essentially irrelevant whether such requirements stand up legally. Anyone who decided to seriously challenge it would quickly find themselves unemployable - I'm sure most employers would even justify it to themselves as perfectly reasonable - who wants to hire that one lazy, litigious guy who won't pull their weight with the rest of the team or will pursue legal proceedings if they're forced to?

Any industry will go to great lengths to create a culture where such behaviour is frowned upon - why resort to employment law wrangling, when you can just encourage your own workforce to regard it as "unprofessional" conduct, and thus enforce it purely through peer-pressure.

Ultimately, this is why I think the only way it could work is if there wasn't even an option to opt out. So formal employment required formal adherance to maximum working hours, or strict adherance to overtime payments. So employers are required to send you home at the end of the day, even if you feel like hanging around (plenty of us need an active boot out the door occasionally when we're on a roll :-)) - or be aware that they're literally liable for paying overtime from that point.
In the past, I've assumed this would be untenable, given the realities of working on creative, deadline-driven projects - you'll always need to push the hours sometimes, and often trying to stick to tight budgets - but given what Jessica mentions above about the maximum actually being 48, and taken as an average over 17 weeks, those considerations already seem amply catered for, and anything extending beyond an average of 48 hour weeks either requires fair recompense or better management.
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Kirsty Rigden Operations Director, FuturLab5 years ago
More people need to learn to say no, just try it and see what happens. If someone wants you for the job, they'll want you, it's about your ability, not how many extra hours they think you'll work. I'd previously always been very upfront in interviews about exactly what hours I will and won't work, and then I stuck to it once I had the job. I honestly felt I gained respect by sticking to my guns :)
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As far as I can tell every contract in the industry contains this opt-out clause and not a one of them is enforceable. Companies know this but keep the clause in anyway because it at least has a psychological impact on employees in that they will complain less if asked to work overtime for free because "well I signed that clause". I think the "non-compete" clause that everybody has is similarly irrelevant in the EU unless you actually are a repository of company secrets, like exec level jobs. It's tremendously hard to prove in court that the law should be used to stop a citizen earning a living. Anyway this is just what I've picked up, I'm sure any lawyers reading the site could set us straight.
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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media5 years ago
@Morville - In media localisation (movies/TV, books, still haven't seen this in games, but then again we don't get any royalties from them), translators are required to sign the usual NDA, which sometimes includes a waiver of the translation's IP rights. These are unwaiverable by law, but not signing the NDA means you don't get the job, so everybody signs it, and later, they register the rights of that IP nevertheless. It violates the contract, but since that contract is illegal, nobody cares. I've never heard of anyone being sued for that reason.

But this is just legally-wise, and for a much less visible issue. Sadly, avoiding crunch time when your boss requires it is much more complicated and, illegal or not, there will be consequences most of the time.

If someone wants you for the job, they should want you, it should be about your ability, not how many extra hours they think you'll work.
Painfully fixed.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 5 years ago
@ Rafa

Thanks for the info... Employment conditions and contracts is something I know very little about.
If someone wants you for the job, they should want you, it should be about your ability, not how many extra hours they think you'll work.
Yup, it's all about the should. I applied for an administrative position (outside of the games industry) a few months back - contract was 28 hours per week, salary was non-negotiable tied to a spine-point based on experience. Didn't get it. In the feedback I got (verbal, not written), my unwillingness to put in unpaid overtime was cited as the main reason I was unsuccessful.
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Martin Klima Executive Producer, Warhorse Studios5 years ago
Do I understand it correctly that 95% of the respondents feel that there is "negative perception of the gaming industry"? This seems quite difficult to understand.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Martin Klima on 21st September 2015 4:47pm

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Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work) 5 years ago
Thing is crunch is very much a double edged sword.

On one hand making games is tough, time consuming and expensive, especially in the current climate of AAA games so crunch has basically became an industry standard making sure that the game comes out on time and in a good state.

But the problem is that said crunch doesn't reward the developers those extra 30 or so hours and thankless gun-to-the-head tactics where you ether work almost another weeks worth for free or lose your job, its not a good practice and really groups like TIGA should be working now towards fair work practice, would unionizing the industry work? ehhhhh I don't think so, the problem with that is the fact games development isn't people JUST doing game developing, I mean sure we have game designers but what of the visual artists? what of the programmers and sound designers, they can fit into entirely different industries which makes trying to put them under an union umbrella is complicated.

Does the issue of crunch need to be addressed? absolutely, but this is like trying to untangle Christmas lights, slow, irritating and when you think you made progress you find another knot.

I mean for now the push for those in crunch should be bigger benefits then "A free meal", 5-6 15 meals doesn't equal nearly a weeks worth of work in pay,so ether those in crunch need much bigger benefits or companies should bite the bullet and pay overtime, unfortunately the industry is stubborn so this could take a very very long time.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Thomas Kennedy on 22nd September 2015 12:11am

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Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer Larian Studios 5 years ago
I think it's a good thing people crunch, but it's up to them. If you structurally plan a crunch you are going to have a problem. But you can be realistic about it, most people also crunch to make the game a lot better. As long as it doesn't affect your health or your social situation (at home) you should go for it. Sprints like these tend to make the game better, usually small changes at the last moment give the game a better feeling. I believe a lot of employees who take responsibility for their hit or miss projects do crunch to take it up to 11.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop5 years ago
I think it's a good thing people crunch
Cool. Crunch makes games worse, though.
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Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
I sometimes think "passion" and "crunch" get mixed up.

Sure, its great when everyone is on a roll and chooses to stay on to finish some cool thing they are working on, that passion will make a game better. But on the flip side, when its just down to bad management and crunch for deadlines I think it will have a negative outcome on the game.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 22nd September 2015 1:37pm

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