Crunch and Production
Updated: May 24, 2020
Many of us have witnessed the growth of the so-called ‘crunch culture’ over the last decade, or at least the growth of acknowledging it exists. There are many opinions amongst game industry folks: it is simply capitalism at work and the natural result of Big Money entering the industry; it is the result of the bullying masculine culture shaming anyone who won’t work all hours; it is the greed of bosses; it is the only way to get out the big AAA games on time these days; it is passionate people not wanting to let down their passionate fans; and so on. In the games industry headlines these days we are inundated with stories of employees being badly treated, coupled with a high turnover of studios and their staff. “At our office, male anger was seen as normal; a constructive, even creative force. We had one co-worker who wouldn’t hesitate to bring his teammates to tears.” Eira A. Ekre People are committing suicide, losing their homes, losing their relationships, experiencing daily bullying and other abuse and living in fear of their future. This is not the games industry that I dreamed about in the 1980s and none of us back then saw it coming. “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.” Dan Pearson These days, five hundred people might be working on a single game over the course of two to four years. This is a far cry from the days of the ZX Spectrum, when a single person could write the game and design the graphics. It was very different crunching when it was just you in your room writing an entire game by yourself. While there are now middleware products for making games, such as Unreal, Unity and GameMaker, even retro Indie games require teams of half a dozen over many months or years, especially once they are successful and become answerable to their fans.
There seems to be a fundamental and important task of tackling the apparently toxic culture within parts of the games industry. While we cannot fix everything at once, here at games-production.com we are hoping that by pooling our knowledge and experiences we can at least do our best to try and minimise the requirement to crunch. We hypothesise that some of this originates from games producers doing their absolute best but with no real support and not enough power to push back against the crunch culture. In many cases they may never have been trained how to deal with the scale of project management they are faced with. Compare these two voices: “[…] Crunch is 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 […] 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.” Paul Tozour And “Companies and individuals should stop wearing their time spent crunching as a badge of honor. Crunch is a symptom of broken management and process. Crunch is the sacrifice of your employees. I would ask them why crunch isn’t an issue with other industries. Why isn’t crunch an issue at all game studios?” Paul Tozour Where another industry may take pride in the expertise and qualifications of its staff, the games industry takes pride in the passion, creativity, enthusiasm and youthful energy of its employees, without necessarily offering coherent training, qualifications, standardisation, governance or knowledge-sharing. As a result, the games conferences are filled with people explaining how they worked out how to fulfil a role by trial and error, or who have suffered imposter syndrome for their entire career. [Liam: I am in the minority to actually have qualifications outside the industry in project management and programme management, which gives me a different kind of imposter syndrome when stood alongside 25+ years games industry veterans.]
We have seen the chaos inside the industry and how much pain and waste and loss it causes. We want to make a difference through the game-production.com community. We want to help shine a light and see what can be improved. We can at least try, together. There exists a (non-academic) survey of game industry professionals from 2015 which seems to show that the lack of training could well be the cause of crunch, more than the culture. Here is an excerpt from the conclusion of that study (emphasis is ours): “[The results seem] to indicate that crunch does not, in fact, derive from any sort of fundamental drive for excellence, which would have resulted in higher correlations with completely different input factors on our survey. Rather, it appears to stem from inadequate planning, disorganization, high turnover, and a basic lack of respect for developers … As a broad generalization, our industry tends to value industry experience highly while undervaluing fundamental management skills. As a result, we usually promote managers from within while rarely offering the kind of management training that would enable insiders to perform their jobs adequately. Is it any wonder, then, that we find ourselves completely cut off from the plethora of validated management research clearly showing that crunch is harmful?” Paul Tozour Of course, we need to determine if the reports are anecdotal and isolated or if they are widespread. No academics seems to have contributed research on Crunch Culture, either from the unique perspective of having worked inside the games industry or outside of it. Any contribution that lends insights to the crunch culture inside the games industry and suggests improvements would it seems fundamentally improve people’s lives as well as being good for business.
We would love to hear your thoughts. REFERENCES Ekre, Eira A. (2015) The Expendables: How Game Development Standards are Inherently Harmful [Online]. Available at https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/the-expendables-how-game-development-standards-are-inherently-harmful Pearson, Dan (2015) Two thirds of devs still working crunch, some at 70 hours a week [Online]. Available at https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-09-18-two-thirds-of-devs-still-working-crunch-some-at-70-hours-a-week Tozour, Paul (2015) The Game Outcomes Project, Part 4: Crunch Makes Games Worse [Online]. Available at https://gamasutra.com/blogs/PaulTozour/20150120/234443/The_Game_Outcomes_Project_Part_4_Crunch_Makes_Games_Worse.php