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Crunch: A game developer’s overtime



Kirjoittanut: Mikhail Filippov - tiimistä Sointu.

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What once was considered a small attraction for children or a free-time killer, nowadays has grown into a well-developed category of art in the eyes of some people. You may agree or disagree with this statement, one thing is clear: Video Games are known to everyone, and I doubt you have never tried it, even once. Striking popularity of video games has led to significant rise of demand on this form of virtual entertainment, forcing game studios to act accordingly to the trends, and making expansions in budgets, casts, developments etc. But with such sprinting tempo of many non-substantial or core improvements and changes, industry has also faced a lot of alarming issues and problems, much of which relate to the production side and people in particular. Such consequences, without a doubt, puts developers into very stressful and competitive environment, causing them to overdo their job sometimes, and that’s what became known as Crunch. You won’t believe me, I firstly heard such word in no less, but in a one of the countless gaming-themed videos on YouTube, where it was given with a negative connotation, but no explanation given why.  So, this is why we’re exploring this term a bit deeper.

What is Crunch, and when did this process appear? As for definition, Crunch, or Crunch Time is defined as the periods of extreme work overload, typically occurring in the last weeks before validation phase and mainly in the weeks that precede the final deadline for the project delivery, which is commonly set by either a game studio, or by a publisher (Petrillo et al. 2008, 709). The issue already appeared during the cabin games era in the 1980s, but it was not well-known issue during those times. The first widespread public recognition this problem received only in 2004, when Erin Hoffman, back in a day known as an anonymous EA Spouse, made a complaint on LiveJournal about far than any legally unpaid overtime working hours of her husband, an employee of Electronic Arts at a time. Apart from time overload, it was reported that Electronic Arts has not offered any additional compensations or reimbursement (Hoffman, 2004). The post eventually led to a $14,9 million class-action lawsuit against Electronic Arts(Take This 2016, 5), as well as to a chain reaction of follow-up lawsuits against other giants of the industry, like Rockstar Games in 2010(Spouse, 2010), for example.

Why crunch is bad? Well, not only it forces employees to be sitting glued to their workplaces and burning their eyes behind the computer screen for a longer period of time or doesn’t reward in an appropriate manner as we saw from the example above, but it directly affects the social and psychological wellbeing of people, and even the final product, because of the crunch, can be harmed. For example, studies show, that around 32% of all projects (aka games) finished with crunch were declared as “Very Unsuccessful” (Tozour 2015), causing financial loss for the studios, and mentally destroyed developers as a not mentioned outcome.  Another problem is that crunch is quite likely to cause a mental burnout of an employee, which can lead to loss of interest in the sphere they work and following resignation of the former. 15% of respondents in the sphere named the possibility of the burnout as a reason for quitting their job in 2014(International Game Developers Association 2014, 18). Lastly, Crunch causes harm to an individual work and life balance. Simply imagine, how you have to forget about your family and friends, getting your head into the work. Not the most pleasing feeling, right?

At this point, crunch may seem like a dilemma with no positive outcome, but there is a way out. Possible solution may include demanding closer cooperation of the game studio and a publisher, so they can arrange a more realistic deadline and the work schedule can be balanced on the workload. Some also mention the need of active involvement of the management at recognizing the mental distress at work(Royal College of Psychiatrists Blog 2020). But what if the Crunching is a common practice already? Well, it is suggested that crunching needs to be done for much shorter periods, with appropriate breaks for lunch and relaxation, so the productivity remains high.

Over the recent years, many managers and others from the industry have noticed and signaled the tendency of sugar-coating overworks before the final date, but it should not be like this. Uncontrollable crunch poses a serious threat to general well-being of the workers of industry, and should not be glorified.

 

REFERENCES

Petrillo F., Pimenta M., Trindade F., Dietrich C.. 2008. Houston, we have a problem…: a survey of actual problems in computer games development. In Proceedings of the 2008 ACM symposium on Applied computing (SAC ’08). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 707–711. https://doi-org.libproxy.tuni.fi/10.1145/1363686.1363854

Erin H. (EA Spouse) 2004. EA:The Human Story. LiveJournal https://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html

Take This 2016. Crunch Hurts. How unmitigated overwork harms employee health, productivity, and yours studio’s bottom line. Read on 04.03.2024. https://www.takethis.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CrunchHurts-TakeThis.pdf

Rockstar S. 2010. Wives of Rockstar San Diego employees have collected themselves https://www.gamedeveloper.com/business/wives-of-rockstar-san-diego-employees-have-collected-themselves

Tozour P. 2015. The Games Outcome Project, part 4: Crunch makes games worse. Game Developer. https://www.gamedeveloper.com/business/the-game-outcomes-project-part-4-crunch-makes-games-worse

International Game Developers Assosiation 2014. Developer Satisfaction Survey: Summary Report. https://igda-website.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/21173808/IGDA_DSS_2014-Summary_Report1.pdf

Royal College of Psychiatrists Blog 2020. Kelvin Plomer of Jagex discusses mental health in the workplace. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/news-and-features/blogs/detail/cultural-blog/2020/11/20/kelvin-plomer-of-jagex-discusses-mental-health-in-the-workplace

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