Why It's So Difficult to Talk About Crunch in Game Development
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
If there’s one point that continues to come up when it comes to working in the Game Industry it would have to be crunch. Recently, Rockstar Studios had a bad time in the press talking about the company working 100 hour weeks to get Red Dead Redemption 2 finished. The use of crunch is a polarizing topic depending on who you talk to, and presents a tough conversation.
Going the Extra Mile:
The concept of crunch is not exclusive to the game industry. In any industry with tough deadlines and delays, crunch becomes a part of getting a project done. Whether we’re talking about a few hours here and there, or months at a time, studios all across the industry have made use of crunch.
Crunch, at the high level, is never a good sign. What’s worse is when studios not only welcome crunch, but treat it as a badge of honor. There are horror stories around the industry of employees being pressured to work beyond the normal work week.
Not only are these employees working longer hours, but many times they’re not getting paid extra for it. Most studios will rationalize this as “suffering for your art,” and using the passion of the game industry against their employees.
No matter how passionate someone is, the human body has limits, and crunching for extended periods can cause harm. Not only that, but the stress of working at this level has been one of the major reasons cited for burning out of the industry, or moving to the indie scene.
With that said, it’s easy to demonize crunch when it’s coming from a studio mandate, but what about at the indie level?
Indie development is all about the freedom of working on a game at your own time and leisure without the constraints of a studio holding you back. That freedom has been the lynch pin for numerous successes over this decade.
With that freedom comes the ability to dictate your own hours on a project — Do you want to spend 3 hours a day working on a game, or maybe 10? At this point, it’s not someone telling you to work longer, but you’re making the decision.
There are many indie games that have been developed by passionate people who if they didn’t believe in the project, it would never be finished. For them, spending a few extra hours a day working on their dream game was a no brainer. Another factor is obviously the amount of money that is going into developing a game. The longer it takes to finish and get a game out there, the harder it will be to recoup the development costs.
When you’re a smaller dev team (or just one person), it’s up to you to set the time that you’re willing to work. And that raises a big question: Do we still call it crunch if you’re the one deciding to work extra?
How much do you love your job?
“Crunch” is not something that should become the norm in any industry. Regardless of Rockstar’s “100 hours a week” working team did it by choice or by force, the human body is not meant to be pushed that far without causing serious health concerns. Even if you’re the one making that choice, it’s important to understand work-life balance if you want to have any future in the Game Industry.
And to end our post today, I want to reiterate what I said in the video linked: No matter how great, memorable, or one-of-a-kind a video game is, it’s not worth killing yourself or your team over.