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Working in the Games Industry: a job to die for?
by Katherine Rogers on 04/03/14 01:52:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Last year, after my twentieth or so night of lying awake at 2am, worrying that my boyfriend had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed his car on the bleary-eyed drive home, we agreed a compromise. He'd work his twenty hours of crunch a week by staying over two nights a week at a cheap hotel.  He'd work until 1 am - that's seven hours' overtime - and then stagger across the car park or drive a few minutes to a hotel.  He would grab six hours' sleep, a quick shower and a coffee, and get in early for another two hours' extra time.  That meant just two hours' late another night, and we had two normal evenings and the weekend to ourselves.  This year, the compromise is that he's only working fifteen extra hours a week.  He's now in his fourteenth month of 'crunch' (he got a few weeks 'off' for good behaviour in the runup to Christmas but how long can crunch go on for, before it just becomes normal working hours?).  There's no end in sight although there is the constant threat of it increasing again.  This isn't the first company he's worked for, and it's not the only one to demand high levels of overtime, although it is one of the worst and this is probably the longest period of crunch he's ever worked.  The brutal reality for many employees in the games industry is late nights, early starts, weekend working or twenty-four hours stints at their desks.  It's hard to find comprehensive and reliable figures for working hours in the games industry, but last year's Game Developer Quality of Life survey suggested that 42% of game developers worked 60 hours or more a week during crunch periods.

When he's working crunch, we argue.  A lot.  About a lot of things, but mostly about him working too many hours.  It's a pointless argument that ruins the little time his company allows him to spend with me.  Because he won't back down, and I know I'm right.  I know I'm right in most arguments, but this time, I can prove it.  Because working long hours kills you.  Correlation is not causation, and the link between long hours and health risks is not fully understood, but there's plenty of evidence that overtime is bad for your health.  It increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic problems, depression and anxiety.  It makes you more likely to drink, to smoke, and to gain weight.  Numerous chronic conditions and risk factors increase along with increased working hours, and fifty-five hours plus a week seems to be a particularly significant number.  The risks appear greater if you are not in control of the hours you work.  If you are regularly working more than fifty five hours a week, not through choice but because your company demands it, you should be concerned about the long term health implications and the impact it may have on your life expectancy.

The games industry isn't a nine-to-five career, and I wouldn't want it to be.  Aside from my boyfriend, I have lots of friends in the industry, and one of the things I like about them is the passion and enthusiasm that they have for their work.  It's fun to be around people who love what they do.  I'm a programmer.  I understand "flow", how it feels to finally solve a problem that's been bugging you for days.  I've done my fair share of all-nighters or sitting in front of a screen on a Sunday afternoon when I should be going for a walk instead.  I don't mind real crunch - a few weeks or a month or two of the team putting their all in to ship a really great game.  But games companies have a responsibility for the health of their employees, and that goes beyond making sure that they have ergonomic chairs or don't trip over wires.  And no amount of private medical insurance or subsidised gym memberships is going to mitigate against the long term effects of overwork.

So what can be done?  If you work in the UK or Europe and you work in the games industry, you could sign back into, and stick to, the Working Time directive.  Contrary to popular belief, this doesn't prevent anyone from working more than 48 hours a week.  It prevents your working week averaging more than 48 hours over any 17 week period.  That means that you could work nine weeks or two months at 55 hours a week crunch, just so long as you work forty hours a week for the rest of the seventeen weeks.  Legally, no-one should be sacked or treated unfairly for refusing to opt out, and employers can't require you to opt out.  If  you really need to work more than 544 hours overtime a year, perhaps you need a better manager.  In many companies - not all, I know that there are responsible games companies committed to their employees - long working hours for many months over crunch are the norm but that doesn't mean it can't be different.

Because no job, no game, is literally to die for.

Selected References

"Long working hours cause weight gain", p. 195 in Perspectives In Public Health, 2012, Vol.132(5), pp.195-195

Dembe, AE  "Ethical Issues Relating to the Health Effects of Long Working Hours", pp. 195-208 in Journal Of Business Ethics, 2009, Vol.84 Suppl 2

Gibb, Sheree J. ; Fergusson, David M. ; Horwood, L. John "Working hours and alcohol problems in early adulthood", pp.81-88  in Addiction, 2012, Vol.107(1)

Kobayashi, T ; Suzuki, E ; Takao, S ; Doi, H "Long working hours and metabolic syndrome among Japanese men: a cross-sectional study" in Bmc Public Health, 2012, Vol.12

O’reilly, Dermot ; Rosato, Michael "Worked to death? A census-based longitudinal study of the relationship between the numbers of hours spent working and mortality risk", pp. 1820-1830 in International Journal of Epidemiology, 2013, Vol. 42(6), pp.1820-1830 

Virtanen, Marianna ; Heikkilä, Katriina ; Jokela, Markus ; Ferrie, Jane E ; Batty, G. David ; Vahtera, Jussi ; Kivimäki, Mika "Long Working Hours and Coronary Heart Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis", pp. 586-597 in American Journal of Epidemiology, 2012, Vol. 176(7), pp.586-596

Virtanen, M ; Ferrie, JE ; Singh-Manoux, A ; Shipley, MJ ; Stansfeld, SA ; Marmot, MG ; Ahola, K ; Vahtera, J ; Kivimaki, M "Long working hours and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a 5-year follow-up of the Whitehall II study", pp. 2485 - 2494 in Psychological Medicine, 2011, Vol.41(12)

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Ernest Adams
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My friend Keith Elliott was killed by crunch. He had come home incredibly late, got a couple of hours' sleep, and was heading back into the office early the next morning. His judgment was impaired, to say nothing of his reaction time. He tried to overtake another car on a two-lane road (this was in rural Germany) and had a head-on collision with an oncoming tractor in the other lane. He had been married for about two months.

Laura Bularca
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The games industry isn't a nine-to-five career - why? It has 9 to 5 contracts and salaries. I Have never seen a game dev contract that stated working hours from 9AM to 2 AM, not even 9 to 6 unless its clearly stated that it includes a lunch break of one hour.

Amazing article, Katherine Rogers, and insightful comment, Ernest Adams - I almost Liked it but what is to like? What support do you show and towards whom?

If you work in the video games industry, don't crunch. Just don't do it. If you are forced to do it, just don't. No one will die if a game is delayed. It is NOT your fault for bad management. Passion that takes away your life is not good passion.

And you are not only hurting yourself. You are hurting an entire industry by showing your investors that they CAN get people willing to give their life for this passion.

Matt Massier
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Agreed. Good article, but saying she wouldn't want it to be a nine to five career may need some elaboration.

Personally I wouldn't want it to be a mindless, clock in, clock out career; but I wholly believe games, great games, can be made between the hours of 9-5 and I very much would like to see the industry have this attitude.

Kelley Hecker
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That was definitely the line that stood out to me, too. I'm getting very tired of the idea that in order to be "passionate" or "enthusiastic" about making games you need to enjoy (or at least tolerate) crunch. You don't need to work more than 8 hours a day to prove you love making games. You can be passionate about games, and you can make great games, on a regular 9 to 5 schedule.

James Yee
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Here in the Space Ops we've been hit recently by lots of overtime and it's getting insane. So bad that I've started the process of finally getting out (may finally take the dive into game dev work yay!) because management and the work environment is not worth it.

That's with billions of dollars of equipment and actual human lives on the line for my job (ISS) not the essentially non-essential creation of a game. I LOVE video games but they're not worth the health risks. If you've got the money to pay overtime on that many people you've got the money to hire more people.

Doug Poston
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"If you've got the money to pay overtime on that many people you've got the money to hire more people."

My experience is you don't get paid for overtime. Normally you just get "comp time" (a couple of weeks off) after the project is finished.

Jim Perry
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"If you've got the money to pay overtime on that many people you've got the money to hire more people"

Throwing more people at a project isn't always the answer.

Pedro Fonseca
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@Laura Bularca

Obviously I can't know what she really meant by that, but I believe she meant that the "flow" is more important than the clock.

I do agree on your comment about job offers tho, and quite honestly, the least I'd expect to happen is to have leisure compensation for overtime (especially if I don't get paid extra).

Benjamin Quintero
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Laura, it's not so easy. People in the games industry are struggling between doing what they are passionate about and trying to manage their life outside of work. On top of this, you have the pressures to appear relevant inside of increasing team sizes while small business practices crumble under the weight of growing budgets and expectations. You also have pressures of providing for your family because there is a clear but understated fact that if you do not produce then you will be replaced or the company will go under; either way, you are out of work. The list goes on. Simply saying, "just don't" is almost never an option if you are the bread winner of your household.

I'm not defending any of Katherine's misfortunes, but we all know people inside and outside of the games industry who are working in a job they hate because they need the money, or a job they love that is slowly killing them. Finding a balance becomes exponentially difficult as the number of people who depend on you grows.

Laura Bularca
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Its nice to see so many people involved in one comment, so thank you all! Talking about this issue is always very important, in my opinion.

Benjamin, I know its not easy. Despite my upfront statements, I do overtime too. And in the past, I crunched until I could not recognize me anymore in the mirror. I crunched until I got so depressed that I could not stop crying. I did all that, and in retrospect I should been very worried about my health, back then.

I have a family that I love beyond what words can ever describe. Like any family, we have financial obligations. I know how it feels to live under this pressure, every month.

But making games is a labour of love. It must be, otherwise there are more lucrative professions out there, especially for people as talented as game devs. Before I shifted my career towards games, I made software, so at least in my case, I can really compare these two options. I never crunched in software development and the pay was better. Do you think I was just lucky? Or that the software industry treats its people with more respect than the game industry?

In my experience, what helps is to speak up. Don't keep your head down in front of unreasonable people. Don't stay at work just so a boss can see you there at night. Don't accept so many tasks that you drop dead tired under your desk.

You are an adult so demand respect. Promote responsibility over counted crunch hours, through your actions and through your attitude. Be a good game dev, and deliver what you promise - and do even more, if you can, in the time that the company pays you for! Live and breathe for that studio, and go above and beyond with whatever you can do to help, for 8 hours a day. Then rest, relax, and start a new day happy, and ready to give it all again, for another 8 hours in that day. And of course, treat special cases responsibly. We all know that any game feature works best on the PC of the person that developed it, but when released into the wilderness... ;)

Evaluation based on how many hours you spend at work is not OK. And this factory mentality does a lot of damage, it damages amazing, creative, extremely valuable people and it makes the notions of respect and responsibility obsolete - for adults! Indeed, this labor of love cannot be controlled by a 9 to 5 schedule (I find it very comforting to work at nights sometimes), but empowering people to take responsibility and forcing them to be at work countless hours, countless days are two different things. Promising impossible deadlines is irresponsible, whipping a team of such wonderful people to deliver under so much pressure is just wrong. Don't tell me that is still a job driven by passion. So if making games is no longer about passion but about coercion, if this is something that damages you, your life, it breaks your creativity, it kills you ... Just Don't Do It.

Sebastian Bularca
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Crunch... "Forcing", actively or passively, people to give up their free time and sometimes life, to make money for you... How in this world is this fair in any way?! On this side of the ocean, it is pure evilness even if it is happening anyway in Germany, in Romania, in Italy and in Sweden. We are making this industry NOT a 9 - 5 because we choose to believe in ideas and values that are NOT ours.

No... You must say no to crunch in any industry. This is a world where we can create immense value in a fraction of the working time our parents had to put in. I see no reason in this world why one would accept to be forced into sacrificing their life and freedom for work.

No 9 - 5 work time? A few years ago we had to work on Saturdays in any industry. We don't do it anymore, except in games industry and a few actually important areas and places like medical insititutions. Do we have to see the rest of the world working 2 hours/day for the games industry to evolve to a 9 to 5 job?

As long as I am around in this company, I will send people home at the end of their 8 hours. I don't care if they want to dedicate they entire life to this job. This ain't a damn plantation.

And if you think you cannot evolve in this industry without accepting crunch, then you are in the wrong company.

This article sums it up better than me though. I am just voicing my belief.

Susan Manley
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The enthusiasm for sleeping under your desk, eating out of vending machines fades some time after you have been in the industry a few years. But some people keep it up as a sign of their commitment and it is in truth the death of you. Its also the death of your creativity, and your ability to inter relate to the normal world. Bravo to you for stating your personal experience on it. After living that myself, on both sides I find balance in my life is necessary for anything else to be meaningful. Speaking of which its time to get out in the sunshine. - Susan

Zhenghua Yang
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If a studio consistently plans for, and frequently practices crunch, then that means the producer has utterly failed in his/her duty in planning. As a producer, I take it as a personal responsibility to make sure we do not have crunch time unless if critical problems had to be addressed in such a manner.

Philip Wilson
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What is even more appalling is that once the title ships (or doesn't ship) & layoffs occur...the Senior Production staff seems to go untouched.

Ismini Boinodiris
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"The games industry isn't a nine-to-five career, and I wouldn't want it to be."

As you get older and your priorities start to change, you will want it to be. There is a reason why it's hard to find veterans with over 10+ years experience in this industry. The ones I know that are still here have figured out a way to keep their careers while working to change the studio culture of crunch, or they are simply more selective about the companies they work for.

The good news is that ridiculous crunch doesn't have to happen with the proper management practices in place. In those projects (and yes they do exist), crunch is a dirty word that means failure on the part of management, and it is something pulled out only in times of absolute desperation.

If your boyfriend is doing a 14 month "crunch" he is quite simply being taken to the cleaners.

Jane Castle
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Man where do I find people that are willing to work for me for free for months at a time?

Oh that's right let's go hire people from the game industry. Somehow I don't think you will figure out what I have written given that you wrote: "The games industry isn't a nine-to-five career, and I wouldn't want it to be."

David Klingler
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Game development isn't a job in which dying should happen. This is a concern for indies as well - not just those told my their employers to work overtime. I worked 17 hours a day 7 days a week for months at one point, and I've never been employed by anyone other than myself. It's really bad for your health, and ends up being bad for the game in the end.

I'm not saying all overtime is awful, though. I still work overtime, but a lack of balance is bad.

TC Weidner
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why in a technology driven business, do some ( many) companies still require someone to be physically present in some arbitrary location? Production is what matters, or should matter, and to be honest people can be and are often much more productive on their own schedule, with sleep. We all have witnessed throughout our careers that many of our most difficult problems are often solved while we are in a comfortable setting, whether its dozing off in your own bed, for me it sitting with my dog on our porch or while we take a long walk. I find it hilarious that companies still think someone has to be in some half ass bland office dungeon in order to get " work done". Its actually counter productive.

I have tried to be tough and just work work work, and to be honest the work actually kinda sucks, since I dont have time to reflect on it, a key part and ingredient to any creative process.

Working 70+ hours a week, I get it that sometimes it might be necessary, but being made to do it at some poorly overlit cube farm is just ridiculous. Its what happens when you have a bunch of uncreative people trying to manage a bunch of creative people.

I often remark at parties things such as, I can get more done in 3 to 4 hours late at night, than I can do in an average 8-10 hour day. ..and every creative person I meet 100% agrees with that.

so what is the reasoning behind being physically present in the cube farm? just so we can go and waste time at ridiculous meeting after meeting? Can I see the need for physically having your team together a few times a week, perhaps, do I see the need for them to be physically next to each other everyday? no. Its 2014, not 1972.

Alan Barton
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@"companies still require someone to be physically present in some arbitrary location"

Yeah that's always got me. They want us to put so many more hours into a project (for free) and yet they expect us to waste thousands of our own money travelling each year, whilst also wasting the equivalent of one to two weeks of extra possible work time wasted during travelling each month! ... Add that up per year of wasted time!

Its easy to waste 60 to 80 hours a month in just travelling time. That's so many more weeks work that can be added to a project by the end of the project, without it even feeling like we are putting more time into a project!. So that is easy to do!

Yet so often they get pissy about time keeping if you get in 15 minutes late one morning due to train problems out of your control, even after you have put in an extra 40+ hours of office time that month!

Its madness. The company looses a lot of extra potential time and we loose time and money and end up feeling exhausted.

There is only one way to describe that boss behaviour. Its control freaks. They need to lighten up a little, but far too many of them let fear get the better of them and so they want control and need to feel in control and if you are out of sight, they think you are not working hard enough. Well if they gave us a return on investment everyone would be very willing to put in extra time, but even without a return on investment, fools like me have worked bloody hard for companies (for decades!) simply because we wanted to do a good job and took pride in wanting to do good work.

But then the redundancy tactics at the end of projects show some bosses don't want to reward staff, they just want to exploit staff for as long as they can, then they get rid of them at the end of a project, whilst they take the profits and then they repeat the same tactics on the next project, by getting in more to exploit who know no different, and so it goes on.

I don't care if its intentionally bad bosses or simply ignorant (and often closed mined) intentions of the bosses believing they are doing good when really they are failing to see (and hear!) they are causing such deep harm. Its time everyone listened! … because whatever the intentions, it results in a work environment that is a profoundly abusive way to treat people, who simply try so very hard to do a good job!

Its no wonder its resulting in some even dying whilst so many more suffer serious work/life problems in so many ways and I've also heard of suicides before as well.

This really needed to be sorted out!

I'm convinced the companies that get this right will push ahead of the companies failing to wake up to what they are loosing out on.

There is so much potential being thrown away here and so many opportunities to do it right and so much better. Its win win for everyone by making it better.

(Maybe I should set myself up as a business consultant!, because they are missing out on so much potential! :)

Lewis Pulsipher
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The worst of it is, if you crunch for more than a couple months, your performance degrades so that you don't do any more than you would in 40 hours. IGDA itself researched this years ago:

Why Crunch Modes Doesn't Work: Six Lessons
Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons
There's a bottom-line reason most industries gave up crunch mode over 75 years ago: It's the single most expensive way there is to get the work done.
by Evan Robinson

Jonathan Murphy
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I agree. When I worked crunch time it just allowed my employer to save cash and lay me off faster. It did no benefits to my health, and I would've made more money, along with quality if I was given 40 hours a week vs 60+. In the end I got screwed, and you are too if you think it's ever an answer. We are human beings with limited life spans, and even more limited health.

Curtiss Murphy
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The legacy article was not available, however Google had it cached, and I could still read it! A fantastic link!

Thomas Happ
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My favorite crunch was at Tiburon - and no, I don't mean the free Captain Crunch breakfast cereal provided in the break room. While other studios will generally leave crunch as an unplanned-for overtime that happens when you fall behind schedule, the EA crunch was built into the schedule from the start of a project. You'd hear managers be say things like, "even though it looks like we're behind right now, we'll make it up during the three months of crunch we scheduled for alpha." But of course if you fell behind the already inclusive-of-crunch schedule, the only way to make up was to add crunch onto the crunch they'd already built in. This was post-EA-spouse, so I can't comment on how things were before *that* quality of life revolution.

Doug Poston
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Sadly, EA isn't the only game studio that builds in "crunch time" into their schedule.

I've seen "Crunch Inception" at other companies.

Jerry Pritchard
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We've all worked overtime. Crunch is not overtime, its illegal coercion that should be prevented and punished. Regardless, if the team members are asked to work extra, it should always be voluntary and optional to all employees.

This is a point that I make every time I ask anyone to go above and beyond, and I've also thrown myself on the per-verbal "crunch grenade" on several occasions (at risk to my employment) for both my sake and the sake of my colleagues by both refusing to work beyond my legally contracted allotment as well as refusing to gang-press members into serving crunch time.

Having passion is one thing, being taken advantage of is another. Even if they offer you free dinner.

Rey Samonte
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What I find interesting is that many of us would love to see the mandatory crunch to be eliminated/reduced. Many have mentioned that crunch is a result of poor management and in many cases is true. But crunch also seems to be a measure of loyalty or "hardcoreness" of an individual as if it was some kind of initiation within the game industry.

Besides managers requiring crunch, I've seen many peers treat you differently whether you chose to crunch or not. It doesn't matter if you're caught up or not, they sometimes label you as not being a team player if you don't. I've seen that perception pressure many co-workers to crunch even when they didn't have to.

So the pressure doesn't come from just management but from your peers as well.

Ian Richard
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To be fair, it comes from ourselves too. I've NEVER met a game developer who wouldn't make sacrifices to make a better game. These people are most dedicated nutjobs I've ever met!

This is why it's so important that we work on improving our processes and planning from a management level. People who are passionate about their work will ALWAYS put in the extra effort... so it because the leaders job to prevent these situations.

If we plan things properly and scale our games realistically... we can eliminate the "Must put in time so I don't ship a crappy game" moments. We'll still have overtime and voluntary "This will be awesome" moments... but it'll be far less damaging to our most valuable asset, people.

Heck... we don't need to eliminate crunch in one jump... we just need to LOOK for better ways. If changes to our process reduce 80 hours a week to 70... it'll be a motivational boost and a sign of progress.

Far too many developers are too keen to say "It couldn't be helped" or "That's just what devs do". I will NEVER work for another studio that thinks like this rather than engages in constant learning.

Rey Samonte
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Oh, I definitely agree that sometimes it comes from ourselves. In fact, there are many times when I work later because I still need to solve a problem or want to be at a good stopping point. That I can understand. I also understand that there are those who will stick around to assist others with their tasks. In those cases, it is up to the person and more than likely, that person is willing to sacrifice joyfully.

It's the times when we are guilted into staying later, or just told we need to be there when we really don't need to be.

I believe once you are done with your tasks, and could use time to recoup, then you should be able to.

James Yee
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That's one thing you need in mangers, they are there to "manage" our people and that includes their physical status as well. You shouldn't be working people into the ground as that just causes more problems.

Jonathan Murphy
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Gall stones, and severe health problems for 3 years running from working crunch time for 3 months. It's not ever worth it!

As you get older your body simply can't take the abuse. We are human beings, not machines. But we have an amazing ability. We can find shortcuts. My employees never work crunch time, and I'll keep it that way. I argue that crunch time is a result of poor planning. My company has avoided it for 2 solid years and we stayed on schedule, give or take the rare week delay. From inventing a better spear to hunt we will always improve our tools. People who say otherwise end up extinct.

James Gibbs
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It makes you wonder how many may not even pursue the field to begin with. I love learning various frameworks and toying with the idea of making a game, but I deal with my current line of programming work for my family so I can be here for them.

Greg Quinn
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Any company that makes their employees work constant overtime because they keep setting unrealistic deadlines and are trying to cut developer costs by pushing two jobs onto one person should face severe penalties.

It's not healthy for the employee, and certainly not healthy for the industry.

At the end of the day, your employees are the foundation of your business.. if you keep screwing them over, you'll get screwed back.

Jane Castle
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The lashings will continue until morale improves.

That is all,
The Management

Ian Richard
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Hey... didn't I work for you!?

I'm lying... my boss was actually a nice guy. We had an awful process, no planning, and everyday was like being on an out-of-control bus... but i never doubted he did care about the staff.

Jack Davis
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After over a decade of taking this kind of treatment in games biz, I moved on to another industry. I now experience great working hours, better compensation, and stability. I recommend this course of action to all. I know you love making games, but don't put your soul on the line when you don't stand to reap any of the rewards. Life's too short.

Chris Cobb
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I am thankful that I had great mentors when I entered the industry. I have worked a 40 hour week and make it home for dinner with my wife and kids virtually every night. When I interviewed for my current job I was repeatedly warned "This is not a 40 hour job". Having worked with world class engineers who continually shipped player value in 40 hours a week, I just do it.

Recently we shipped a large project and I had some opt-in crunch to see it out the door, but it was a two month period that I was happy to put in, and I got creative with it. I went home for dinner and bedtime, then hopped back on or drove back to the office to put in the extra hours. The number of errors made during late nights is huge, and the perceived value add is offset by the bug fixes that follow. Get some sleep and deliver awesome value. No company will object to that, even if they think the only way to ship involves a perpetual crunch. Let your results speak for themselves.

Bram Stolk
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A good way to spot a doomed company: crunch time that lasts longer than a month.
When this happens, extended hrs are counter productive.

Szabolcs Matefy
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I am 44 with a family behind. Hard to explain them the crunch, especially when kids are preparing for a serious exam next day, and they want me to check something. Crunch in my opinion is usually a flaw in the management, a failed reaction to an unexpected event, and the tight planning. I understand and accept a week or two crunch period before milestone or release, but usually if crunch becomes natural, the workflow must bee visited or the management should revise themselves.
And my 16+ years experience in gaming proved me perfectly, that after the eighth working hours the chance of mistakes increasing almost exponentially. So after a long period of crunch the working day usually starts with the fixing of the previous overtime's mistakes. That decreases the productivity of the day, so another overtime is needed to catch up with the schedule, leaving us in continuous crunch, where the normal working hours are spent fixing the crunch hours mistakes. Thanks God, we have crunch only when it's really needed.

Sterling Reames
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14 months of crunch?!? Is he looking for another job? This sounds like plain terrible mismanagement. I think the most crunch I've been through is six weeks, and even then I felt like I had to work a day and a half just to get one day's worth of work done. I've been lucky enough to work with at studios where people realize the concept of diminishing returns, and that after a certain amount of time mistakes pile up that just end up eating away the schedule.

What some commentators don't realize is that we all can't afford to just up and quit our jobs on a whim. I'm sorry that you have to deal with this. You two must really love each other to still be together. There are companies out there that offer much better working conditions than this. Hopefully he finds his way to one of those companies soon!

Ken Love
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Plain and simple. "If yer' having to do crazy hours on your project, things got screwed-up ROYALLY during development." If this took you by surprise during crunch-mode, then you've got problems as a team leader and you should've been flagging this to your team and management all-along. Grant you, sometimes management and biz dev can be half-wits and try to sneak something in there at the last minute, though.

Juliette Dupre
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Crunch doesn't have to be like this. I know because I've seen these situations fixed. Our teams now "crunch" a for on average 1-2 weeks per 2-3 months, and until no later than 9pm each night and go home on weekends. Rare exceptions when somebody breaks something might have one or two people her until midnight a few times a year. It's not a perfect 9-5 systems, but we have far more "average job" sort of schedule. Our teams have been very successful with this, doing high quality work. It's the studio manager and producer who are responsible for the success or failure of scheduling. If there is crunch, it's their fault. I truly believe that, and I'm glad I have an sm and a producer who feel the same and take responsibility for it when their team does even an hour of extra work. Honestly, it really makes me angry that other people in the industry who can make these changes act like it's just impossible and crunch will be what it will be.

John Bertolini
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Indeed, every situation is different. I believe the issue is simply within the culture of the organization itself (whether it's a multi-national company, one multi-project studio, or a single team on one project).

You're right that the team's Local Producer is the first and most obvious individual responsible for managing the schedule, but the culture is often much larger than just that. In larger structures, the buck doesn't stop with the Local Producers and neither should the blame. So issues of 'Crunch Culture' should be examined from the perspective of commonality:

If crunch is prevalent throughout an entire Company, it's likely the fault of Headquarters.
If crunch is prevalent throughout an entire Studio, it's likely the fault of the Studio Manager.
If crunch is prevalent only on a single Project with no larger context, it's likely the fault of the Local Producer.

Your studio seems fortunate enough to be blessed with a great people on all levels. However, a breakdown at any of these hierarchies can cause entire teams of developers to have bad experiences.

I love hearing stories of successful projects with little/no crunch, and I'm confident that such goals are achievable. If only more of us could experience those successes and see it done correctly, then maybe the industry as a whole would move closer to the ideal.

Ken Love
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"It's the studio manager and producer who are responsible for the success or failure of scheduling." Agreed… BUT.. Management, Biz Dev, Marketing and Sales have also been known to get their nose into projects as well and request this or that change. Thus, screwing up the schedule. That said, Production and Studio Heads are not the only one's to blame.

If a project end's-up shipping late and / or the team has to do crunch, then Management, Biz Dev, Marketing and Sales should all take some blame as well, right?

In all honesty, I TRULY feel that if the dev team has to do the crazy hours, then Management, Biz Dev and S&M should be doing those hours as well. I mean.. "They were part of the problem, right?" They ARE the one's making the commitments that the team has to stick to.

Sorry..BUT.. "You can't polish a turd." It just is what it is. You either put up with it.. OR.. look like a non-team player and get put under scrutiny and are forced to move on or get with the program. Basically… "Eat crap sandwich." After all… "There's a zillion other people out there that can fill your shoes. AND... likely for a lot less too, right?"

If you're a big publisher, "Sorry", but there's no.. "But we're different." Sure, there may be some difference, but it's of little degree. Anymore, a person (or team) is best off creating their own start-up and working their own hours / schedule. There's more safety in doing your own thing as opposed to working for a big publisher. There used to be SOME safety in working for them, but not anymore. Not for quite awhile now, actually. You're just a commodity, right J?

adam anthony
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Crunch is just a fact of life over here on the west coast. Refuse it, and you will find your stuff in a box. There's no point in trying to fight it, you can't change it. Just look at the movie industry, they have been dealing with this same thing for a LOT longer.

Bertrand Augereau
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Respectful employers exist, even in the videogame industry, Adam.
Trying to find one could be a good career move. Don't give up on this!

Pete Goodwin
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Crunch was what kept me out of the games industry for a long time. I didn't like the sound of it, after working for non-games companies for a long time. Never did I dream that I would eventually join a games company when I started working on device drivers for audio, then middleware (Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, Xbox 360).

I spent four years working on racing games in Leamington then Guildford, and largely managed to avoid crunch even though it happened around me. As I worked for a technology team, not the game teams, crunch wasn't required of us.

Trouble was, there was an "us" and "them" attitude; I especially noticed this when I sat with a game studio in Guildford. The studio would moan about we were doing, and my team would moan about what the game teams were doing.

Ultimately, the studio in Guildford closed, and my job went as well. Then came a bitter pill, a letter stating we'd been overpaid on our redundancy. The letter informing me was crude and demanding; I paid back what I owed as I'm already sitting on money from other redundancies. Others I understand weren't so lucky. I've since gone onto other jobs meeting "game developer refugees" who talk of not being paid etc.

I've since noticed the technology team has collapsed where I was as the CTO left, along with a number of key players that worked for him.

I've been looking to see if I can get another job as an audio tools/runtime programmer but no such luck.

Judy Tyrer
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I've launched a few games now and there IS a synergy that happens as you get close to launch and you really can't stop it, nor do you want to. But, well managed, this can be a positive thing, not a negative thing.

The issue as I see it is that we aren't project managing our teams as athletes running a marathon. We are running them like robots. If you were the coach of a major NFL team and headed to the superbowl, would you spend the week before the big game running exercises all day ever day and exhausting your team the night before the big game? ONLY IF YOU WANT TO LOSE.

Imagine for a moment (yes this is part of my new development process - expect a paper GDC 2016) - you are staring at your launch date and you know you need to put in some hard hours. Your boss sends you home for a 5 day vacation and tells you to: 1) Get all your laundry done. 2) Spend massive amounts of time with your families. 3) Rest, rest and did I mention rest?

And now you come in for the last three week push to launch. How are you going to feel?

Compare that to having worked 60 hours a week for the last 2 years solid and now having to gear up for crunch. How are you going to feel?

There are ways to manage a team so that they are in peak performance when you need them in peak performance. Our industry has learned none of them as far as I can tell.

Tahiya Marome
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I suspect there is a certain amount of man-think at the root cause of this situation. Don't get all gender freaky, just read. Men are preoccupied with competition to a level that creates pathology in every sector of life. Doctors in internships can't possibly be rendering decent service and in a profession that STUDIES THE HUMAN BODY they still require men to undergo this ridiculous war-zone mentality as if it's somehow making anyone better at what they do. Business is all run on a competition paradigm, but no one seems to notice that the competition for survival in the natural world is OVER. We've won. We've brought the planet under our dominion, but this competitive brain stamp that covers over actual thinking is destroying everything we might use to make life good for everyone. Tech workers (game devs incl), production workers, EVERYONE is scurrying around trying to BEAT the other guy. At what? The marketplace is created by our choices and behavior. Our underlying mentality drives this everything-for-the-cheapest-fastest competition. But it's a fake competition. It's the result of cognitive filters that don't represent the reality we ACTUALLY inhabit. It's what's making the rich obscenely rich and abusive of their resources, what's driving poverty and hunger for millions of people across the world, and what's turning technology jobs, which should be about creativity and innovation, into sweatshop work. It's stupid and it's all because primarily men can't stop competing over EVERYTHING. And don't try the "reality" argument. We create our realities and what we participate in is as much our fault as the idiots driving it from the other side. Like the ethical people above wrote, JUST DON'T. Don't cooperate with narcissistic a$$h@le behavior. EVER.