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Ken Levine's justification for  BioShock Infinite 's crunch
Ken Levine's justification for BioShock Infinite's crunch
March 11, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 11, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi
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"It's not like people love seeing their families less often, or that that doesn't cause problems. It causes problems for me, it causes problems for everyone."
-Irrational Games' Ken Levine, often accused of being a perfectionist, questions whether the long hours -- and several years -- that have gone into its upcoming BioShock Infinite are worth the cost to its developers in an interview with Eurogamer.

Quality of life is a major concern for the video game development field, as unusually long hours and the dreaded "crunch time" can really take its toll on people.

A recent survey by Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine shows that 32 percent of our sample audience of game developers felt either neutral or unsatisfied with their careers, and much of that had to do with what has become traditional working conditions. As one might expect, there was a correlation found between more flexible work schedules and job satisfaction.

Irrational keeps its employees working hard on the game, and while Levine doesn't exactly seem proud of that fact, he justifies it by explaining that BioShock Infinite is a more ambitious project than most.

"There are plenty of companies that churn out products... that can do things by a formula every year," he says.

"Boy, I wish I had one of those f***ing formulas but I don't - BioShock Infinite is not a formula game."


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Comments


Daniel Campbell
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I don't think anyone has the perfect formula yet Ken. As long as there is a product and a deadline, there is likely to be crunch. That being said, it's an immortal dragon we should always be trying to slay.

Joe McGinn
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And of course, there is the small detail also that CRUNCH DOES NOT WORK. How's that for a magic formula?

But no, surely one producer's subjective judgement is more accurate than a CENTURY of scientific research about the optimal work limits of human beings.

Joel Nystrom
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Yes, Joe.. THIS! This is exactly what I've been saying for so long, but most people in the games industry seem to think everything here is new territory and that you can't learn from that research.

Daniel Campbell
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That's a very one sided approach to the research data. Crunch DOES work, but only to a certain point. There are diminishing returns on each hour spent crunching but there is still a benefit up to a point. To read the data and proclaim in black an white terms "CRUNCH DOES NOT WORK" is staggeringly ignorant and indicative of someone who isn't used to managing projects.

Jimmy Albright
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Slaying an immortal dragon makes me feel a little better about 60+ hour weeks. *updates resume with Dragon Slayer title*

Joe McGinn
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Well aware of the Daniel. As you are no doubt well aware how quickly those diminishing returns kick in, and how rapidly crunch like that described here and on most game projects quickly eclipses those limits and, very soon, the team is producing less work than if they'd just stayed at 40 hours all along.

Daniel Campbell
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On that, we can agree. From my personal experiences, that threshold tends to be at the 5-10 additional hours a week. Anything after that sees a pretty steep drop off.

William Pitts
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Until deadlines go away, there will always be crunch. Could the process of crunch be better? Until I see a solution that is the way it is going to be for a while. It will be interesting to see how less physical media will play into deadlines in the future.

Jose Nieves
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Bad management is always the cause of crunch. Deadlines can be moved if there is enough willingness to do it.

Ian Uniacke
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I have much respect for Ken, but what a load of self delusional BS. Every single project I've worked on in gaming has been "a project that is just so different we can't possibly predict anything". Newsflash: if you can't plan your project you are failing as a manager. It's really that simple. Words like crunch time and ambitious are just cop outs used to justify your own failure.

Frank Washburn
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I can respect the need for crunch, but only to a certain extent. Yes, if you had ambitions for a new gameplay mechanic, and tuning it to make it fun takes longer than you thought it might, or maybe exposes some problems in your animation system, yes, that might require some crunch to hit a publisher milestone. But you should never get to the point where you're like "Whoops, we've been crunching for a year straight and weirdly enough things still keep slipping." Your planning should anticipate research, prototyping, and iteration on all of your systems with the expectation that things will go over - but also with the expectation that you will work fully within your power to manage that over-run.

Ian Richard
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Exactly!

I even fully understand that sometimes **** hits the fan and your stuck playing catch-up for a year of overtime. Sometimes bad things happen despite good intention.

All I ask is that the question is then raised "How can we avoid this next time?" Acknowledging our mistakes allows us to avoid them in the future. Accepting that "We screwed up" is the first step towards NOT SCREWING UP AGAIN.

Telling us "That's just what's happens." isn't a way to make your hardworking dev's feel appreciated because we know that the same problems are going to be repeated.

marty howe
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Correct.

sean lindskog
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Agreed, crunch is bad.

But it isn't always the manager's fault, as many people keep saying here. Here's some things that are nearly impossible to schedule properly
1. Creativity
2. Working with new technology
3. Innovation
4. Making something fun

Sure, I guess you could blame the manager for not creating a functioning program within schedule. But making games is about a lot more than that.

The real issue is that games combine highly creative, highly technical, and highly expensive/business-driven pursuits. The bigger the studio, usually the worse the problem gets.

The problem is far more complicated than "bad manager".

Joe McGinn
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Those things are not impossible to schedule properly, no more than any other "unpredictable" events like illness or server failures or "unexpected" demands from the publishers. On average, these kinds of things are all remarkably predictable from project to project, as long as you use evidence-based scheduling. Many project managers - most, in my game industry experience - are not doing that. They get their estimates, scope it all out at 100% of team size and time, and then are surprised - repeatedly surprised, project after project - when something "unexpected" upsets their perfect schedule.

A bit OT but even in a perfect world you should only schedule to 80% team capacity, and that's before allowing for all the "unknowns". That's the real reason for the free-time-Fridays at Google you know. Their theory is that complex systems (like server farms, or large teams of people) become less efficient as they approach 100% utilization. 80% is the maximum. Riot Games is also acting on this principle.

Luis Guimaraes
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At least it's going to be the best single player game to date, and everybody will be proud to have been part of making it possible. Most people go through crunch with a lot less certainty that it'll turn out any worth mentioning in the future.

John McMahon
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Is that a given? No one knew Halo was going to be as big as it became. And BioShock, well. That just hasn't kept the momentum from the first game.

Michael Herring
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"Ambition" again, eh? I don't see enough details about the crunch in the article to know how bad this particular case was, but it's depressing to see that same old excuse get bandied about to justify overtime.

Devs that are ambitious try to keep their team rested and happy so that they can make a better game.

Frank van Gemeren
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Crunches sound to me like failing in either scheduling, staffing, problem definitions, risk management, budgeting or a combination of all. All are part of a good manager's job.

In webdevelopment for example, the client buys time which is used to create the product the client wants, for example with scrum. If a feature doesn't fit the time (=budget), then:
- things can be reordered to make room for other things, dropping the task that takes too much time to lower in the ordering
- more time is bought. This costs more and the client needs to decide if he's willing to pay for that extra time.

You can't get more than 100% from your workers. With 80% you're already doing well. Punishing your workers for wrong decisions higher up the chain is IMO ethically wrong. That doesn't mean it's not sometimes needed. If it's just a short period of time, measured in days, OK. Longer than 2 weeks? Not in my opinion.

A common mistake is to put more people on projects during crunches. Each of the people will need to be briefed to be up-to-date on the project, which takes time, and the communication lines between the employees will exponentially grow. Extra hours for meetings also suddenly get more expensive because of the increased manhours.

All in all, if you have to crunch for more than a few days, you fail at management of that project and proper treatment of your fellow human colleagues. No matter the quality of the end-result.

Llaura Mcgee
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Making any game is hard & good planning is important, this appeal comes off weak and defensive. Of course if a game is truly different and not just a shooter for instance, planning will be more difficult but this game has had plenty of time to cook.

I doubt it was Ken's intention to make people crunch, Take Two have financial forecasts to hit and that means, eventually, deadlines. And if you have a deadline to hit and you're not on track, something has to give. Let's hope the industry can mature to a point where it's no longer always the employees' work/life balance.

Jane Castle
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Crunch is an excuse or crutch for poor or non existent project planning. It NEVER fails to amaze me how the video game industry seems to think that entertainment software is somehow different than other industries and therefore requires massive amounts of crunch and overtime (usually unpaid).

Benjamin Quintero
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The issue/question is not really about crunch, it's what you do after crunch that matters. Everyone crunches but how do you pay it back to the team? If your team has crunched for months of overtime and you give them a week off and a crap bonus, don't expect too many smiles.

Zach Grant
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Vacation and bonuses? Most people are just hoping they aren't laid off.

Benjamin Quintero
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Josh, I completely agree but that doesn't make it right. I'm talking about balancing the equation, about this mythical "formula" being discussed. Give what you take, though it never seems to work out that way.

The bitterness of employees is often a direct product of how they perceive the people above them. If Ken is talking about hard times, driving in on his Porsche, and telling people that it's time to crunch and he has to cut back bonuses to keep everyone employed (and make his car payment) then you can imagine some people might be a little pissed. If everyone is genuinely suffering or thriving together then there is little you can do to be upset about the time you put in, but only if your employer shares the good with the bad.

Joel Nystrom
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Well, if crunch is more than 2-3 weeks it's faulty by default since you're not getting higher output after that. It's the notion that crunch increases output that we need to challenge.

Joel Nystrom
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Well, if crunch is more than 2-3 weeks it's faulty by default since you're not getting higher output after that. It's the notion that crunch increases output that we need to challenge.

sukru tikves
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@Joel Nystrom I completely agree. After a reasonable 2-3 weeks (or often less!) any extra effort you put in will increase programmer stress, and decrease quality. The result will be more bugs, mistakes (sometimes catastrophic), and more need for extra crunch, self feeding the unproductive cycle.

Joshua Kasten
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As a Boston Developer I've had a chance to speak with a fair number of Irrational Developers, and while I never heard anyone say that they were thrilled to crunch on Bioshock Infinite, I don't think you should underestimate the amount of buy-in and pride the people who worked on that product have in their game. As long as they don't scope with the assumption of crunch, and as long as they try to learn from what mistakes were made that lead to crunch--and not make them in the future, there's no reason to hold it against them.

Jane Castle
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While I agree with your comments to a point..... The fact of the matter is that the game industry REFUSES to learn from prior mistakes and repeats them over and over again.

I've worked some brutal crunches before and the fact of the matter is they DON'T WORK. The work you do during an extended crunch is not your best, you are always tired and for every bug you fix you put in two new ones.

So while the team may have "bought into" this type of development structure, it just is not sustainable in the long term. Other industries have competent project planning and realistic scheduling, why can't the game industry have the same?

Benjamin Quintero
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Jane, other industries also have blueprints and mechanical flowcharts. We have an idea of how to make something "fun". There is no blueprint, there is no flowchart to successful gameplay. If you've been hiding it from us this whole time, I'll never forgive you! =)

Jane Castle
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Benjamin, I agree there is NO BLUEPRINT, but that still does not justify months (and sometimes a year or more) of never ending crunches that are a tradition of the game industry.

Finding fun gameplay does not mean the team has to crunch for months on end. A better idea is to make a rough mockup until the fun is found.....

These type of crunches indicate there is no blueprint, plan, schedule or any competent project planning of any kind....

Jay Anne
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@Jane Castle
Do you think the people who worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies had to crunch? They all did, even though it had a genius visionary at the helm, some of the best producers in the world planning its schedules, gobs of funding, etc etc.

It is how the best in the world often operate. I do not condone it, but don't you pretend for a second that it's merely "fixed" by proper planning.

Jane Castle
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@Jay,

Oh I agree On Lord of the Rings, Transformers they also crunch..... However here is the point you missed..... They are paid OVERTIME and passed a certain time it is time and a half.....

I still don't agree with it, but they are compensated for the extra effort and there is down time after these crunches..... This is non existent in the game industry.....

Also just because "it's how the best often operate" doesn't mean it is the right thing to do by your employees and the long term health of your business.....

Also The Lord of The Rings is on another level altogether, your garden variety game developer isn't tackling something as complex as what Weta Digital are doing...... yet they still have these hellacious crunches.....

Jay Anne
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@Jane Castle
I agree it's bad for business, especially for keeping employees with kids and spouses. But overtime pay won't fix it. In fact, it would incentivize it, especially for young employees who need the extra money.

I believe the only solution is to find data that clearly shows that crunch drastically reduces long term productivity. It's a way to create a cultural shift towards devaluing crunches.

Ian Uniacke
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re blueprints: Pretending that other industries have fixed locked down directions from the start to the finish of the project is really just ignorant at best. This idea that we are special is the MYTH that perpetuates bad management practices. We need to stop with the excuses. Stop with diffusing the problem through double-speak (eg using the word Crunch). And get to fixing the problem.

Ian Uniacke
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Also saying that it's ok because bad practices also happen in movies is like saying slave labor is ok because they also do it in China.

Jay Anne
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@Ian Uniacke
I did not say it's okay. I said it happens to the best planners in the world. It's not a planning problem. Poor planning is very often the catalyst, but it's largely a cultural problem.

It happens to lawyers, construction workers, investment bankers, doctors, paramedics. The person paid to save your life is often massively sleep-deprived and severely overworked. It's a fool's errand to appeal for change through ethics. To truly change the minds of businessmen, you must appeal to their bottom line. And if crunch is truly bad for their bottom line, there should be data somewhere that can show it. Until that happens, nobody really cares what is right or wrong.

I believe there are 2 reasons why it becomes a cultural problem :

a) In the short term, crunch works. In moderate short bursts, crunching can greatly improve productivity, create team bonding, and improve team morale by creating massive improvements to the project. Over time, it fools everyone into believing all crunch is good. People get addicted to the camaraderie, and it creates heroes out of people who stay late. It becomes a badge of honor and the bar to hold everyone up to.

b) It is difficult to diagnose long term productivity decreases. There's no foolproof way for a producer to measure the exact effects of long term crunch. What is the difference between short term and long term? When do returns start to diminish? Did productivity decrease due to 50 other factors? What exactly is expected productivity if every project is always different?

Alexander Ageno
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I'm super excited for Infinite, and I'm glad to hear that the team has an unbelievable sense of pride in what they accomplished. Sooo excited!!!!!

Damn it, only two weeks!

Michael Dawe
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@Jay Anne
The research showing crunch reduces productivity exists! It's existed for a long time, too.

http://www.enginesofmischief.com/makers/evan/pubs/crunch.html has good numbers with plenty of source material.

Benjamin Quintero
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@Ian, ignorant no. If you've ever walked into a factory or worked in one then you'll know the reality of many industries outside of the creative ones. clothing, car, food, construction, parts/tools manufacturing, electronic component manufacturing, any number of assembly-line productions have very fixed schedules and quotas to meet daily. Creative works do not fit well into spreadsheets like assembly/blueprint jobs do, but to say that these jobs do not exist is ignorant at best...

My uncle worked in a factory soldering components onto circuit boards for years and though there was no crunch you were only paid for the components you assembled. Speed was more important than creativity. If video games were less about expression and more about fitting the pieces together I doubt that this would even be a topic right now.

Jay Anne
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@Michael Dawe
Thank you very much for sharing that. I was hoping there were more studies from information workers, particularly those in a creative field, where productivity is more difficult to measure than yield and manufacturing efficiency. It's very easy for managers to dismiss studies done for industrial workers, since the work can be so different.

I'm very surprised that huge corporations like Google or Facebook have not conducted their own studies when it comes to information workers. If this article is true, then their employees are being horribly mismanaged. And reporting stories about Marissa Meyer working 100 hour weeks is a terrible cultural precedent to set.

Ian Uniacke
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Factory work might have been a relevant comparison fifty years ago but we live in the information age. There is a huge range of varying industries in between ours and manufacturing. Hell I'd even say manufacturing has the same problems at a high level (making sure the product ships on time). I'm not sure that you're comparing apples with apples. And every time we compare apples with bananas we give ourselves silent permission to not bother getting our scheduling right.

Benjamin Quintero
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Ian, completely dismissing the foundation of your everyday first-world life makes me think this discussion has become about apples and bananas. Thanks for the laughs.

Ian Uniacke
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If you can't handle criticism without putting up a straw man argument than I feel sorry for you Benjamin. I guess we should all become farmers if we want basic human rights? I forgot that part of law where it says "this only applies to the simplest of jobs...if you want to better yourself in life you're on your own". Thanks for the elucidation.

Bradley Johnson
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I'm thankful I won't ever have to work for another company like his. Been there (not irrational), done that, and it wasn't worth it.

Jonathan Murphy
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As someone who's worked 84 hours a week to 20 hours a week for various companies. Crunch time, no crunch, weekly deadlines, daily deadlines, and even monthly deadlines. I've seen far more mistakes made during crunch.

In my decade of experience crunch longer than a month is a flag you're doing it wrong. There are many who'll disagree, and there are many more like me who have had their health permanently ruined because of it. I miss my gall bladder.

Jay Anne
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After a month, you start to make bad decisions without knowing it. This is the worst thing in the world. It would be much safer if it only caused you to make mistakes that you knew were mistakes. But instead, you lose all judgement regarding how to distinguish between a good decision and a decision that wrecks your project. It's like making important strategic decisions while high.

Russ Menapace
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As long as you let them keep doing it to you, they'll keep doing it to you.

Nobody has to put up with this.

Eric Schwarz
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Well, unless you like eating...

Tyler Martin
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@Eric: I'm not so convinced that people in the industry would have to choose between crunch or eating if they would present a united front in taking a stand on this. The companies and managers perpetuating the bad practices that result in crunch time might change their tune a bit if the majority of their staff threatened to stop work until the problems were addressed.

Does anyone really think a company is going to just fire everyone and try to start over, or are they going to agree to sit down and deal with the situation so work can continue on a multi-million dollar project? And if this was happening at multiple companies at the same time?

Maybe it wouldn't work out in the end and people would just lose their jobs, but to people facing perpetual crunch I have to ask: what is there to lose? Most who have to suffer through perpetual crunch are probably facing one of two choices: lose their job now, or leave an industry they love a few years down the road because the working conditions can only lead to burn out in the long run and that isn't good for the workers or the companies employing them. And if those are really the only two choices available, I know I'd be looking to take a stand on changing things and risking my job rather than saying nothing and losing my love for what I do.

Kevin Ward
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32 percent as neutral or unsatisfied means 68 percent being above neutral which is amazing for any job in any field. That many people happy in their field is an inspiration not something to be dissected negatively. This is a forum for game jobs not to put people off of this. You need to reworx this to 68 percent love their job. Come on guys.

Tyler Martin
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Go click the link to that article and look at the numbers again.

Only 29% of people report being very satisfied with their job. 39% are only somewhat satisfied. Better than dissatisfied, but I wouldn't exactly say that term is a ringing endorsement. Better than being unsatisfied I suppose, but not exactly falling in the "love their job" category you're saying they do.

But more telling are things like the self-reporting of crunch time and whether a previous game was seen as a success. Most people working 60+ hours a week aren't reporting that their last game was a success. 70% people who never work weekends or holidays are saying their last project was a success, compared to 43% of people who did work weekends and holidays. Simply having crunch cycles at all was noted to put a dent in reported job satisfaction. You've also got 52% of people feeling either indifferent about their compensation or outright under paid.

Let's get real here: this stuff does indicate problems. That things could be worse or given that some people are happy with their jobs doesn't change that.

David Roberts
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There is crunch and there is death march. A poorly planned project with lack of steering will give you the death march -- where all you do is to finally tweak a bad product out the door. "Crunching" on the other hand actually seems to be the reality of our industry. I don't like it, I've pushed against it. I've led a round table at GDC on working environments and how to avoid it. However, ask yourself this: If you have the best planning in the world, and you are all lined up to hit your deadlines on 40 hours a week, what would happen if you decided to not add a single thing to the task lists, but instead drove people to spend just that extra 30% each day polishing and testing everything they've done.. just a little bit more. Right there you've added quality. This is not a binary it's done/it's not done environment. We are in the business of quality and while your overall quality is going to dive if you push your team too hard for too long, the reality is that if you are not working to your max at the end, building in polish, reliability, and fixing edge-case bugs then you are leaving something on the table and there is a good chance someone else will eat your lunch.

Mr Developer
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Crunch happens because of bad management. A game like Bioshock is 90% the same as any shooter. That 90% would be planned out and executed crunch-free by disciplined directors.

I've heard Irrational threw away far more work than they kept and then scrambled to get the basics together in the final year. This is exactly what the industry has been trying to learn not to do for the last decade. It's sad that studios like Irrational haven't learning anything in that time.

In the last year we've seen a steady stream of developers exiting this studio and more will likely follow when the game hits the shelves. This does not bode well for any hope that lessons will be learned.

Tobias Lotz
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My question is what is the cost of this in the long term ? Not the $$$ cost but mental one.
I am working with a few "old Nokia" developers and have herd what can happen when
some one is just burnt out.

Gil Salvado
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Well, either you crunch to enhance quality or you crunch because of bad planning and want to ensure quality. Certainly a crunch phase without a goal to hit, so you can end your crunch, is most unsatisfying.

What I found an interesting news, regular working hours (8-10 hrs/day) result in less and/or shorter crunch. Should give some producers to think about.

Kelly Kleider
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What crunch usually does, is align the development team toward focused goals. People become more concise about what is and isn't possible when they are at their perceived limits (80+ hrs etc...).

The failure is not achieving the alignment and focus separate from crunch. If crunch succeeds, then it is proof that there is a failure of project/team management, in spite of the detrimental effects to productivity.

Sidebar:
Using LOTR as an example of crunch is wrong because people were made aware of how ambitious the project was during the interview process. For many on LOTR it was a labour of love and passion.

Ramin Shokrizade
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What we are talking about here is logistics. The hard part of it is that at various points in development, some members will be needed more than others. If the designers are doing their job, they will be stressed earlier in production, with everyone implementing their work being more stressed downstream. From my experience what usually triggers crunches is the realization that the product was created with a major design or business model flaw and by the time it is detected it is very difficult to retool in the already established time frame for launch.

Glenn Storm
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There are two tactics _for the business side of the equation_ that can both raise the bar for quality, and save on costs during development:

1) Conduct enough feasibility studies to ensure you have as many of the problems prioritized, as many of the solutions identified, as many of the plans in place as possible. (translation: surprised by how difficult this was? or by unforeseen wastes of time? your business needed to conduct more feasibility studies; and to work those into the budget from the get-go)

2) Retain your top talent. (translation: think your business saved money by ejecting the last crew and hiring the latest graduates for the next project? or believe that short-term abuses of the crew, such as unpaid overtime, was be good for the bottom line in the long run? review the costs of recruiting, relocating, training and team-building with your accountants and revisit that belief. use your studio's resources to keep valuable team members between projects, as the cost of the studio doing business)

It makes business sense, and it makes sense to those you rely upon to make the products you sell.

_For the crew_, including Ken and many friends at Irrational, who passionately pursue the excellence within the business model we have: I can recognize the bravery of what you're pursuing, as ludic theater; and the theatrical sense of 'the show must go on', with all that you have to give, 'left on the field' and laid bare for the love of the craft. I understand, empathize and wish all the very best. Your heart is in the right place, and your efforts will be appreciated, but more so by the audience than by the business model we have. Do not lose the passion, just lose the model and help it evolve.

Jeff Zugale
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Of course nobody can ever push back a deadline a few months to fit the projected required hours into a more reasonable schedule. Because that's simply unpossible. Nobody would ever consider buying a great, interesting, well-made (that part's important of course), fun game if it's not delivered by some arbitrary (or holiday-driven) deadline.

*eyeroll*

George Blott
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I guess in this case the crunch comes when you have already delayed the game's release twice, I doubt that they are driven to be out before the prime game-buying holiday that is Easter.

(BS:I's release was delayed from October 2012 to Feb 2013 and then to the end of March 2013)

Jeff Zugale
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I honestly don't think there will be a sales penalty if BS:I comes out in May or even June 2013. It's a highly-anticipated game with a big fan base.

Of course, there's probably a funding issue. There would surely be a profit penalty. The great thing about crunch time is getting months' worth of work without paying for it! YEAH!!

Except that those months of extra unpaid OT work aren't equivalent to what they'd get from the crew if they worked extra months on a "regular hours" schedule... without figurative guns to their heads.

Stewart Spilkin
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In my experience, aside from the glamorizing of crunch in our industry, the usual culprits are;

1. A lack of controls on the project; allowing stakeholders to make major unplanned and non-resourced changes during the course of the project that have ripple effects throughout code/art/design

2. Poor planning; not understanding the project your team is about to undertake well enough to make a reasonably accurate plan.

3. Under-resourced; A team does not have the resources available to stay on schedule usually due to a combination of budget constraints, attrition, slow hiring process, equipment shortfalls, etc.

4. Adding hard dates to whatever toxic brew of #1, #2, and #3 you have been dealt.

Like most problems, these are solvable, but not if they are not recognized and acknowledged by those with the responsibility AND the authority to implement change properly.

Robert Basler
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...

Mike Griffin
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I've had some mean, prolonged crunch weeks. It sucks.
But if everyone that crunched together puts out a great product together, then enjoys the success of that release with performance acknowledgment and subsequent "well-deserved time off" -- it really takes the edge off.

Of course it's perpetually a difficult industry to explain to outsiders/family etc., and thus any associated heavy crunchtime is just as tough to explain away as "part of the process."

But if it's all worth it in the end, at least the trying times had a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
The absurd crunches truly suck if they end in cancellations, botched products, total lack of success, or post-release mass firings. At that point, we're likely dealing with chronic mismanagement.

I can't imagine Irrational's hard work on Infinite will end that way.

Fiore Iantosca
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BAD MANAGEMENT
Probably the #1 problem for so many companies, big and small.

Andrew Dobbs
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Now YOU can be a game industry project manager:

Step 1. Set an arbitrary date.
Step 2. Instead of adjusting the date, ask your employees to adjust their lives.
Step 3. When you miss your first arbitrary date, set a new arbitrary date (motivational speech optional).
Step 4. Convince yourself losing skilled, experienced employees to sane industries is a good thing.

Ian Richard
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I think you have a typo there... where you have "Ask your employees to adjust their lives" it should state"Remind your employee's that "Failure to adjust your lives would make you seem like a poor team team player who doesn't care about the success of the project... which won't reflect well when layoff time comes."

Andrew Dobbs
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I hope that BioShock Infinite is as awesome as we desire and makes gobs of money. If not, expect to see people who crunched laid off. I really don't want that to happen since a bunch of people I know work there.

Joshua Sterns
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Don't worry. I'm sure QA at the very least will be let go.

Johnny LaVie
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I had a art position which is crunch-prone at the best of times since it's at the tail-end of level creation.

This position also has a tendency to be hired only when:

1) Things are on fire and need to get out the door in a rushed deadline.
2) "Oh crap, it looks like hell. Maybe we need to bring these kind of people in now."

I've been in the industry for almost 15 years and have worked on at least a dozen projects, some of them very popular and successful but..

..recently I have crunched 7 months out of a year for the PAST 5 YEARS and just been laid off to make the quarterly earning and save costs.

What am I going to do? This greybeard is now out of the industry. For good.

If I am going to "crunch" I'm either going to get paid overtime (and I won't be doing that much) or it's my own business and I'm willing to put in the time to get some financial traction for myself on the back-end.

People say it's different from a mega-corp game studio compared to a small one. No, it isn't. It's the same grind fest, just different tactics to get you to crunch those 80-hour weeks on end.

The more I see this industry with its revolving-door policies, crunch and dumps with no overtime pay and barely a bonus, and now everyone perma-contract with no benefits, the more I tell people to stay the hell away...at least if they are an artist/animator.

Programmers have a tendency to be way more highly valued and can move around the industry if they are abused with relative ease from what I've seen of all my coding friends..

Jane Castle
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I can assure you that when possible the programmers are also abused. While it can be debatable as to whether the abuse is less than other professions in the industry, this is largely attributed to supply and demand. Since good programmers are much harder to come by, the abuse is more measured as a result. But it's not for lack of trying.......

Daniel Miller
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I had to work a number of 60-80 hour weeks once and was sent to the hospital for vitamin D and potassium deficiency.
I nearly had a fucking cardiac arrest.
The doctor said he saw this happen to coal miners and people who live in overcast parts of the northeast during the winter.
I lived in Austin.
It was for bullet points for EA to sell a stupid game that flopped and then, immediately after the project wrapped, they laid me off.

The view of "733t project, bros. Hope you make it gr8 with the xtra polish!" is just sad and helps these egomaniacs justify making people work unpaid overtime for their lackluster creative "vision".
Like they're making fucking 2001 or The White Ribbon over at Irrational.
The first 80 hour week would've ended with me handing the PM my badge and telling him/her to fuck right off.
Bioshock isn't as good as half of its hype.

If you think it's necessary or cool, go ahead and hop in the fucking way-back machine and hit 1998 and get to work.
Modern developers realize crunch doesn't work.

Amir Barak
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I also think that this entire "working on games is awesome, you should be so lucky" mentality isn't helping us (developers) understand that we're being abused. Does the end product really justify the means to achieve it? are we so accepting of products that we don't care how they've been made for us?

I bet you that if "crunching" involved bigger payoffs for developers and was more financially expensive to companies we would start seeing better managers enter and stay in the industry. So far what incentive is there for managers in the industry to actually, well, manage... If every time we crunch we should just do it 'cause we're so ****ing proud of our product and involvement in it...

Jay Anne
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Everybody knows the risks and what they're getting into. I never understand why married people with kids and houses get into the industry. They've all heard the stories about layoffs and crunch. Nobody becomes a doctor and expects to sleep 8 hours a night. Nobody becomes a beat cop and expects not to get shot at. Nobody becomes a salesman and expects to live at home all year. Nobody should join an industry stocked with shady projects, volatile project metrics, lifelong bachelor workaholics, and not expect to get laid off and crunch. The world is not entitled to a video game industry that treats its employees well. I wish it were better, but if it's not for you, there's no reason you should stay and take the abuse.

Robert Baxter
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That's right Jay, we know what's coming to us so we deserve it, right?

Michael Joseph
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Jay, you're response seems full of machismo.

What next? Nobody becomes a migrant worker and not expect to work 18 hour days for peanuts and no benefits?

More people should just become wealthy socialites, heirs and heiresses, CEOs and politicians or moguls.

Of course they cannot. Fact is, overwhelming majority of people cannot find jobs that will allow them to live balanced lives. It's not a matter of choice in what to "become." Fact is, cops complain about crummy pay and staff shortages. Salesman complain about having to travel, reduced commissions, travel expense accounts cuts. Doctors complain about undesireable shifts and being on call and stress.

The games industry is not full of a special breed of complainers Jay. Every employee everwhere you look wants things to be better.

And the fact is, games at least provides a legitimate chance at early retirement or real self determination. The only chance the honest cop and salesman have is hitting the lotto.

Jay Anne
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@Michael and Robert
I apologize. My post wasn't meant to be smug. Just trying to be matter-of-fact honest. No, I don't think you deserve it. No, most people in the game industry are not immobile and doomed to poverty like migrant workers. Game development is a luxury job like Hollywood. It's not something people get forced into to make ends meet. Nobody ever said, "My student loans were so high so I had to take that 2nd job as a game designer to pay the bills". It's incredibly difficult to break into. It requires difficult degrees and training. Many game developers can find jobs in other industries with better QoL and pay. Why stay if you don't like it?


Jonathan Jennings
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I think the answer to that is for the very reason we endure the difficult training, and attain the difficult degrees, ours is an industry that is extremely fortunate to have the majority of its creators be fans of the medium itself and love it . while it's definitely a luxury job I know there's no other industry I would like to work in even if I could. Hell I scoff at the idea of making non-game apps the thought of leaving the game industry is not a fun thought especially when so many of us work so hard and have invested so much into working in it in the first place.

Amir Barak
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Actually game development is extreme easy to get into; all you need is a 200$ laptop and a few nights.

iPads and tablets and computers are awesome, you reckon there's any excuse for the people that build them to suffer the conditions that they do?

Why are you trying to hide management incompetence behind a mask of "well you knew what you were getting into"... That's rubbish, the problem with the industry is that people just don't ****ing learn from their mistakes and then we repeat them, over and over and over and over and over again. Do you really think that all the married people with kids who are in the industry should quit? do you really believe that all the married people with kids in the industry got into the industry being married with kids? are you really saying that you should stop dating when you're making games?

Knowing the risks in the industry is no excuse for not being able to handle them and managers/developers that push/accept crunch and crazy deadlines are simply normalizing a sick (and dangerous) methodology. Software development is hard to predict no one is arguing with that; but either figure out a way to construct your product dynamically or push the deadlines. Because if there's one thing that's really killing the industry it's the fact that it's losing its experienced people (people who are most likely married and have kids btw).

And also, come on, just because you're young and single doesn't mean you should also be stupid, because you'll grow up at some point (hopefully) and maybe just maybe want to still make games for a living...

Amir Barak
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Specifically talking here about your analogies for a second;

People that go be doctors SHOULD expect 8 hour sleeps because doctors that do less are far more likely to make mistakes and be legally liable for lawsuits. Emergency room doctors are expected and most likely perform more than that but there are laws in place to force them to have a rest after 16 hours I think. And no one does 14 hours days at full speed as a doctor for months at a time.

No, no one becomes a beat cop and expects not to be shot at, but so what I fail to see how this has anything to do with the discussion at hand to be honest. This analogy is like saying no one goes into programming expecting not to write code. Not sure about you but I've never met a programmer that expected a no-code environment.

One might argue that no one should join an industry stocked with shady projects, volatile project metrics and lifelong bachelor workaholics because obviously if you do you're a moron... I'd hate to think that you're really saying we're all stupid here, right?

Grow up mate, seriously, game dev is a business like anything else, people come into it from many different places and for many different reasons. It doesn't mean they need to somehow bend over and take it because people like you got a hard-on for punishment. If a good game is released 6 months late nothing will happen... if a game is pushed back more than once than you know what, your manager's an idiot...

Jay Anne
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@Amir Barak
My point is simple: it's not a trap. Everyone knows the dangers and you are free to leave. If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen. That's it.

I'm not saying you should like the heat. I'm not saying you are bad for leaving. I'm not saying everybody should leave. If you like it, stay. If you don't like it, don't stay. It's a simple point.

Also for clarification, we're talking about people whose day job is developing games for an established game development company. It is still difficult to land those jobs.

Amir Barak
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I think you're missing my point though; if you love the kitchen, make it better. There's no glory or point in burning up...

I've yet to see the game that has been made better by crunch time, insane deadlines, no overtime pay, low quality of life and an early and quick dismissal. Have you?

Anonymous Designer
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It would be nice if consumers recognized the additional work required for modern AAA games, and maybe consider paying a little bit more for products which are expected to continually get better, yet be the same or less in cost. It would be great to work less, but having a better paycheck also helps justify the crunch.

The worst is the employees who go through massive crunch only to be laid off after an unsuccessful launch.

Johnny LaVie
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Why would they do that when WalMart has dominated for a generation and put it in the brain of Americans that you go after lowest prices no matter the cost? Also, why would they want to pay MORE when they can easily get a iPhone/iPad game for peanuts instead?

People honestly don't care about the additional work required for a product unless it's the top 5-10% of country who by luxury goods... and turning AAA video games into a luxury good is going to be a hard sell.

I would love to be able to get a paycheck and the consumer paying "a little bit more" but honestly, I doubt that will ever happen.

Eric Schwarz
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Sorry Ken, I like your past games and you're a smart and creative guy, but this really is BS.

BioShock is not some sort of work of art or stunning philosophical treatise. The first game was at best a gussied-up Doom clone with delusions of grandeur and half-baked ideas taken from much smarter and more influential works. Infinite looks to be nothing more than yet another shooter with a creative art direction and ideas lifted from 10-year-old Half-Life 2.

No banal first-person shooter justifies such bad management and poor treatment of workers, nor does a month or two saved in development make up for serious and quite possibly long-term damage to the physical and mental well-being of the people involved in making it.

Michael O'Hair
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I guess "It'll be done when it's done" doesn't fly everywhere...

Nick Harris
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I be quite happy to see Bioshock Infinite slip, not impose crunch and become a next gen launch title.

I do not understand why Destiny and WATCH_DOGS are being simultaneously released on PS3 and PS4. What incentive is there to buy a next generation console if you can get roughly the same experience on your old console. If they are not careful the next generation will be a damp squib. Are consumers really going to pay several hundred dollars just for the priviledge of playing Knack?

Johnny LaVie
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Follow the money. It doesn't make too much sense to leave all of the money on the table by trying to get on the next-gen bandwagon especially if it isn't a launch title.

At best you might sell a couple of million around the launch window because there is nothing else around but since there is such short supply of hardware and dev/game risk (even some first party dev studios don't have enough hardware to test) doing a quad launch (ps3/ps4 - xbox360/xbox 720) will hedge your bets that SOME people from the older gen pool (which is significant) will buy your game.

jin choung
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i don't know what the fuck levine is talking about - you can trace the "formula" for bioshock all the way back to system shock. change the words and the game systems are rote formula.

HA! and here's documentation!

http://www.strategyinformer.com/editorials/22189/the-history-of-t
he-shock-series

Andrew Grapsas
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"...BioShock Infinite is a more ambitious project than most."

What does that have to do with crunch? If it's ambitious, you plan accordingly. Making your employees suffer will end up with you being a THQ, Midway, etc.

David Paris
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Nothing new here. Someone misguesses the required work and tells everyone to work more! to try to make up for it. I'm sorry you botched your schedule estimates. There's nothing special about BioShock Infinite that changes this.

Mac Senour
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I've said for 15 years: Crunch = Producer failure and is NOTHING to be proud of.

Ali Afshari
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I'm conflicted...I've got two Ultimate Songbird editions preordered. Does this action help or hurt the dev team? I really am looking forward to the game, but I also don't want to send the message that crunch is OK because people will still buy the game. Completely opting out of purchasing this game isn't a good choice to me because the lack of sales jeopardizes the livelihood of the dev team (unless most get laid off anyway after the game ships), and it would really suck to crunch for a game that doesn't meet sales goals.

Jay Anne
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Most of the games you play were made by teams that crunched.

Ali Afshari
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@Jay: Yeah, I figured that much. To me, standing up for this would mean missing out on some good games. Perhaps it's out of the consumers' hands..."vote with your wallet" is thrown around a lot, but to me, this results in a lack of sales and publishers then blame the dev team for it. I don't think this tactic addresses the hard work that the dev team puts into the games. I hear talk about a new impending crash for the industry, and I'd say it'll happen sooner by mishandling of projects and personnel at the upper management levels (and talent exodus) than by consumers opting out of buying games because they're disenchanted.

Ali Afshari
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Double post.

Jay Anne
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@Ali Afshari
Yes, developer quality of life has not really been a consumer consideration, so it does not help much unfortunately. I cannot think of what the average consumer can do to help really.

Ariel Gross
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Ali, it isn't you fault if a dev uses the success of a game to justify crunching in the future. My only advice would be to buy the games you want to buy. Just one dev's opinion.

Joshua Darlington
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Ambition is exciting, art is exciting, games are exciting, competition is exciting, sales is exciting. I'm assuming that such exuberances aggregate into an overly optimistic scope. If you are trying to play in the competitive leading edge of tech capabilities, that adds further uncertainty.

Then I would imagine that team leaders would be conservative and would try to pad their resources as much as possible... There is some Napoleonic general that has a maxim that essentially says that "any numerical system used to allocate resources will immediately be gamed." So then some one else would have the fun job of trying to step on those buffers to get something more realistic. Those competing forces of over compensation could set up an autocatylitic oscillation. My guess is that crunching emerges from something like that (over optimistic scope and resource tug of war).

Joshua Sterns
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Same old arguments being thrown around. Looks like this topic has not evolved since I left the industry three years ago. Not really surprised.

Reading the interview, this article, and the comments remind me of the movie Hook. People spend all there time on work and miss out on their personal lives. Go to Jack's baseball game before you loose him to a nasty pirate.

Seriously, 60-80 hour weeks for a game that will be in the spotlight for a year at best. When you reflect back later in life will it be worth it? Survey says...

Robert Tsao
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I can't speak for everyone here, but from my own observations, game studios are obviously comprised of like-minded, intelligent, and talented people. Each person's skills and passions complement one another. For a fresh hire, they see all of the Nerf dart guns and painted figures and they think, "I'm home." Management compounds this with the innocuous, "We're family here" refrain. People joke around together. They get to say profanities in the office without getting in trouble. They're just really, really laid back. Over time, people start to cling to this status quo.

For me, I knew immediately something was wrong (and right, I guess?), that I felt more inclined than ever to do a good job out of responsibility to my team instead of meeting the project's "creative vision" or whatever that meant. In some ways, I was more afraid of what my co-workers, who in a lot of ways were like family, would think of a sub-par job. They would never be dicks about it, of course, which meant we all had to uphold that dedication even more. In many instances, when we were faced with overwhelmingly unfair feedback or unrealistic deadlines despite the involuntary yawns at the table, all it took was one member of the team, whom we all deeply respected, to keep their silence. We, in turn, kept our silence as well. Management wasn't stupid. They knew what the moral fiber of our team was made up of because we demonstrated it to each other everyday.

I like Ken Levine, and from what I've seen in interviews and press he seems like a decent guy, but his word choice presented in the article doesn't cast him in the best of lights. At the end of the day, is the team making a game together, or are they making *your* game?

I know what "creative vision" looks like, and it's morally and physically exhausted individuals who are cracking under the strain of inconsistent management and promises of greater glory that fail to actualize.

Jonathan Jennings
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very well said Robert


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