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Study: Developers Claim 13 Weeks Of Crunch Per Year
Study: Developers Claim 13 Weeks Of Crunch Per Year Exclusive
June 2, 2010 | By Chris Remo

Crunch has long been a hot-button topic in the industry, becoming of the most sensitive quality of life issues for game developers. This year for the first time, Game Developer Research asked developers to quantify how much time they spend on crunch, in terms of both weeks per year and hours per week.

On average, according to research made available exclusively to Gamasutra, developers said they work 39.7 hours per week when not in crunch, putting game developer working hours right in line with the widespread 40-hour standard.

Of course, that changes when crunch time is in effect. During those periods, developers said they spent 55.3 hours per week at work during crunch time, an increase of 15.6 hours per week.

That 55.3-hour week is equivalent to roughly a seven-day calendar week of eight-hour days, or a five-day business week of 11-hour days.

Furthermore, developers said they spend 13.2 weeks per year, on average, in crunch mode, out of a standard 52-week calendar year.

That means that, on average, developers are working the equivalent of about five extra eight-hour, five-day work weeks per year as a result of crunch -- meaning the average game developer's year is effectively comprised of 57 work weeks rather than 52.

The sample for the data contained in this excerpt was a group of 2,630 game developers across all disciplines and demographics.

Game Developer Research, a sister division to Gamasutra, recently published top-level highlights from the salary study, including news of an overall 4 percent drop in mainstream game industry salaries to $75,573. Since then, it has publicly released earnings data on indie developers and contractors, developer opinions on the state of the industry, and data on developer ages and experience levels.

The full Game Developer Salary Survey 2005-2010 is now available for purchase from the official Game Developer Research site.

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Yeah, that's about where I sit.

Jeff Wesevich
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55 Hours is considered "crunch"...? LOL...try 75+

Mario N
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Will this ever change, or are we content with people spending 5-10 years max in the industry before realizing that it's not a sustainable lifestyle?

E Zachary Knight
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That was the average reported crunch week. When you have averages, there will be some that are higher than that average.

Why do we even have to do this? Is it really that impossible of an idea to set reasonable deadlines and allow for some shift for the goal? The games industry has been at this for 30+ years and we are still unable to properly manage projects.

Jeff Wesevich
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Absolutely Ephraim--that's actually what I was reacting to--the low numbers that brought the average down.

I'm afraid games are still a black art, and until that changes...

Mark Venturelli
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Crunch happens in the whole entertainment industry... movies, music, animation, heck - even theater! When you are working with creativity, "done" is just a compromise. Of course, in the majority of cases crunch is caused by bad management, but in my opinion it will never disappear. As long as it is the workers option to do it, and not some top-down decision, I think it is fine.

Travis Griggs
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I don't have a problem with crunch times from my personal experience. Especially when I hear from my father about him working 50+ hour weeks all year round in the business world, he's in Finance. I would say there are many other jobs that work more hours than game developers, and not all of them can say they love what they do.

Mark Harris
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Let's be honest, crunch happens in literally every industry. Is game development worse than other industries? I don't know for sure, I haven't found any definitive study that compares unpaid overtime on incidence and hours worked across industries. However, one Times Online article I came across mentioned law professionals who worked unpaid overtime putting in an average of 16 extra hours per week (56 total) and finance and business managers putting in an average of 20 extra hours (60 total). That was based on employees in England, just for clarity and completeness.

A full scale cross-industry study of "crunch" would be interesting.

At the very least I think we can all agree that improving the overall project management maturity of the industry would help minimize operational risk and bring more products to market quicker for less capital; concurrently this minimizes waste and rework and drives down the necessity for crunch. Much easier said than done since the complicating factor, the art and experimentation inherent to the industry, makes it much harder to manage projects efficiently.

edit : found another article that said your generic office worker puts in an average of 5 extra hours per week (45 total)

Fiore Iantosca
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Crunch happens so often in software. IMO, CRUNCH is because of POOR MANAGEMENT.

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Matthew Campbell
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There is no way one can avoid crunch in ANY industry. Even with the best perfect management, crunch will happen.. why? Because it is impossible to predict every issue that could possibly come up.. If you have to commit to releasing a product a year or two in the future, either the release date will change or you will work extra hours.. again.. why? Because over the course of that much time, things happen... hard to track down bugs occur, performance issues occur, priorities shift due to unpredictable external influence, heck, people get sick. A perfect manager isn't going to know every possible issue that could occur over the course of a year or so.. good managers put in buffer time, but putting in buffer time is nothing but a guess.

Now, all that being said, I was referring to crunch being a result of poor management.. Now, I do agree 100% that poor management is a result of folks putting in god awful 70 hour workweeks for many months.. that's just ridiculous..

Groove Stomp
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@Dave Smith

Words out of my mouth. Four months ago I would have disagreed, but four months ago I was still on a break from my last crunch period in the industry.

Mark Harris
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Point taken, but that's still poor planning over the long run. Assuming a business wants to stay profitable, growth minded, and pump out quality titles over a long period of time you would expect leaders to try to balance unpaid overtime vs. other industries in order to keep talent.

However, with the latest salary survey showing the industry trending younger it seems that business leaders are more focused on short term stockholder return then they are on long term viability of work force. I would also posit the lack of profits among industry heavyweights are a direct result of detrimental HR practices and a woefully substandard level of project management.

edit : In other words, you are probably right.

Rey Samonte
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For me, I've always expected some kind of crunch mode for any project I've worked on. Although the hours are long and the problems that needs to be solved can be difficult, what matters most to me is not how many hours we actually put in but rather how we're treated by management.

It's a lot harder to work those longer hours when management continues to show you that they don't really care about you. I was and wasn't surprised to find out that there is a small percentage of people in the industry who have more than 10 years of experience. A lot of times, the veterans eventually start a family and the long hours can become a burden as they try to juggle work and home life/responsibilities. When someone who sacrifices many hours at work, sees the quality of their family life decrease, and is underappreciated by management...they really have to start re-evaluating what is truly important.

So for me, it helps to be treated like a valued employee/team member while at work. A developer who comes home after a long day only to complain to their significant other adds to the tension at home. Sometimes, their spouse will also become upset because they already know how much time they are spending away from family. It's bad enough that they're not home, but if they come home in a bad mood due to stress and lack of motivation, that can only affect the family life as well.

Mark Harris
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Most of them are at will agreements, though, Andre, so the employer can lay you off when they don't want to pay your salary for any reason and you can leave when the terms of employment no longer suit you. Most companies won't write "may require 60 hour weeks" into a contract because they know the best talent will never sign anything like that. The point at which the job and it's attendant work requirements become more onerous than the satisfaction the job provides people tend to leave. The more talented the person the harder it is to demand they work long hours for no extra compensation.

So yes, some people won't view long hours as a big enough deterrent to leave a job, but many others will. Hence the low number of people in the industry with over 10 years of experience.

Ken Kinnison
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There's plenty of studies that show productivity actually declines after a point with longer hours.

I found after getting reduced hours that I got as much done in 30 as I did in 40, but maybe that's just me.

And 13 weeks a year isn't a 'crunch period' that's just expected unpaid overtime at that point.

Reid Kimball
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Love how everyone is calling it like it is, unpaid overtime.

Since when the fuck was it OK not to compensate hard working people for their valuable time and skills?

Answer: It never was, but we let them do that to us.

In my experience, a majority of devs under 30 think unpaid overtime is part of the business and acceptable, while those over 30 know it's wrong, unacceptable and doesn't have to be that way. The trend of hiring younger devs is working in the employer's favor.

Other industries frequently get cited for having overtime, as if that makes it OK. But there are distinct differences: 1) It is paid overtime, usually time and a half. 2) They get paid friggin' big bucks so they can take a year long vacation to explore other creative interests or travel or whatever. It keeps their creative juices flowing and expands their experiences, making them more valuable to future projects. 3) They tend to be contractors so they can choose which projects to work on and not have their employer move them from unpaid overtime to another one right after, or working on the same type of game year after year.

Rodolfo Camarena
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Crunch, IMO, will always be there. Could be a couple of weeks or a few months. However, nearly everyone states it is because of poor management. A game in developement is scheduled years in advance and Producers aren't psychic. This, with little analytic skills, can be overcome. For example: You have a schedule set for 2 years, add on another 5-8 months to the project, but have it projected to be completed in 2 yrs 2 mos... and if things don't work out due to business issues or whatnot, you have time to work with. Writing a schedule for a project that will take anywhere from 1-3 years is tough and I don't expect ANY project to get completed on time, or without a little overtime. We all know the business we are in and know what to expect.

Perhaps one day...

Danny Pampel
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I like how people that are obviously not project managers explaining how it is just poor project management that is to blame for crunch. How about sales/upper management that sign mega contracts with the likes of Walmart to have x game in store for the holiday season? How about poor engineers that do not know how to manage their time?

Trust me, I know that poor PM can be to blame but people think it is usually the PM's fault when 9/10 it is the fault of the people that the PM relies on or takes orders from (management OR clients).

Chris Daniel
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Talked to a coder from some european developer studio which is sailing under a very famous flag. He said they didn't really crunched on their last project. They seemingly worked some extra hours here and there to catch up with the schedule during the whole course of production but did not have a heavy period in the end like you always hear.

But the game came out well...not so good...(mainly because of design reasons in my opinion).

Michiel Hendriks
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Having 5 weeks extra in a year would be awesome, just imagine the work you could do in the extra time.

Sure, it's not as good as the upgrade to 36 hours in a day, but I'll take it anyway.

sean lindskog
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I think crunch is a symptom of how little control most dev studios have over their own destiny. Most people in or close to the creative process of making a game understand that excessive crunch is stupid. (Especially forced crunch.) Unfortunately, the large majority of studios out there are under the gun to commit to milestones, precise feature lists, and deadlines that not only lead to crunch, but hamper the agile, iterative process that nurtures the creation of the best games.

Bad contracts, bad business partners, or a bad financial situation will put a studio in a creatively stifled, crunch-mentality situation in the blink of an eye.

An independent, responsible studio, ideally self funded, left to it's own devices about ship date and feature list would make many of the QoL issues disappear. Employees would be happier, motivation stronger, and quality of work higher. I wish there were more studios out there in this position.

Benjamin Marchand
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These horrifying numbers about crunch time are why I don't want to make the videogame industry my dayjob. I've chosen the Indie way.

Also, I do work in another branch of video games (web games), and we very, very, very rarely have crunch times. Thanks to good management, and reasonable ambitions.

Wasn't Rockstar San Diego recent "complaint letter from the devs wives" sufficient to make things change ?

Most of the time, crunch times are not triggered by bad devs, but by ninja tweaking.

Like "yeah, that's exactly what I wanted, it's pretty, you did a good job. I know you already worked your time, but it would be awesome if this tree was a bit greener. Yeah sorry I didn't tell you because the decision was made recently. And here add more foliage. Prove me you're still the awesome person I hired, will you ?"

From 10 years of experience in games related industry, crunch was always a result of wanting more of this, more of that, without ever considering to rework the initial arrangement. This is disrespect for the dev, imho.

When I worked as a freelance webdesigner, the usual contract establishment habit from the client was : Tell 75% of what he wants at price/salary determination, and ninja-tell the remaining 25% when project was about to be achieved, so you can't really charge added work. At first I accepted, but soon I refused and charged added work. At first, clients didn't understand as most freelancers don't charge, but soon they realized it was a fair deal.

Crunch is just business and negociation mechanisms, and devs don't have to accept it.

As long as gamedevs will accept crunch, there will be crunch. Rise up, people. Unless you're responsible of a delay, any (large amount of) added work deserves (large amount of) added payment.

Crunch would be fair if you had a return on added investment, just like your favorite Project Manager/CEO. But you don't. You're just thanked with smiles, medals, and words about how lucky you are to participate in such a project. But at the end, while you can read newspaper saying your game made millions, you're just staring at your unchanged payment check and your lost family times.

Jeff Hanson
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55 hrs is crunch time? Really? Are you hiring?

'Back in the day' crunch time meant 70-90+ hour weeks. Suppose the difference there is largely whether you're expected to work on sat and/or sun.

Russell Watson
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55 hours does sound a bit low, I would of expected somewhere like 60-70.

I think the sticking point on crunch for me is when it comes to contracting. If you are an FTE I can easily see how crunching can be percieved as ensuring the survival of the studio and thus your job.

But if you are a contractor it's never sat well with me that contractors are expected to do the same. You typically aren't even extended any of the benefits FTEs recieve, but are expected to put in as much time (or more) as FTEs. I suspect a lot of contractors just do it to try to secure a renewal. Then it becomes the norm, but more often than not it seems they just get cut loose for their efforts.

*edit* I actually blame a poor meeting of organic development methods and rigid production plans.

As an additional point, I do not think it is fair to compare the situation to other industries such as Finance and Law. Though I am not privy to their earnings in that sector, I know what the typical rates are in games. I'd be quite comfortable in saying that those who are employed in Finance and Law typically earn considerably more than a game developer and get chunky bonuses on top.

Mark Harris
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@ Danny

I'm glad you brought that up. Sometimes we can get in the habit of lumping all management related issues into a single sphere and dumping that on the PM (that happens a lot in actuality too and it sucks). That's one reason why I try to talk about the PM maturity of a company, since that is more of an organizational attitude and doesn't necessarily put all of the weight on a beleaguered PM. The best PM/producer in the world can't ship a AAA title in 6 months with 10 interns and an easel.

I think many of the breakdowns are a part of the entire project management process, whether those come from unreasonable deadlines set by key stakeholders, underperforming assets, a bad project manager, or some external influence like sub par contractor work or license issues. There was an article up here on Gamasutra last year, I think written by Brandon Sheffield from GDM, that pulled together the most common development problems identified in post mortems and every single one was a project management problem. Not all of those problems were the fault of the project managers, of course, but I think it's not a stretch to say that an immature process of project management has caused many of the development hurdles encountered over the years.

So, yeah, when you have a hard ship date negotiated before you even took on the project, some underperfoming assets who are killing your velocity, you've already burned through the extra four months of time you included in your schedule and spent weeks fighting with upper management to sign off on, your feature list is cut down to the publisher's "must haves" and they refuse to budge... well you're kind of screwed. There is little any project manager can do in some situations, regardless of skill.

While not a universal truth, PM mature companies tend to put themselves in that position much less often, when there is buy-in from upper management down to line workers you tend to avoid a good number of the pitfalls that kill projects.

I used a lot of words there just to say that I agree, it is not always the fault of any given project manager/producer that a project fails or underperforms, even when the reasons are project management related.

** I apologize to everyone for calling them assets, but that's the vernacular, folks. I know it rubs some people the wrong way.

I also get a chuckle out of the fact that the spell checker for the comment box (which I love) identifies Gamasutra as an incorrect spelling. :-p

Reid Kimball
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Good point on the "ninja tweaking". It's so easy to be pressured to make those tweaks when your boss asks if you are committed to making the best game possible. I haven't always been good about this, but my ideal version of myself would say, "Of course, that's why I need the time to implement the changes properly."

@Danny & Mark

Also agree. There needs to be more flexibility in those "must have" lists. Half the time the reviews come out and one of the "must have" items gets ripped to shreds.

Benjamin Marchand
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@ Reid

Love your "ideal me" philosophy ;) Yeah, it's hard to create a confrontation against higher authority. Happily, once we are not afraid of it anymore, it can turn situations in way better harmony than before :)

(PM knowing the problem precisely + technician not being frustrated)


I understand it's not easy for PM to work things out when they're not the decision maker. But actually, PM are higher paid than technician for a reason : they carry the whole responsibility.

In most crunch cases I experienced, if technicians do their work correctly, the problem comes from PM not being able to carry the responsibility of convincing his higher authorities to push deadlines further.

I insist on "most cases", indeed ;) And I admit that Project Manager is a very rude work ...