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July 2, 2020
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Breaking the Crunch Cycle in the Video Game Industry

by Antonio Torres on 10/18/19 10:38:00 am

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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.


The video game industry has a well-documented problem – known as ‘’crunch”. Crunch is status quo for the video game industry and just about every video game ever produced has required the sacrifice of countless hours of free time to meet deadlines. 

Take This is a not-for-profit that addresses mental health problems in the game industry. It recently announced a working group made up of five different games companies. Human resources leaders from the companies will work with the not-for-profit on addressing excesses in the game industry. 

In a year’s time, TakeThis hopes to come up with a report including examples of companies who have attempted to implement solutions. Could using the best HRMS software perhaps provide one of the ways to help break the crunch cycle?

What is crunch?

Crunch comes in many different forms, varying based on the type of game, scale of a team, the contracts, amount of money and other factors. For the people who work on the games, it may be just for the few weeks at the end of a project or drawn out over a long period – but it is always there. In a survey, the International Game Developers Association found that 81% of the developers they polled had crunched during the previous two years. 

Game developers tell stories about sleeping nights in the office, losing relationships, and having to work endless unpaid overtime hours. Some are driven away from the industry altogether by crunch.

Crunch is unsustainable 

Developers may not think crunch is good, but many of them still believe it is a necessary evil. Many producers and directors also see it as a natural part of game development. 

They use it as a way to cut costs and make ambitious games on a short schedule. However, the detriments of crunch are becoming increasingly obvious to outsiders - the reliance on crunch hurts more than it helps. 

Not many studies have been done to prove this, but in a study by a group called The Game Outcomes Project, it was found that mandatory crunch led to less successful games

What was found that crunch made games worse and what made games extraordinary were other factors, such as team cohesion, focus, a compelling direction, risk management and many other factors that enhance team effectiveness. 

It won’t be easy to break the cycle

Making games is a messy, creative process. It is often difficult to figure out how long it might take to finish a task. Even if a project manager is dedicated to avoiding crunch, estimating how long a programmer will take to finish a certain task or long, a narrative designer will take to write a scene can be difficult. 

Projects have so many variables and unknowns and crunch can be caused by so many different reasons, such as a seemingly arbitrary shipping date.

Avery Wong, the cofounder of Critical Bacon, a mobile game studio, believes there is exploitation in the industry. Game developers tolerate crunch time because their passion for making games drives them, not so much the money. 

They know there are countless other developers wanting to get into the industry and take their place. That passion, as well as the insular nature of the industry, helps to perpetuate crunch. 

Maintaining a balance

Crunch manifests in countless different ways and those attempting to dismantle crunch culture, even in small ways, need support. Recognizing the problem is the first step towards finding solutions and there are no easy answers. It is a delicate balance of getting people to maintain a healthy balance between life and work, while also being passionate about a project. 

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