The Vicious Culture of Crunch

Lots of game developers keep their identity anonymous when it comes to talking or sharing their personal experience about Crunch. I find it troubling If you think you can lose your job because you disagree with a subject that is widely despised by most game developers. If a studio or the industry in general has nothing to hide, then why this whole dogma around this matter ? Something is broken, and we all know it.

It seems as if the video game industry has taken for granted the soul crushing "Crunch methodology" and that it is now part of its culture. For those who are not familiar with this term; it is usually when a game is about 3 to 8 months (or even more) prior to being shipped, the company or studio makes it mandatory for everyone to stay late (8pm and later) and to also come on the weekends to meet a deadline/ship date. Breaking news like this is delivered in the form of an Email or a Company Meeting where they try to convince you that this is a necessary evil and that somehow they are doing you a favor by ordering food IF you stay past 7pm. "Guys, we are going to work you to the ground and suck the life out of you, BUT guess what! YOU get pizza, YOU get pizza, EVERYBODY gets PIZZA!!"

Joking aside, that is how it goes in lots of studios, and what is more frustrating to me is when I hear desperate students who are trying to get into the industry say that they won't mind crunching, they are so clueless and hungry to work for a video game company that they are willing to say anything to please whoever could be a potential employer, and by doing so lowering their quality of life, ours(Game Devs) and the industry standards as a whole.

We've all heard the horror stories that came from big studios like EA (EA Spouse Case) a few years ago,  and more recently Rockstar San Diego and Team Bondi. And these are only some of the few cases that got out. 

To me, crunching is a failure, a failure in communication between Management and Production where someone along the way said "Yes, we can get all this done by this date" and where the rest of the team gets to pay the price for that uncalculated decision. OR, it's an imposed decision on production by management for more "Money Making" reasons. Not to play the blame game here but both parties are responsible. Upper management can't just come up with random dates to fit some agenda and production shouldn't just accept what is thrown at it. 

What's ridiculous about this type of strategy is that it does create results, mediocre ones and sometimes very good ones. But that comes with a hefty price tag for the studio, and I'm not talking money here. What this does is burn the creative juice out of everyone and creates a toxic tension within the studio that results in lots of stress and resentment. The moral of the studio is low and lots of people end up leaving the studio because they physically and emotionally can't do it anymore. So the studio ships out their game, and at the same time they ship out some valuable talent with it.

You know, Passion for what I do is what got me where I am right now, and it's also why I still do what I do, except that now I take this matter very seriously and I make sure I am heard. I'm bringing this up because "Passion" is thrown around a lot when this taboo subject is brought up. But you know what? Even your passion will fizzle out down the road when you are constantly burned out, not treated respectfully and taken advantage of.

I believe studios can get around crunch if they take into consideration:

  • Setting realistic dates for every department with buffer

  • Keeping everyone informed about the status of the project and where it's heading

  • Outsourcing or Hiring contractors to help with the final push
  • If project gets bigger, HIRE more people
  • Not being greedy

Some studios take pride in never having to Crunch or keeping crunch to a minimum but with some kind of a compensation either in a form of a Bonus, Overtime and/or Extra vacation time. So if other studios are going towards this "more" noble route, what is stopping the others from doing it ?

Personally, what I believe needs to happen, is a global awakening within the industry where people say enough is enough and take a stand against this kind of abuse and hopefully this term and all that is associated with it will be long-forgotten.

You do realize what you’re doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it’s not just them you’re hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?
— EA Spouse

Wishing you the best in your career,

Mouhsine Adnani,