For those of you who are interested in getting an insider’s perspective on how game developers approach the fine-tuning of their workflow, the third instalment of our Gem Webinar Series will provide you with a candid abundance of insight.
We were lucky to be joined by Richard Rispoli and Guillaume Boucher-Vidal (CEOs of B2TGame and Nine Dots Studios, respectively), two Quebec-based independent developers who spoke at length about the challenges, best practices, and idiosyncrasies of organizing teams and executing projects within the gaming space.
Richard and Guillaume’s collective experience spans multiple genres and production tiers, from short-cycle app games to open-world experiences. For those of you who were unable to catch the webinar live, no worries: we’ve uploaded the entire one hour conversation for you to view at your leisure.
The key takeaways from Richard and Guillaume’s insights are in keeping with our latest E-Guide, particularly the importance of adaptability. It’s not just making sure that your toolset is up to the task of handling collaboration and change, but also your philosophical approach to team management. In short, methodology shouldn’t become the enemy of productivity.
Further to this, Richard and Guillaume also touched on how keeping your team (and yourself) engaged, informed, and capable of handling sudden change doesn’t just keep things efficient, it also lessens the impact of the dreaded crunch.
What is crunch? As gaming industry veteran Kate Edwards puts it, crunch is “unmitigated overwork” – a productivity and morale-killing working atmosphere that should be painfully familiar to anyone who trades in tight deadlines and complicated deliverables.
We caught up with Kate after the webinar to ask her to explain what crunch is, why it hurts, and how an optimized workflow can prevent it from taking root in your company:
What Is Crunch?
Crunch is an approach to production whereby companies require their employees to work extended hours beyond the “normal” work day in order to achieve a specific deadline or milestone in the project. While crunch isn’t unique to the game industry, there has been a perception that’s developed over time that crunch is an acceptable way to produce a game. In most other industries, crunch would be referred to as “poor project management”, and indeed most game developer view the lack of project management skills as a primary reason why crunch occurs. It’s also fed by rampant feature creep and the unwillingness of management to draw a line on what really must be done to ship a game versus what would be “nice” to finish.
Crunch is essentially the opposite of what some call creative “groove” or “flow”, where developers find themselves in a very productive creativity mode and so they may work extended hours at their own will. But that’s typically a brief, punctuated cycle, compared to top-down crunch mandated by a company that often forces game creators to work extended hours for weeks or even months at a time – resulting in not seeing their partners or families, and sacrificing a healthy work/life balance.
Why Is It Bad?
Sustained crunch can have serious effects on individuals, both physically and mentally. In a large study of 4 US-based companies, productivity losses related to fatigue were estimated to cost the employers $1,967/employee each year, whereas it’s also been shown that depression annually costs U.S. employers $44 billion in just lost productivity alone.
These effects are so critical that the International Game Developers Association
(IGDA) partnered with TakeThis.org to produce a white paper on the topic, entitled “Crunch Hurts”, which was released in 2016. I encourage everyone in the industry – but especially management – to read this document as it provides key insights on what companies can do to change their practices and policies to better accommodate employees and respect them as creative professionals – and not burn them out.
On this latter point, the IGDA annual developer survey data shows that the primary reasons people leave the game industry (often after only ~5 years), is because they were burned out, wanted a better quality of life, and/or found a job with better pay and hours.
How Can Teams Avoid Crunch?
First and foremost, companies need to accept the reality of their crunch practices and be willing to change their approach – not only to project management but also to viewing their employees as human beings and not cogs in a machine. Crunch practices include insidious problems like poor or unrealistic project planning and management, feature creep, understaffed teams, and so forth. Management needs to be bold enough to say “no” to extending the scope of projects without any real evidence that supports the conclusion that such extension will really improve the outcome of the game.
Secondly, companies need to look across the industry at other studios that maintain solid creative output without the need for crunch – many companies achieve success and create great games without it. This includes companies based in countries, such as Germany, where crunch isn’t allowed due to federal labor laws.
Third, we need to accept a culture where rest – both physical and mental well-being – are as valued in employees as their loyalty, strong work ethic, and passion for creating games. Employees with a healthy work/life balance are ultimately happier and far more productive for the long-term.