Crunch: game development hell


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/10/26/crunch-game-development-hell.html


#2

As someone who has put in over time on a regular basis, I would say ones productivity levels start dropping off after 8-10 hrs. IIRC when Ford put into place their 8 hr work day in the 30s, production went UP.

I can’t imagine a detail based job, where an errant character can break something, wouldn’t also have a drastic drop in productivity due to long hours.

Solution? Hire more people? Wages could be lower if people know they won’t have to participate in “the crunch”,thus more money to hire more people?


#3

Interesting keyboard genre you’ve “discovered” there Rob!

I remember an article from a while back about Microsoft programmers shut in their offices and being fed only things that would fit under their doors during crunch time.

Now, I am questioning whether crunch time at Microsoft meant well, something to do with high heels.


#4


you know nothing of the crunch!


#5

Where did they get all those hooker-boots?

Ohhhh…
…really?


#6

I see that The Mythical Man Month is still not the required reading it should be for anyone who wants to be a tech industry manager. Not that it ever was in gaming, where there are still “EA Spouses” to go along with incompetent managers who don’t grasp the concept of diminishing returns and ironman brogrammers living off Soylent and 2 hrs of sleep per day


#7

Yep, anybody in an industry where

  • developer productivity is known to vary 10x to 25x

  • labor studies of non skilled work show sharp drop offs in efficiency after 35 hour weeks

  • Multiple scandals in the past have shone negative light on your “crunch time” practice

should know that 60+ hour weeks are getting you nowhere.
I am shocked that they are able to hire in today’s market, and amazed that they think that those that are unfortunate enough to work for you are adding value on that Sunday night.
#youaredoingitwrong #gladitsnotme


#8

They need to call it what it really is:

Poor project management.

Stuff happens. I get that. But if it keeps happening and becomes systemic, then it’s a management problem.


#9

Or you know, align the company’s goals with reality?


#10

Game developer here. I keep forgetting that crunch is more common than not. At my last 3 companies, I’ve had the good fortune to avoid crunch, in part because I became a project manager who was also a vocal advocate against crunch.

As has been stated elsewhere in this thread, crunch is a failure of management.

For the majority of my career, most project managers (producers) had little to no development experience. They might have gone to business school or had a degree in marketing, but they generally didn’t know – and didn’t care – how games were made. Oddly enough, that lack of practical experience resulted in unrealistic goals and an inability to forecast. (Whoda thunk it?)

As someone who made the switch from development to management, I found my experience to be fundamental to my understanding of what we could and could not do within a given time frame with our team & tech.

I dunno… I could be wrong. Correlation is not causation, and all that. But I feel like there might be a connection between practical experience and skilled management. I’m just sayin’.


#11

There are so many reasons for ‘crunches’ within creatively driven projects that it’s hard for me to slap a label of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ onto the concept as a whole. For example, the most successful projects I’ve been part of (at a creative or drudge level) have all involved a strong willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone when making “last minute” changes. I’ve hated this, but I’ve also seen projects go down in flames that didn’t get the same treatment.

When you’re looking at something that’s supposed to be a final product, your bottom line has to be the question: will this succeed or fail? And if you come to suspect that it’s likely to fail (or partly fail), then you need to do whatever it takes to change that. Hiring more people isn’t a panacea, because you don’t need them until it comes to crunch time, and when you’re inside the crunch, there’s too much of a learning curve for a large number of new hands to really help.

For the record, I lead a research group, and I have no idea what it’s actually like within a gaming company. Coding is a large part of what we do, but computer code itself is not our product. I’ve also seen unproductive/unnecessary crunches, and I’m strongly opposed to excessive routine overtime.

Post-note: Our crunches aren’t as bad as those described in the OP. For ‘crunches’ that go beyond a couple of days, we always have the luxury of forfeiting our deadlines and settling back into a regular sleep schedule.


#12

Totally agree, albeit in my limited experience, the best managers know how the sausage is made.


#13

#14

A maxim worth noting is that nobody remembers when software ships late, but everybody remembers when what was shipped was bad.

I’ve been in many crunch times through my career and it’s almost always due to poor project management and goal setting.


#15

Crunch means you are trying to fit a fixed feature set into a fixed time frame, which may or may not even be possible. Otherwise, there are basically two kinds of management practices. Set the deadline and cut features to match it, if necessary, or set the features and adjust the deadline if necessary. Actually, either of these can go way wrong, too. I have seen project deadline slippages measured in years, for example.


#16

There’s been a lot of research into this. Labor studies show drop-offs (and reductions in total productivity) of productivity at the usual game developer working hours; once they start getting into crunch, things get really counter-productive. In the game industry, the thinking is, and I’ve heard this straight-out from co-workers, that since game developers are salary workers not being paid overtime, the more hours you can get from them, the more efficient the company is being. The reality is a story that I hear over and over from game companies: the game development is running behind schedule, so they institute crunch and it gets more behind, so they enact more crunch time (like no time off at all, 18+ hour workdays for a year+ at a time), and things get really behind. (Also the developers all get sick, divorced, etc.) The practice is so common that apparently no one notices how completely backwards the whole thing is, how badly they’re just screwing themselves.
Ironically a solution to all this may just be: work fewer hours (and have more realistic schedules and feature expectations).

The game industry managers have traditionally just been the workers most willing to put up with long hours and abusive labor practices long enough to advance to management - they don’t have any training or knowledge relevant to managing, in my experience.

It is, it totally is. It’s also a toxic culture based on teenage enthusiasms and an idea that developers are lucky to be making games and should be fueled by pure passion that means they want to be doing it 20 hours a day. Amazingly, it’s worse in Asia - I’ve read stories from Japanese developers talking about how they never even went home to sleep, cat-napping at their desks and going home once a week just to get new clothes.

Huh. I’ve seen a lot of managers who were developers - developers who came into the industry with expectations of long hours, and were the ones who actually were willing to put up with that long enough to advance into management (whereas their peers who weren’t, burnt out and left the industry). So they might have had realistic notions of how long things would take, but they also had completely internalized the idea of working obscene hours to get things done (even when the obscene working hours had the opposite effect, in reality).


#17

There are many crunch defenders (ranging from ‘cant be done otherwise’ to ‘some people can stand it and flourish in it’), but the data is very clear - https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PaulTozour/20150120/234443/The_Game_Outcomes_Project_Part_4_Crunch_Makes_Games_Worse.php


#18

Honestly, it wouldn’t matter. Management believes what it wants to believe - about crunch time, about open offices, about whatever. Even when you give them a towering stack of 80 years of data they will tell you that this time is different.

A big part of this is the involvement of a third party - if it’s just your company making a game, then you don’t need to crunch much. You might do a couple late nights on a run-up to E3, but in general everyone is healthy and rested going in. And truly voluntary overtime for a short time - you doing something just because you really want to, and stopping when you know it isn’t helping - is a much different thing mentally and physically than extended enforced crunch.

But now you get EA involved. Management made a deal with the devil, scheduled badly, and now you have to get this build to EA on October 31 or nobody gets paid. And EA would love for you to miss the deadline as an excuse to make demands. Now it’s crunch time - and frankly, management doesn’t care if what’s delivered is crappy as long as something, anything that technically meets the deliverables list is delivered on the date (much like dealing with an Indian outsourcing firm). Of course now you’ve burned out all your people and the next deadline starts looming… good thing there’s an endless supply of optimistic young kids to run through the thresher!


#19

Yeah, and fuck those.


#20

Crunch is also a huge barrier to employee diversity in the big-budget triple-a game industry–it may “work” for healthy young men, but women (who are generally burdened with more household management labor), parents (particularly mothers), people with chronic illnesses or disabilities? People who age out of their 20s and are no longer able to function on 3 hours of sleep (snatched in your car while it’s still parked in the studio lot) six nights a week? Who have aging/ailing parents that need care? The toxic working conditions are definitely a factor in keeping the workforce incredibly homogeneous.

But the industry remains entirely un-unionized. I remember reading a few years ago that the average amount of time an employee spends in the industry (not one job, the entire industry) before leaving it is five years.