Podcast: When Is 'Crunch' OK?

Podcast: When Is 'Crunch' OK?

Is mandatory overtime an integral part of game development or a systemic issue that should be completely eliminated? Where would you even start? On today's episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, industry veteran Matthew Burns (Destiny, Halo) joins us to talk about the nuances of "crunch" — game parlance for forced unpaid overtime — and how it fits into game development.

Last weekend, DirectX co-creator Alex St John wrote a Venturebeat article lambasting game developers who complain about wages and hours, writing, among other things, "You need to get an actual job producing productivity software if you want to be paid 'fairly' and go home at 5pm." The article was widely derided, triggering a number of conversations about work-life balance and how the game industry treats its workers.

Like many issues in gaming, crunch has a lot of nuance. There are different types of crunch, different reasons for crunch, and different approaches to crunch. In short, as we point out on this week's show, there are no easy answers surrounding an issue like this. (For an in-depth look at crunch, see our feature from last year.)

Today's Splitscreen — which you can find on iTunes or directly right here (mp3 link here) — also talks some Disgaea, some Division and the hypothetical Dark Souls MMORPG we'd all love to play.

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Top: E3 photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Sony Computer Entertainment America


    I feel that crunch time is a reflection on poorly managed time/project.

      It can be but I think that's a bad way of looking at it. Progress on large, long term group projects, particularly game/software development projects, isn't as predictable as it might seem. Delays cause delays. Simple tasks get complicated. Stuff happens when it's all in motion that you can't plan for.
      You might give a programmer a six days for a task that will take three, but then someone working on a required asset for those systems quits and not only does the programming job get held up for the two weeks it takes to replace that person, but everyone who was depending on that piece of programming being done by Friday has to find other stuff to do. You take a person off a task to get programming started, but then you cause a delay that will be felt further down the chain.
      Yes, management should be able to minimize the impact of these things but I don't think it's fair to say that they must have done a poor job of it simply because there was a crunch at the end. They're taking a very long time frame and a budget that doesn't spread well and then trying to use those to get a team of people to coordinate enough to build an extremely complicated device.

    You know Kotaku, I got to interview the guys from Harebrained Schemes, specifically Mitch Gitelman for my facebook page around a year ago now, just before Shadowrun Hong Kongs kickstarter launched (coulda been slightly longer??). Great guy. He brought up the point that working for himself, he no longer was required to endure shit like this. Having extra freedom made for a happier, more beneficial workplace where less stress made for greater freedom and creativity. I'd really be interested in seeing you interview a bunch of Early Access developers, such as the ARK guys, DAYZ developers, RUST developers etc and ask them about the lack of necessity for 'crunch' as opposed to a publisher breathing down their neck?

    Last edited 22/04/16 8:51 pm

    When Is 'Crunch' OK?

    When it's self-inflicted, usually because you're self-employed and you've been procrastinating for way too long

    When it is used to describe the texture of a chocolate bar or breakfast cereal and pretty much only then.

    Definitely not to be used to describe the degradation of an employee to a cog in a machine so overworked without routine maintenance or downtime whose poor performance affects those working closely with them and ultimately negatively impacts on the greater goal. Crunch is an archaic work methodology that will ruin good employees and stifle creativity.

    Incidentally Jim Sterling also tackled this same issue the other day.

      Yeah that was easily one of his best videos in years. Well thought out, lacked a lot of his usual overreactions and really explored the matter in a concise manner. Highly informative.

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