“Crunch trades short-term gains for long-term suffering,”
October 26, 2017 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Video Games Are Destroying the People Who Make Them by Jason Schreier [The New York Times] “Among video game developers, it’s called “crunch”: a sudden spike in work hours, as many as 20 a day, that can last for days or weeks on end. During this time, they sleep at work, limit bathroom breaks and cut out anything that pulls their attention away from their screens, including family and even food. Crunch makes the industry roll — but it’s taking a serious toll on its workers.” [Previously.]

• Why I worship crunch: An industry veteran tackles a controversial subject by Walt Williams [Polygon]
“C r u n c h. One of the most loathed words in our industry. It’s that period of time in which a team must tighten their belts, buckle down, and work more than the standard forty-hour work week. During crunch, it’s not uncommon to work ten- to twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Crunch can last a week. It can last six months. It drains you, literally sucks your life away. Time flies by, and you have no idea where it went because you were locked in a dim room for a month, surviving on lattes and Cheetos, the pale glow of your monitor mirroring the fading light in your eyes. [...] When I think about Crunch, my heart races. It only takes an instant for my eyes to drift off into that thousand-yard stare, and then it all comes rushing back. My head goes all swimmy, like I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours. My tongue dries up, aching for the disgustingly sweet taste of Red Bull. My mouth wants to rage and howl and spit until designers and directors alike bow to my creative will. All hail Crunch.”
• 76% of game developers still labor under crunch conditions by Dean Takahashi [Venture Beat]
“Three out of four game developers still work crunch time, or extended hours, according to new data from the latest International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS). And of those, about a third do not receive paid overtime for their work. The survey shows that more than 76 percent of video game industry professionals report work weeks periodically exceeding 40 hours each year. IGDA executive director Kate Edwards said in an interview with GamesBeat that the percentage is down since the IGDA began doing periodic surveys in 2004. “But it’s still not a good number,” Edwards said. “The fact is that crunch is still so prevalent.” Sixty-five percent of respondents indicated their jobs involved crunch time. Meanwhile, an additional 32 percent of those who did not “crunch” asserted they were still required to work periods of protracted hours or extended overtime. Despite this, 89 percent of the sample did not receive paid overtime but rather perks like meals, future time off … or simply nothing at all.”
• Crunch Culture Is Never Just About Individual Choice by Cameron Kunzelman [Waypoint]
“He also tells us that "it's natural to wish things weren't this way, but it won't change anything." The conditions of work, the organization of humans in relationship to the things they build, and the corporations that manage that building process are all left out of this "natural process." The implication here is that, whether you have Williams's addictive relationship to crunch or not, you might as well just shut the hell up and get on with crunching, because that's what it's going to take. Williams might not be celebrating crunch, but he is legitimating it, and even if he doesn't feel that way, that's what the essay (even with the context of his Twitter follow up) does. The final paragraphs are meant to function as stark honesty in relation to the manic illustrations of the middle of the essay. Williams tells us that "we can accomplish almost anything, but only if we're willing to pay the price" before patiently explaining that "it may not be fair, and it definitely won't be the same price quoted to someone else, but it will still need to be paid."”
• Crunched: has the games industry really stopped exploiting its workforce? by Ian G Williams [The Guardian]
“Sometimes it seems like managers and producers almost get addicted to crunch. If they’re able to get their team to go above and beyond to finish an important project on time or early, it can make the team and manager look better. That success leads to more responsibility, more projects and more political capital, which can require more crunch time to complete. I’ve had to fight pretty hard with managers and directors to reject work so that co-workers and I don’t burn out. The pressure comes from consumer expectations, as well. With development budgets ballooning, failure can be catastrophic, so the temptation can be to pack in more features – more cool stuff – to appease the demanding audience. This leads to the twin spectres of crunch and layoffs, as studios grow to accommodate ambitious ideas, then downsize or collapse when the resulting game fails to make a profit.”
posted by Fizz (99 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Crunch mode is ubiquitous in the software industry, pretty much. Starts in university with all the kids in the lab doing an all-nighter to crank out their project right before it is due. Then it becomes the culture once they move to industry.

Gaming is a bit more insidious because people want to go write games - a high supply of willing (to be exploited) workers :(

Some companies exploit it more than others, and then rationalize it all away (both management and the worker bees).
posted by k5.user at 8:04 AM on October 26 [11 favorites]


This is definitely not just games. I've experienced it at nearly all of my tech jobs, except for my current one. It's toxic and horrible.
posted by odinsdream at 8:08 AM on October 26 [13 favorites]


(don't abuse edit): I recall a friend at Microsoft saying they (MSFT the company) realized crunch mode is counter-progress/diminishing-to-negative returns during (I think) NT 3.5. Bug rates stagnated (or went up, because a fix introduced new bugs because a dev wasn't mentally on top of it) when they were doing 10-12 hr days over 7-day workweeks.

I wonder if that's why there are launch-day 2 gig patches for most all AAA games now. The devs get it to RTM/ship-it, take some time off, then come back to fix all the bugs they introduced getting it to ship before the game finally launches.
posted by k5.user at 8:09 AM on October 26 [11 favorites]


I'll have to agree that it's pretty universal in the computer field. My current job (unionized!) is the only one that's allowed me a 40-hour work week.
posted by SPrintF at 8:09 AM on October 26


Crunch is not that universal in other areas of development. I have on very, very rare occasions worked a single late night here and there, but usually because, like, I was trying to finish something before taking several days off for a conference. But that might be the difference between "development" and "the software industry". I work in one but not the other, unless you take the really loose view that most industry now is software-driven.

Boring corporate jobs have their advantages. Most of the people I know in similar positions also knock off at least close to 5-6pm and don't routinely have to work weekends. Not necessarily strictly 40 hours, but also not this kind of madness. I do a lot of training stuff in my evenings, but at home, on my own schedule, and for my benefit, not my employer's. I don't mind doing a little overtime here and there, for what I make, but I'd object strenuously to having to do so routinely and for weeks or longer at a time. It'd be more exciting to be able to say I was a game developer, but I'm pretty happy right now with explaining to people that I work on a boring mostly-CRUD internal testing tool but that the great part about my job is that there are almost never any emergencies.
posted by Sequence at 8:15 AM on October 26 [14 favorites]


Video games also seem to have a feature that to my knowledge is absent from a lot of other software: it's not uncommon for huge chunks of the workforce to get laid off after the game is shipped (particularly if it wasn't the blockbuster the studio was expecting. See, for example, Volition laying off a ton of people after Agents of Mayhem had both middling views and sales).

So you burn your ass out working and then suddenly you're unemployed.

Maybe this is less common in games than I think (or more common in non-game development).
posted by dismas at 8:17 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


It's normal in the ad biz too—that's one reason I became a freelancer, making a third the money but keeping my sanity and getting to make my own hours. Getting a free car-service ride home at 2 AM was not worth it. When will American workers stop accepting that they have to do whatever management wants in order to maximize profits (and not even getting a share of the profits)? Bring back the Wobblies!
posted by languagehat at 8:18 AM on October 26 [33 favorites]


Crunch is another aspect of the wider, grotesque tech culture of arrested development. It's part of the same scheme that provides free lunch and snacks, that encourages employees to drink and hang out with each other in their free off time. It's "work hard, play hard". It's college life, forever. It doesn't actually do anyone any good, but that's the cult part of culture.

If you're in a job like this, talk about it to your managers and coworkers. Try to shift it. I know too many people in tech in their forties now who are just starting to figure out that they've been frozen in cultural and emotional amber for the past twenty years.
posted by phooky at 8:18 AM on October 26 [41 favorites]


I hesitate to say that it's universal -- I've worked for ~15 years as a full-time software developer, and I have mostly avoided it. However, my focus has been in healthcare-related work, which tends to have more adults in the room. I've managed a pretty reasonable work-life balance. It turns out yes, you can just go home and the project will not explode (though I've certainly had co-workers who still tried to work ridiculous hours).

That being said:

I view crunch time in software development as a manifestation of the myopia of those who think they're always the smartest person in the room. The field is full of book-smart people who think they're totally rational actors (oh god, the libertarian streak!) and cannot fathom that no, seriously, you're being taken advantage of. They're working 60+ hour weeks because they're so badass and smart, you see.

They're so badass and smart that they can't possibly be being tricked into working more hours for less pay via some really basic ego-stroking and false urgency, no sir.
posted by tocts at 8:20 AM on October 26 [35 favorites]


Crunch mode is ubiquitous in the software industry, pretty much.

This is not true. Extra hours? Sure. Living in the office? No.

When I worked on slot machines, half the engineers were trying to get into video games - and the other half considered themselves to have escaped them.

I work in finance now. If a thing breaks in the middle of the night, you have to respond. But if someone told me that I needed to work 12 hour days to hit a date, my boss would tell them to fuck off before I could.

You can't even realistically be productive at dev work for more than 6-8 hrs a day. Past that you're just introducing bugs to create more churn.

It is entirely possible for tech to be driven by external time constraints and also not burn out devs by design.
posted by PMdixon at 8:22 AM on October 26 [30 favorites]


I think some years ago there was a study on which software development areas had the shortest careers, and videogames were ahead by a ridiculous amount. I think most were under four or five years (which is likely a project or two) before moving to something else.
I guess in a way, working in videogames is not at all unlike the NFL. Exploit childhood dreams, and replace the ones burned out by 16-hour crunch weeks with the next batch of starry-eyed graduates unaware of the conditions, or willing to work under them.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:24 AM on October 26 [15 favorites]


My first games industry job, we were in crunch for six months. At the time I was single and childless, so it was okay. Except that it wasn't. It really wasn't. I got no OT for all that work, no one paid for my late night dinners or the meals I had to order out because I didn't have time to cook, no one compensated me for the vacations I didn't take. And in the end, the game we worked on got canned, cut up, and sold for parts. I never saw a dime for my efforts. I never experienced the satisfaction of having people play my game.

My second (and current) industry job is better, and has been doing better to reduce crunch. First year I was here it was brutal, and after that it seemed like we learned our lesson. My teams very rarely crunch. When we do, it's almost always my fault -- as the planner, if I have failed to allocate for some feature that is absolutely required for an immovable date, then that's on me. Non-salaried get compensated with OT. Meals are provided. Product ships.

But most of the time I get to work at 9, leave at 6, and no one bats an eye. About 2-3 times a year something comes up that forces me to stay late, or to work from home after dinner. It's an aberration, and my bosses and I all work to mitigate these occurrences. When I had my son last year, I got 4 months of leave and my entire department -- top to bottom -- strongly encouraged me to take it. I didn't think about work the entire time.

So, not everyone worships on that altar, and as a PM I am firm with my people they should not work OT. Some of them still do because they enjoy what they're working on, and it's like a hobby for them. I try my best to set the tone, though, and to encourage a culture where coming and going at a reasonable hour is the norm, not the exception.
posted by offalark at 8:24 AM on October 26 [15 favorites]


Crunch mode is ubiquitous in the software industry, pretty much.

It is an I would say a fairly natural consequence of working towards the final release of a project. Back in my single carefree days I would even say it's not too bad - everyone mucks in with a sense of cakeradery to get the job done.

(I was dumber then with less obligations)

Game dev crunch though? That never actually ends. That's not mucking in to get things done, that's permenant exploitative working conditions.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


Ha, it's amazing to see people who have managed to get themselves WORSE deals than Biglaw and finance juniors. At least the firms pay for meals and cars home and (in law) sheer time logged is usually reflected in an end of year bonus. All these genius developers, trading their lives for Red Bull.

Also: you. are. making. video. games. not. curing. cancer. develop. some. actual. life. priorities.
posted by praemunire at 8:27 AM on October 26 [19 favorites]


It's the peril of getting a job that is "fun", I guess.
posted by Artw at 8:27 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


I don't know what cakeradery is, but I want to.
posted by Horkus at 8:28 AM on October 26 [17 favorites]


Not uncommon in the non-profit world, and certainly part of the culture of the pre-bubble web world.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:28 AM on October 26


I used to be the Manager of Information Systems at a marketing company... one time some of our production team were bragging about working 23 billable hours in a day, like it was a good thing.... both I and the head of the accounting department thought that was crazy, and definitely NOT a thing to brag about, rather the result of poor planning.

I guess this happens everywhere, sometimes on an industrial scale. Sad.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:29 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]


Poor kids are perfect targets for abuse, games are their dream job, and they come from a context where procrastinating and then pulling an all nighter is normalized. (College.)
posted by Horkus at 8:30 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Ha, it's amazing to see people who have managed to get themselves WORSE deals than Biglaw and finance juniors.

Way, way worse. I've heard starting salary numbers for game developers that're entirely on the other side of that legal bimodal distribution. Nobody in game dev is starting making $160k, as far as I know. Imagine not getting the perks AND not getting the salary.
posted by Sequence at 8:30 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


I don't know what cakeradery is, but I want to.

Like camaraderie, but instead of high morale you get burnout.

And cake.
posted by fifthrider at 8:31 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


If anything, Crunch is a natural occurrence brought on by the creative process. Driven by passion, artists give themselves entirely to their art. When art exists in a collaborative medium, Crunch will always deal collateral damage. How much damage you personally sustain will always be inversely related to your investment in the project.

Oh, for the love of fuck, no. If you find this happening to you, it's not "the creative process", it's that you never learned to set boundaries for yourself.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:31 AM on October 26 [42 favorites]


During my recent prolonged bout of unemployment, one of the interviews I got was for a local game company. I'd applied just to apply for something, really (because I'd been out of work for a long time, and you gotta swing at every ball). It was a grueling two-hour ordeal of an interview that made me realize that I wasn't quite suited for the environment or for game work in general. I was a little disappointed at the time, both because I missed out on a job and because it was only twenty minutes from my then-house, but in hindsight I think I really dodged a bullet. The atmosphere in the building seemed a little...crunch-y. I didn't quite see people sleeping under desks, but the vibe was there.

Now I work doing software development for a university. The money's not as good, but I work 35-40 hours a week, and the only time there's anything approaching overtime is during upgrade periods outside of term times. All of my coworkers are roughly in my age range, and the work/life balance is amazingly sane. I think I got really, really lucky.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:35 AM on October 26 [7 favorites]


It's questionable that it should happen at all, but it's not supposed to be an ongoing permenant condition.

/says the guy with a web dev job, a writing job, and kids, and a crisis going on with one of those at any given moment.
posted by Artw at 8:36 AM on October 26


it's that you never learned to set boundaries for yourself.

Or for setting boundaries for others, specifically the workplace. Letting your work know that you are a human and there are going to be moments where your time is your time and not theirs.

What's scary is that I know a lot of people fear for their job security and this is why they do not speak up when they feel like their work place is overstepping and demanding more than they should be demanding.
posted by Fizz at 8:37 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


Oh good lord not the "it's art!" derail. Good lord fuck all of this. This behavior nearly killed me, literally. I had just barely enough sense, combined with a lot of loving, supportive people in my life, and sadly importantly some financial independence, to quit my job that was killing me. I will never forget that lunch with my bosses: "I can't do the job you're asking of me any more, I am leaving."

I got out. Because I was damn lucky and privileged. Most people don't. And it's fucked up.
posted by odinsdream at 8:37 AM on October 26 [26 favorites]


They're so badass and smart that they can't possibly be being tricked into working more hours for less pay via some really basic ego-stroking and false urgency, no sir.

but there's also a selection process: only a certain kind of "smart" person is going to go along with this kind of work relationship. you don't see the people who quit and every industry has a "up or out" dynamic, where the only way to survive is to get promoted. so you don't see the people who get promoted either. or you are the person who got promoted. but there's nothing natural about social darwinism...

if you want to go a thousand feet up you can ask how this selection process changed the industry over long periods. it's really interesting to see how the sociology of computer programming has changed (in the US) since 1965, which then feeds back into the product itself. especially with 'cultural products,' like games, the product is very much determined by what sort of person does the work.
posted by I hate nature. at 8:39 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Gaming is a bit more insidious because people want to go write games - a high supply of willing (to be exploited) workers :(


I think it goes with being young. VFX houses are similarly full of excited young people being worked to death and loving it (until they don't).

I've made certain the up and coming programmers in my life know full story, and two of them are planning on going into the game industry anyway. Their argument is that a) they're young with no responsibilities, b) professional experience is professional experience, and c) they really really want to work on games.

Who knows? Maybe it's a rite of passage, like the ridiculous hours medical interns work.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:40 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


It's a selection for a young obligation free demographic that can maybe afford to not be paid for a bit or sleep under a desk as well, which has consequences in terms of who actually gets to make mass culture.
posted by Artw at 8:44 AM on October 26 [14 favorites]


There's a study from 2010 claiming that 70% of game programmers had been in the industry for less than six years. Experienced people must be going somewhere....
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 AM on October 26


I'm wondering if the churn of workers and the lack of institutional knowledge is part of why we keep seeing The Eternal Sequel that is a mixture of shoot-mans and use interesting/re-skinned mechanic for environmental interaction. No one knows how to make anything else in the allotted time.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:45 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


I have not worked one hour of overtime -- paid or unpaid -- since leaving the computer game industry four years ago and going to (structural/mechanical) engineering software.

I am still bitter about the (100% unpaid) crunch time, "emergency" cancelled vacations because of performance issues caused by poor choice of demo hardware for trade shows, empty promises of some kind of reward for all the extra work, etc.

I think I stuck with it as long as I did because I was literally afraid to try to change jobs.
posted by Foosnark at 8:46 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Absent a strong union and a federal government that protects union rights, this is yet another crabs in a bucket situation. No individual participant has the power to change the expectations of management, nor do any of them want to fall behind their peers. "Crunch time" should be considered a failure of planning for which PMs / senior management are held accountable for -- instead, they're increasingly built into the schedule and expectations. At that point, if you've already squeezed your staff for 110% or 120% at the end why not 150%? Why not 200%? And pretty soon that becomes the baseline.

I'm fortunate enough to have a development job where "crunch time" rarely happens -- I think in 12 years here I've had six or seven times where I've had to do late nights and some weekend work to catch up -- and in some of those cases it was definitely me procrastinating when I could have probably gotten things done sooner. Nonetheless, there's no guarantee that I'll be so lucky for the rest of my career. I would strongly support mandatory time-and-a-half overtime (on top of base salary) enforced by labor law to turn this into something that becomes management's problem instead of the employee's. Of course that's a fantasy given our political leadership right now, but without it, this crab mentality will only get worse.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:47 AM on October 26 [7 favorites]


> Crunch mode is ubiquitous in the software industry, pretty much.

Web here. Three events in two decades, or twenty-five clients. It's not ubiquitous.

(Two hard deadlines (a conference and a TV show), and one very shonky release we wanted to publish when no-one was watching).
posted by Leon at 8:47 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Software project estimation is the hardest thing about this business. Here's a good analogy why.

Add to that the fact that you're designing the game while you code, and you see there's no real solution to this.

Well, actually, there is one solution: let deadlines slip. In the old days you couldn't let those deadlines go because the shelf space you bribed^H^H^H^Hconsigned with Wal-Mart would be given to another company for the Christmas rush. Now there's less of an excuse with digital content downloads, except for that marketing team that keyed all their promotion to certain launch date.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:48 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


Maybe someone who knows the space better than me can say, but is this to a large part an artifact of the "ship a major release" business model, such as console game companies? Are companies who develop and maintain applications and services that instead rely upon constant incremental revision different?

Apart from that, in all industries long hours are an emergent phenomenon of "seats" being very expensive (essentially, overhead which is linked to headcount, not hours worked, such as benefits, office space, HR staff, IT hardware and support), work and information sharing being very complex (i.e., it would take two people 70 hours to do what one person can do in 60 hours because of the coordination burden), and of course the exempt/non-exempt overtime wage paradigm.
posted by MattD at 8:49 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]


but in hindsight I think I really dodged a bullet.

There was a period when I was very into graphics algorithms, which are just amazing rapidly evolving tech visible to the naked eye, games companies are where a lot of significant (in the scientific sense) graphics tech is rolled out, developed. But yea, tough niche.

Now a week of crunch time, there can be a pretty good case for tying up lots of loose ends right at the end of a deadline, not the core thinking work but just a bunch of stuff that fell off schedules, and heck a week every couple years, folks vacation harder than that. But other than the rare emergency situation, stupid hours are utterly counterproductive. If emergencies are NOT rare, make your devs sleep more.

But it's also the reason some that would love to get great work done getting in before 8am and leaving at 4 give up on that schedule as the hero culture of working late hours can seep in and override perceptions, even when it all comes down... not all that much gets done after 3:30.
posted by sammyo at 8:51 AM on October 26


Maybe someone who knows the space better than me can say, but is this to a large part an artifact of the "ship a major release" business model, such as console game companies?

This is a good observation, IMO. Since web has mostly shifted to incremental sprints, rather than marketing-driven big bangs, everything's been a lot smoother.
posted by Leon at 8:52 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Crunch mode is ubiquitous in the software industry, pretty much.

It's really not. I've been in the software industry for two decades and have had to work significantly more than 40 hours a week less than half a dozen times in those years.
posted by octothorpe at 9:14 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


I'm wondering if the churn of workers and the lack of institutional knowledge is part of why we keep seeing The Eternal Sequel that is a mixture of shoot-mans and use interesting/re-skinned mechanic for environmental interaction. No one knows how to make anything else in the allotted time.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:45 AM on October 26 [1 favorite +] [!]
This is a good point, but the institutional knowledge is aware of exactly what it's doing, the institution in this case being finance, just like the hollywood studio system. Optimize based on a hit, then crank 'em out in bulk, do not deviate from past success.
posted by Horkus at 9:14 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


Scrum/Agile is supposed to eliminate crunch entirely.

Ha.
posted by Artw at 9:17 AM on October 26 [7 favorites]


Monetize Optimize based on a hit, then crank 'em out in bulk, do not deviate from past success.

+ adds Loot Box
posted by Fizz at 9:24 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Scrum/Agile is supposed to eliminate crunch entirely.

Hah.

Allow me to expand on that:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:25 AM on October 26 [12 favorites]


Just adding on to the "no, crunch really is not ubiquitous outside of games" subthread.

I've spent my entire professional life working for the same major software company, and I've spent the last two years on a single product that runs off of release milestones rather than using a service model. We've never done crunch. Instead, we've dropped or significantly reduced the scope of features when our estimates show we're not going to make release.

The closest thing I've ever experienced to crunch on this product was my boss telling me, "This is a really important feature, so if there's anything you need help on don't hestitate to reach out." When I was working on a more service-oriented product, I had to pull some overnighters for deployments or troubleshooting calls, but I was always told to take a day or two off afterwards as compensation.

Crunch is counter-productive, and the enterprise software industry understands this. It's mostly just startups and the game industry that still does crunch. The common thread with those? The company only needs the devs to last until release or IPO. They can get away with treating devs as disposable. Boring enterprise software lives and dies on long-term support, so they need to retain devs: hence, no crunch.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:30 AM on October 26 [18 favorites]


I remember the first time I pulled a late night (2-3 am) and everyone was surprised I was in the next day. Based on my previous experience, I thought it was no big deal and my boss informed me - matter of factly - that we don't want to make working late the norm. So we actually looked at what caused the issue (last minute change from Vendor breaking a bunch of stuff) and solved the institutional problem.

It was such a change from my previous job where we planned to have the schedule screwed over and work late.
posted by TofuGolem at 9:33 AM on October 26 [6 favorites]


Maybe we should stop using the euphemism "crunch" and just call it what it is: "Poor Management."
posted by Uncle Ira at 9:43 AM on October 26 [29 favorites]


There's a lot of talking in the gaming community right now about the death of AAA single player games while the biggest publishers focus on multiplayer experiences where players remain engaged for hundreds of hours (along with the long tail of microtransaction income).

But maybe this is the opportunity to turn the biggest games into something more like enterprise software, where the releases are incremental and the developers remain on the same project for years after it's published. What if Madden, instead of being released every year was a 1-time purchase with purchasable upgrades and roster packs for the lifetime of a console generation. Or every Call of Duty game was in fact made on the same engine/base game with new modes and settings released over the course of years. Notice how Blizzard never made WoW2? I wonder what the crunch expectation is for devs there who work on WoW's expansion packs and special in-game events.

We are talking about EA and Ubisoft and Activision here, so that's not going to happen because the only people there with any sort of long term job stability are the ones who know how to maximize both profit and how much work they can wring from their employees. But if there is a way out of this mess.....
posted by thecjm at 10:03 AM on October 26 [1 favorite]


Crunch time was one of the things I was hoping would be mitigated, if not ended, by the labor law that was recently blocked; it would've changed the max pay for overtime-is-required to $47k/year, about double what it is currently.

I know a lot of programmers make more than that, but it'd mean no more $18/hour-$37k/year salaries being stuck with 14-18 hour days with no overtime.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:05 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Crunch mode is one of the few things I like about doing all my Software Engineering work in the last few years for the Government. At least in the U.S., both federal employees and contractors are strictly limited in the amount of work per day and per week they can do, and the standards for waivers to that are high. That has assisted with stability and work-life balance considerably.
posted by mystyk at 10:09 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]


I've got 12 years as a software engineer under my belt in two industries (defense contracting and healthcare). We've always had set release dates (not incremental updates), and I don't think I've ever worked more than 50 hours a week. I have always been able to take vacation, though I am sometimes asked to coordinate with my teammates. My current boss has made it very clear that he does not want us working overtime regularly. A friend/former coworker recently tried to recruit me to the game shop he just started at, and I literally laughed in his face. He seems happy there (they took everyone to Hawaii for a company retreat!), but I don't think he's been there long enough to see a crunch. I'll be interested to get his perspective once it happens.
posted by natabat at 10:10 AM on October 26 [2 favorites]


It sounded kind of crunchy from the outside* when ArenaNet was gearing up for its two GW2 expansions. But of course an outsider who isn't following along all that closely isn't going to have the most accurate picture.

*what a clause
posted by inconstant at 10:10 AM on October 26


There's a lot of talking in the gaming community right now about the death of AAA single player games

There's not going to be a revolution of game release systems, because while some players are pouring hundreds of hours into multiplayer instead of single-release games, some are leaving the AAA environment altogether - they play indie, buy swarms of games on Steam, play casual mobile games, and so on. Or they play a few games, maybe with friends, and get the rest of their gaming input from let's plays.

The AAA companies want to believe their competition is their economic peers, and adjust strategies accordingly; they don't want to acknowledge that their competition includes itch.io and youtube. There is no strategy for "the customers decided to spend some serious time on another kind of media entirely."

(One major aspect of this: minors can't buy games online. Buying games online means credit cards, and minors are at the mercy of cooperative adults for those. However, itch.io has a lot of free games - so you get internet-based kids who grew up on single-dev or tiny-group-of-friends games, and they look at the AAA games and ask, "how much better is it, really?" And it doesn't matter if the answer is almost always "lots and lots" - the fact that they're asking at all means the major game companies are going to lose sales.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:15 AM on October 26 [3 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: Can't minors purchase Steam/PSN/xbox online gift-cards for cash at game stores, though?
posted by Mr. Excellent at 10:18 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Been there, done that, got several of the t-shirts (literally).

I don't regret the extra work I put in but I was lucky, I got something that looks life fair compensation. The crunch is one thing, and at one point it becomes self defeating, but the compensation for the crunch is often criminally lacking.

We used to do simple games with bad tools and bad reporting that you could crunch you way out of since most issues were simple, you were crunching because the dev environment was so bad.

Now we have awesome reporting and tools (I'm certain that what used to take us 4 months to stabilize we'd do in a week max now), but we do crazy complex games (not always for good reasons), and even if you crunch there are too many moving parts and complexity for a bunch of exhausted developers to fix. And the planning is even worse because its so complex.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 10:34 AM on October 26


Advertising has become ad-tech and it's horrible now. Used to even have PERKS in advertising.

No more.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:37 AM on October 26


But maybe this is the opportunity to turn the biggest games into something more like enterprise software, where the releases are incremental and the developers remain on the same project for years after it's published.

The buzzword is "games as a service". But the games that have been doing it for ages -- MMOs -- generally aren't big money-makers, even when they have yearly expansions at a standard box price.

Ultimately, crunch persists because it's more profitable. Burning out junior devs and then replacing them with other junior devs is the whole point. You don't need to pay junior devs as much, and product quality is almost entirely unrelated to your sales figures unless you fuck up very badly over a long period of time.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:49 AM on October 26 [4 favorites]


Having worked both inside and outside the games industry, I am flabbergasted by the number of comments to the effect of, "Pah. Every software company has crunch!"

1) No, they don't.
2) And not like game companies do.
posted by foldedfish at 11:22 AM on October 26 [10 favorites]


During my time as a AAA developer, I always thought there was a certain machismo/masochism to devs who were working late into the night regularly, which made me worry about their life outside of the office.

Managers need to shut down this sort of self-imposed crunch because it ends up infecting the whole development schedule. There's nothing like getting a solid 8 hours of sleep and coming in in the morning to find that some change submitted at 3am had broken a vital component of a game, or that the folks who were there late still had files I needed to work locked and probably wouldn't be showing up until lunchtime.
posted by subocoyne at 11:48 AM on October 26 [5 favorites]


There's a study from 2010 claiming that 70% of game programmers had been in the industry for less than six years. Experienced people must be going somewhere....

In my experience they’re moving in to non-games programming, where they routinely make double or more the money for half or fewer the hours.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:59 AM on October 26 [5 favorites]


Can't minors purchase Steam/PSN/xbox online gift-cards for cash at game stores, though?

They can, and possibly more important, they can receive them as gifts. (One of the big things causing problems in the ebook industries: You can't give your nephew $20 to spend on ebooks of their choice. At best, you can give them $20 to spend at a specific store, but even that's troublesome.) But the gift cards are fairly new and fairly limited, and a 14-year-old is going to be very careful about where a $50 gift card goes if they know that's all the games for the next six months.

(Cue rant about problems with used-game market, and how they're shooting themselves in the foot by not cultivating currently-low-income gamers.)

It's not "the problem that's killing the AAA gaming industry;" it's one more factor among several.

Ultimately, crunch persists because it's more profitable.

It was profitable. The whole "Death of AAA Games" drama indicates that there are problems with the industry, and that they haven't identified a nice simple fix implies it's something more than "needs more bosses per game." Crunch may well be one of those problems - as many studies have shown, over and over, pushing people past 10 hours in a day means more mistakes. (More than 8 gets that, but a "crunch" of 10-hour days for a week could be useful for meeting deadlines. A crunch of 14-hour days may hit goalposts but has likely created a swarm of bugs in its wake.) More than bug problems, a dev team working on no sleep and hyperfocused on preset goals isn't looking at the game from the user's perspective and may miss the opportunity to add simple features that make a better game.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:08 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]


crunch persists because it's more profitable. Burning out junior devs and then replacing them with other junior devs is the whole point.

This is sorta true, in that it also describes the limits of where you find "crunch" as a strategy. You only get it in industries where there's a ready supply of human grist for the mill.

For reasons that I freely admit to not totally understanding, there's a huge reservoir of fresh development grads willing to throw themselves into games development, despite the shit working conditions not exactly being any sort of secret. And so as a result, the industry has developed a business model that takes advantage of those (mostly young) people's discretionary, largely unpaid effort, over and above what a normal person and lifestyle would give. Well, no shit—they have CS grads, allegedly bright people, practically lining up to work those kinds of stupid hours, sometimes competing with each other for the opportunity to do it—why wouldn't they let them?

Compared to, say, industrial slaughterhouses, or any other industry that makes people work in shit conditions doing awful things and depends on them not being able to do anything else to support themselves, I doubt there are many people doing games development who couldn't get another job somewhere else, with a better work/life balance. These places aren't exactly sweatshops with locked doors, and most of their developers probably have a LinkedIn inbox full of job offers (or at least messages from headhunters who would be happy to get them job offers). So I can't really take the industry to task for being exploitative.

This is smart people who have better options beating themselves up for inscrutable (to me) reasons. But hey, whatever you want to do with your life. Once you get to the top of Maslow's Hierarchy, things were always bound to get a little weird.

If you don't want to work under those sort of conditions, don't work in games, or at least don't work for the major studios that have developed a reputation over decades (in some cases) for being awful, and don't work in places that emulate them. They are not that hard to avoid. Do unsexy shit, in an unsexy Zip code, where finding developers is harder, and you'll find management a hell of a lot more concerned about retaining technical talent.

The software industry is a pretty big tent; it encompasses everything from crazy ramen-fueled garage startups to huge government labs working in the computer-language equivalent of Aramaic. Not that those sort of places are all roses, either, but the whole spectrum of workplaces is available if you're a reasonably decent developer and know what you want.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on October 26


What, and give up showbusiness?
posted by RobotHero at 12:45 PM on October 26 [8 favorites]


For reasons that I freely admit to not totally understanding, there's a huge reservoir of fresh development grads willing to throw themselves into games development, despite the shit working conditions not exactly being any sort of secret.

The part that kind of astounds me is - from what I've heard - games don't even pay all that well (at least at the entry level) by software industry standards.
posted by atoxyl at 12:45 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]


During my time as a AAA developer, I always thought there was a certain machismo/masochism to devs who were working late into the night regularly, which made me worry about their life outside of the office.

When I was doing it a lot, I was lucky I had friends who liked to go out late & often, so even though I'd often be at work till pretty late, I'd still see them so I wasn't isolated. The other lucky thing was that we had a great gang of people at work so our time together was actually fun even though we were crunching. This almost totally incompatible with being in a relationship though, and don't even think about having a family.

Managers need to shut down this sort of self-imposed crunch because it ends up infecting the whole development schedule. There's nothing like getting a solid 8 hours of sleep and coming in in the morning to find that some change submitted at 3am had broken a vital component of a game, or that the folks who were there late still had files I needed to work locked and probably wouldn't be showing up until lunchtime.

In general I agree, management will get used to miracles happening and is rarely mature enough to see it's not sustainable. But contrary to what people think we'd rather have efficient seniors than motivated but less efficient juniors. It's also not only about sleep. You need some time off to think about other things and do something else than work.

But good luck in trying to tell me that when I was younger, there were problems to solve, new features to add, bugs to fix, people to help, memory to save, perf needed to be increased and those things weren't gonna do themselves and I wanted to do them, so I worked a lot.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:47 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]


Boring enterprise software lives and dies on long-term support

True story. I know a guy who lives on his ranch near Rio Grande. He is a full time contractor simultaneously for 2 banks (who know about the other0 in the north east for 5+ years. Visits them twice a year and says hi. He mostly doesn't do anything, occasionally pops up on email threads but is otherwise left alone. He's basically a very expensive insurance policy because he mostly built the particular vendor product they use and while the banks like the product, they don't trust the vendors support in an emergency, and the cost of the app every being down any length of time is more than paying him. Moral of the story is learn COBOL.
posted by Damienmce at 12:50 PM on October 26 [11 favorites]


I work on live events. Depending on the budget, we may spend days or weeks crunching, leading up to the boiling point of an omni-work frenzy at/around showtime.

This boiling point doesn't (often) come from poor planning, so much as the fact that the bigger the event -- the more "moving parts" it has -- the likelihood of some element of the show somewhere in the mix will fail to align approaches 100%. That's just the reality of complex things.

So, we engage in omni-work to force the event to happen properly.

The state of omni-work involves sleep deprivation. Folks will usually get between 2 and 4 hours per night, but sometimes something stupid happens and you have to ride it through until fixed. I personally once did a 39 hour stretch. (I do not recommend doing this ever. There is no healthy amount of 39-hours-awake to integrate into your balanced lifestyle.)

You might miss food, depending on the catering hours. You might wish you had missed the food, depending on the catering quality. Food factors in as a low priority during omni-work.

Sometimes folks get a bit dehydrated, out of reluctance to leave their posts for biological necessities. They cut corners on those necessities by ingesting as little as possible. (Om.)

The non-unionized must over pull off these work marathons to fill the gaps left by the unionized, whose rules will not allow them to fast or to crunch. Live events bend to no rules. They are like wild animals. When they start bucking, someone has to deal with it. The unionized go back to their hotels to sleep. The non-unionized go full burn to get it done.

This is quite normal in my field. Someone unwilling to perform omni-work come showtime won't last long before not being asked to the table again. The expectation goes for veterans as well as newcomers, so it's not like a rite of passage or a trial by fire.

It's the culture of the industry, in at least the few countries I've personally worked in. I have no idea if this sort of life-eating madness would be tolerated in Europe. It certainly seems like it's the norm in China, but I haven't worked there myself.

When it's not showtime we sleep in and wander to the store in our pyjamas around noon to buy eggs. At least, I do.

During not-showtime it's essential to sleep and eat and remind your children who you are. Coming into the office becomes an as-or-if-needed thing. Go to a matinée, go to the gym, go to the zoo, eat a nice lunch with friends. Answer emails. Browse MetaFilter. Talk on telephones while you do other, more interesting things. Eventually it will all slowly but surely wind up to crunching again, so you learn to appreciate the not-showtime for all it is worth.

Long story short:
My industry is a salt vampire that bleeds years off your lifespan, but we get to bill for it, and in between shows we are afforded great opportunities for relaxation.
posted by Construction Concern at 1:44 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]


The buzzword is "games as a service". But the games that have been doing it for ages -- MMOs -- generally aren't big money-makers, even when they have yearly expansions at a standard box price.

EA is doing pretty well with the Ultimate Team skinner boxes, which is worth $800M anually.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:45 PM on October 26


The non-unionized must over pull off these work marathons to fill the gaps left by the unionized, whose rules will not allow them to fast or to crunch. Live events bend to no rules. They are like wild animals. When they start bucking, someone has to deal with it. The unionized go back to their hotels to sleep. The non-unionized go full burn to get it done

Hmmmmmmmmm I WONDER WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF EVERYONE UNIONIZED
posted by praemunire at 1:51 PM on October 26 [15 favorites]


The industry needs unionization. The industry needs regulations to be expanded and enforced. Lastly, this isn't just the games' industry. It's everyone working w/o a union. It's everywhere that corporations can get away with it. It's as American as apple pie and home foreclosures.
posted by Beholder at 1:55 PM on October 26 [5 favorites]


As a pure piece of ancedata, my husband used to program for a company that did small game/interactive stuff. In general, he didn't pull terrible hours, but there was this one ad tie-in project that had him crunch for two months, pulling 70 hour or longer workweeks the entire time. The company was trying to expand into doing more of that, and had basically said if he pulled off the project on time, they'd keep him on full time, but that the project was absolutely critical to them having a game department at all. It meant I saw him come home, go to sleep, get up and hate life for ten minutes, and then go in to work. He did get paid overtime, but I know he would have happily traded the extra money for a sane work schedule. As an extra bit of garbage cherry on that workslog sundae, the ad client canned the project in the end and it never saw the light of day, and the company killed the interactive department anyway.

He now happily works at a different, much more stable firm where he maybe has one late night every few months and makes more money. Crunch is the result of poor management, same as any other industry, and leaving is often the best thing devs can do.
posted by tautological at 2:15 PM on October 26 [4 favorites]


This boiling point doesn't (often) come from poor planning, so much as the fact that the bigger the event -- the more "moving parts" it has -- the likelihood of some element of the show somewhere in the mix will fail to align approaches 100%. That's just the reality of complex things.

Let me stop you here, and point out that yes, this is in fact part of poor planning. Planning means making sure that everything moves together, and that if things are too complex to trust to operate together, then simplification is necessary.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:19 PM on October 26 [4 favorites]


>And cake.<

No, trust me, the cake is a lie
posted by twidget at 2:52 PM on October 26 [5 favorites]


Lastly, this isn't just the games' industry. It's everyone working w/o a union.

I'm not against unions, but that's not true, and I think it's important to make the case for them realistically. In markets where a particular type of skilled labor is in high demand relative to supply, it's no coincidence that you see high salaries, fringe benefits, and various forms of employee ownership / options packages, just for starters. The people running those companies, if they've been around very long at all, know that they live and die based on their ability to retain technical staff. Selling workers in those workplaces on traditional unionization is very hard. Basically: what are you going to offer them in exchange for their dues that they don't already have?

I worked at a software company where there was an organization attempt (by Communications Workers of America) and it failed, and I truly don't think there was anything untoward by management—they didn't need to do anything, the union's value proposition was just never there, and the engineers by and large weren't interested.

Unionization serves a more important purpose where there's a labor surplus, because of the backstop collective bargaining provides against what is otherwise a perverse incentive for employees to engage in a death spiral of undercutting each other. But when there's already a tight labor market..? I think a more reasonable goal would be something like co-determination or maybe German-style works councils, although I have some doubts as to how attractive that stuff is to the average software engineer. (I mean, given the choice between stock options and a works council, I think a lot of engineers are going to say "no thanks, I'll take the stock, let the managers manage without my help".) Periodically I've heard people talk about structures that are more akin to trade or craft guilds that might be somewhat attractive, although I don't know how they'd work out in practice.

The entire software industry isn't uniformly tight as a labor market—there are regional variations—but it's definitely not where I'd make the case for unions as a bulwark against employer exploitation.

Crunch is the result of poor management, same as any other industry, and leaving is often the best thing devs can do.

Agreed. It's also driven by an obsession over artificially-imposed deadlines, or even their use as a "motivational" tool. Where deadlines are real, external, and immovable, generally you have less crunch than you'd expect, at least with competent management and planning: you control scope and build enough slack into the plan to mitigate the risk, with reasonable effort. But an internally imposed, artificial deadline almost invites crunching, because you can use it to push people, but still have the option of slipping it if something really turns up that will cause the project to fail.

A fellow MeFite years ago pointed me to the book Peopleware, which contains a nice examination of toxic workplace behaviors and bad managerial practices. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone working in tech, and further suggest that if you're working in a place that resembles the "bad" examples, that you keep in mind there are better places to work out there.

That said, a workplace with a little occasional crunch can be fun, if you're a certain kind of person, at the right point in your life, and I don't necessarily want to suggest that if you're that kind of person that you're bad and wrong. Sometimes it's interesting to find out just what you can do if you really take the gloves off, and it can be rewarding to do that as a team. But it's sort of a "consenting adults" type of thing, IMO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:32 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]


He seems happy there (they took everyone to Hawaii for a company retreat!)

I like working at companies that pay me enough and give me enough free time that I can take myself to Hawaii for a retreat. Having to hang out with my coworkers in a structured environment where "fun" is enforced is my vision of hell. I've gone to Hawaii with coworkers before. As friends. Because we were friends. By choice. It was fun.

I worked at a software company where there was an organization attempt (by Communications Workers of America) and it failed, and I truly don't think there was anything untoward by management—they didn't need to do anything, the union's value proposition was just never there, and the engineers by and large weren't interested.

Yup. The college I was working at was trying to unionize tech workers and my response was "Instead of my 10% yearly merit based raises, you're saying that everyone will get 3%, and we can't fire the guy down the hall who has proven himself to be incompetent." The conversation stopped there.

This comes down to management. I'm well compensated where I am and don't have crunch time. I've managed to escape the on call rotation as well. The companies that are good about work/life balance are out there, but you have to seek them out and select for them.
posted by mikesch at 4:29 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]


Coming in late to the thread, but wanted to chime in on the commentary at the top about whether crunch time is ubiquitous to all software or not. I did a stint in the gaming industry about twenty years ago, after I had already been in the software industry for a few years. The thing that was remarkable to me was that - at that time, at least - 50% of the revenue came from games sold around the Christmas holiday. The entire company was attuned to getting the product out the door with enough time to spare for some game magazines/sites to review it, and to get it into (then) boxes to go on shelves before the holidays. The company I was at was capable of running five to eight simultaneous game projects and they were all on this holiday juggernaut. I've been in the technology industry ever since and never seen anything quite like that. Plenty of death marches, to be sure, but not running a half a dozen death marches in tandem.
posted by kovacs at 6:01 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]


You don't have to follow sports to know that people cannot run marathons at a sprinter's pace. If you want to go the distance, you have to pace yourself.

Seems pretty basic, yet every new project-management-development-philosophy pushes further in the opposite direction. It's not healthy, and matters are only getting worse.
As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." So why pay more to retain experienced staff when it's (superficially) cheaper to replace them with junior-level new hires?

Over 15 years ago, Tom DeMarco wrote Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency. I should dig it out and reread it before our next round of process enhancements...
posted by cheshyre at 8:55 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]


It [crunch] is...a fairly natural consequence of working towards the final release of a project.

i call bullshit. *every* project is 'underestimated'? *every* project needs crunch time? i mean, the alternative explanation is that all that chaos is planned into the schedule every time? seems fucked up, uh, shortsighted.

fucking management. not my circus, not my monkees. lower pay, sane hours, yo.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:10 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]


Yup. The college I was working at was trying to unionize tech workers and my response was "Instead of my 10% yearly merit based raises, you're saying that everyone will get 3%, and we can't fire the guy down the hall who has proven himself to be incompetent." The conversation stopped there.

Here's my continuation of that conversation - "So, what happens when the good days end, and management starts saying 'oh, we don't have money for raises,' or starts using that salary you're getting paid to pressure you into longer work periods, or other sorts of managerial bullshit we see over and over in tech?" It's easy to not see the value of unions in the good times - but you should always remember that in the long run, the house always wins, which is why you need people on your side.

Also, the "unions stop the incompent from being fired" argument is an old load of hackneyed bullshit that needs to stop getting peddled. Unions don't stop employers from firing incompetent workers - what they do is force employers to do their job and actually document employees not doing their job before taking action.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:39 PM on October 26 [7 favorites]


Unions don't stop employers from firing incompetent workers - what they do is force employers to do their job and actually document employees not doing their job before taking action.

This might be true for some unions. I would argue that the teachers unions and the police unions have given other unions a bad name.

As far as crunch time in the software industry, but outside of the gaming industry... I've worked at companies that give significant time off after the crunch; essentially giving the employees time back to them. I've also worked at companies as a contractor during crunch time - it made my pay go up significantly - some full time employees were resentful of my time-and-a-half, but they had job security, benefits, etc - I had my overtime.

I think the gaming industry has long been guilty of taking advantage of the employees passion for games to give them awful working conditions. Personally, I don't unions are the answer - fair working conditions for all (unionized or not) is the answer; encoded into law.

That being said, I don't favor European style workplace regulation; innovation and small-startups will suffer from such a thing (I say this from talking to a number of folks that have tried to start small shops in Europe and found themselves overburdened by workplace regulation to the point of quitting their start-up and working for large multinationals/governments instead).
posted by el io at 12:03 AM on October 27


Yeah, this is why Over 50 IT sucks balls a lot of the time. All these gigs with younglings who don't care ( or know ) that work/life balance is a thing.

It pains me to say the most professional environment I've ever been in, with more than lip-service paid to the idea was "Government Specialty Banking" with Bank of America ( we processed tax returns ), where we provided like 20 years of back-end infrastructure 24/7/52 without people losing their minds or health.
posted by mikelieman at 12:18 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


“C r u n c h. ... it’s not uncommon to work ten- to twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Crunch can last a week. It can last six months. It drains you, literally sucks your life away. Time flies by, and you have no idea where it went because you were locked in a dim room for a month, surviving on lattes and Cheetos, the pale glow of your monitor mirroring the fading light in your eyes. [...] "

You know, Grateful Dead Spring/Summer/Fall/NYE tours had a lot of the same "Running on Empty" vibe, but were a hell of a lot more fun...
posted by mikelieman at 12:20 AM on October 27


The industry needs unionization. The industry needs regulations to be expanded and enforced. Lastly, this isn't just the games' industry. It's everyone working w/o a union. It's everywhere that corporations can get away with it. It's as American as apple pie and home foreclosures.

I was spoiled as shit. First real job in the mid 80's was a department store represented by UFCW local 1500. Since then, I've had a very low tolerance for "Employer Bullshit", and thankfully, only a limited number of years in my career where that was even relevant.
posted by mikelieman at 12:23 AM on October 27


I worked games-industry-adjacent (edutainment!) about 20 years ago and I’m pretty sure these articles could’ve have been written then. In fact, here you go. Same as it ever was.
posted by jimw at 2:15 AM on October 27 [2 favorites]


Let me stop you here, and point out that yes, this is in fact part of poor planning. Planning means making sure that everything moves together, and that if things are too complex to trust to operate together, then simplification is necessary.

That’s a nice control fantasy, but it isn’t realistic.

Taking a random example from this month: Ten international acts participating in a concert broadcast live to multiple countries around the world. One third of one act is held at the border and denied entry to America, due to racist paranoia. We have a Plan B choreographer standing by to rejigger the blocking, we have a Plan B audio editor standing by to alter the music to omit a solo, we have animators to change the visuals to match, we have lighting designers to reprogramme the lighting to work with the new duration, new cues, new blocking. The director (ahem) will put in an all nighter to work it through with everyone so we’re ready for the scheduled cue-to-cue in the morning, so we don’t cause a cascade of delay impinging on the broadcast itself.

That’s planning to deal with fly balls, and then doing what is required to catch them without disrupting everything else.

Do you imagine it would’ve been a better solution to avoid complications by saying, “Let’s just tell the Muslim majority countries they’re barred from participating in this international event, because it simplifies the project,”?

Not a valid solution.

You can’t control everything, but if your team works together you can cope with anything.
posted by Construction Concern at 3:13 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]


It's a concert, not a moon landing. Jesus, unless your job involves literally directly saving lives (and even then!!) these myths of overworking yourself to death as heroism need to stop.
posted by odinsdream at 4:36 AM on October 27 [6 favorites]


Scrum/Agile is supposed to eliminate crunch entirely.

For me, Scrum/Agile is the worst form of software development except for all the others. I'd retire before I went back to a waterfall process shop; life is just too short for that bullshit.
posted by octothorpe at 4:42 AM on October 27 [4 favorites]


Not that I'm necessarily a Scrum fan, but Scrum tells you how fast you are building stuff and how much stuff you have left to build. You can use that information to estimate when you'll be done, or estimate how much you'll have built by a certain date. Ideally you use that to prioritize work so that you can ship a useful product on the date you want to. But there's nothing stopping bad management from saying "Everyone has to start working 70 hour weeks so everything is done by the due date".

The problem is never methodologies, it's always a people problem.
posted by markr at 5:15 AM on October 27 [5 favorites]


For me, Scrum/Agile is the worst form of software development except for all the others. I'd retire before I went back to a waterfall process shop; life is just too short for that bullshit.

Yeah, this. Every waterfall project I was ever on that supposedly succeeded only did so by pretending that the significantly re-scoped project that was delivered was the precise thing they spent months specifying before starting. I'm not saying what was released was bad, but it was never what we said in the up-front planning that would be released, yet management would then go to great lengths to paper over that and then talk up how waterfall totally works when they just declared success on a project that was a total failure by all waterfall metrics.

Even totally fucked up agile has the benefit over waterfall that it forces organizations to stop pretending you can actually plan out a software development effort 18 months in advance with perfect precision.
posted by tocts at 6:32 AM on October 27 [4 favorites]


it forces organizations to stop pretending you can actually plan out a software development effort 18 months in advance with perfect precision.

Look you can talk about reality all you want but I have a spreadsheet that says otherwise.
posted by PMdixon at 7:03 AM on October 27 [5 favorites]


What if we do waterfall but split it into sprints?
posted by Artw at 7:11 AM on October 27 [5 favorites]


This might be true for some unions. I would argue that the teachers unions and the police unions have given other unions a bad name.

And it would still be an argument born of ignorance, especially for teachers unions, who routinely get blamed for the fuckups of school administration. Case in point: the case in Oregon, where three different district lawyers quashed an investigation into a pedophile teacher, yet people would rather blame the teachers union for not allowing unsubstantiated accusations to remain on a teacher's record.

(Police unions are a bit different, but the problem there is more with the police part rather than the union part. And again, the answer isn't "fuck unions", it's that the problematic parts of their contracts need to be put beyond contracts by laws.)

I've heard the arguments made by techies about unions being bad, and they're routinely born of ignorance about what unions actually do and a belief that they'll always have the upper hand in negotiations. The reality is that again, the house wins in the end because they set the rules, which is why unions are good for everyone - because you never know when you become "the guy down the hall".
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:22 AM on October 27 [5 favorites]


Police unions are absolutely a different deal from other unions, since they are all about the defense and perpetuation of state violence, and probably should not enter the discussion here.
posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on October 27 [3 favorites]


Like Scrum but actually it's waterfall.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:52 AM on October 27 [2 favorites]


The running joke at work about how stuff actually gets done is "waterfragile".
posted by Sequence at 8:01 AM on October 27 [4 favorites]


Nobody in game dev is starting making $160k, as far as I know. Imagine not getting the perks AND not getting the salary.

(slow zoom-in on a single tear running down a lab science graduate student's face, which then falls into a 15mL conical tube labeled "regrets" in Sharpie)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:52 AM on October 27 [4 favorites]


I thought campaign work was bad, at least that has a set end date, my god. I'm in crunch in my line of work right now-- I do like that immersive quality, tbh, just living in it is kind of awesome, though not for everyone-- we do work towards a model that is sustainable. Now, obviously not, because we're less than ten days from the end of this project, but at least I know that there's a firm end in sight. I can't imagine doing this perpetually. Take twenty minutes to eat a sandwich, you'll be more productive.
posted by dogheart at 9:20 PM on October 28


Odinsdream: It's a concert, not a moon landing. Jesus, unless your job involves literally directly saving lives (and even then!!) these myths of overworking yourself to death as heroism need to stop.

If it’s instrumental to feeding my family and keeping a roof over our heads, it’s more important than the moon landing to me.

What did you think the stakes were?
posted by Construction Concern at 6:10 AM on October 29


If it’s instrumental to feeding my family and keeping a roof over our heads, it’s more important than the moon landing to me.

What did you think the stakes were?


Not making working ourselves to death acceptable. Your argument is "this is the way my industry is, thus it's acceptable", while ignoring people pointing out that a lot of what you're describing is lack of planning getting wallpapered over. (And yes, your last example was a failure of planning - if certain talent not being available was a foreseeable contingency, then those plans should have been set up and prepared long before the night prior.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:34 AM on November 7 [2 favorites]


Not making working ourselves to death acceptable.

Relevant soviet parallel
posted by PMdixon at 1:08 PM on November 7 [1 favorite]


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