Crunch Time in Video Games

Updated on October 24, 2018
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Working in video game development is the dream of many young men; they imagine themselves devising the next mega-game that players will talk about for decades. Nobody tells them that they’ll be working 100 or more hours a week and will not have a life outside of writing code.

Source

The Push to Release

Let’s say we’re working on a game called Zoo Attack. There will probably be a rabid wolf on the loose, a drunken psychopathic keeper, rogue elephants, and a group of schoolchildren trapped in the lion exhibit at lunch time.

The geeks in development say it will be ready in two years; the marketing department says no, we’ll launch in 18 months. Who has the ear of investors? Nerds or sales. This being the world that worships at the feet of the capitalist god called money, we all know the answer.

So, as the release date nears and the game is only two thirds finished the pressure is applied in what is called “crunch time.”

The developers eat, sleep, and live by their keyboards, putting in mind-numbing hours to meet the deadline set by the sales department.

Source

In 2004, the partner of a game developer wrote an anonymous blog post outing the atrocious working conditions at Electronic Arts. Her fiancé was facing “mandatory hours [of] 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. - seven days a week - with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30 p.m.). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week.”

The poster was eventually identified as Erin Hoffman and the company had to settle a class-action lawsuit of almost $15 million in unpaid overtime.

“To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?”

Erin Hoffman

But, there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of change over the last decade and a half.

In October 2018, the co-founder of Rockstar Games, Dan Houser, seemed to boast about the workload involved in getting the game Red Dead Redemption 2 to market: “We were working 100-hour weeks.”

This brought about a backlash. David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails turned to Twitter. He wrote, “Imagine bragging about pushing your workers to 100h+ weeks while also claiming to be proud of how sensible your work practices are; especially on a sequel to an original game that brought the families of workers to plead with management for leniency.”

Houser changed the story by saying it was only him and a handful of others working such long days.

Source

How Video Games Are Made

Developing a new video game requires the talents of many people in many disciplines. There are writers to produce the story line, artists to create the characters, computer programmers must write millions of lines of code, sound engineers, photographers, voice actors, and others make up the teams.

The process can involve thousands of people located in several countries. Some companies involved in the industry push their game developers into mandatory overtime in order to complete the work.

“By the third week of working there, I had noticed that I have never seen certain team members leave the office ever … You enter a certain point of depression where a process is comforting, and once I’d felt like another cog I just accepted this as my fate.”

Video game artist Clarke Nordhauser

The Effects of Crunch

Take This is a charity that has looked into this corporate culture and what it found is summed up in the title of its white paper – “Crunch Hurts.”

The researchers wrote that “Common wisdom suggests that crunch is a necessary practice, and inevitable. Some developers even believe a successful product requires crunch, and that creativity and esprit de corps rely on it.”

Overwork of this sort has consequences:

  • After prolonged periods of 40+ hours a week, productivity begins to drop off;
  • Working long hours triggers depression, a condition that costs the U.S. economy $44 billion a year, not all of which can be attributed to overwork;
  • In 2000, the Employers Health Coalition found that “Lost productivity due to presenteeism (being at work while ill) is almost 7.5 times greater than that lost to absenteeism;”
  • Paul J. Rosch of the American Institute of Stress has estimated that stress caused, in part by overwork, costs U.S. industry $300 billion a year as a result of employee turnover, absenteeism, and legal and medical insurance costs;
  • Take This notes that “Long work hours might mean giving up sleep, eating poorly, overindulging in caffeinated drinks, and otherwise abandoning healthy habits;”
  • A 2012 study found that those working 11 or more hours a day have a 2.5 times higher likelihood of suffering from major depression than those who work seven or eight hours a day;
  • The likelihood of having a workplace injury goes up by 61 percent when heavy overtime is involved; and,
  • Excessive overtime can lead to failed relationships.

But the corporate culture is such that the burn out of employees is not seen as a significant issue because there is an army of eager recruits waiting to replace those who fall by the wayside.

“They are expected to just dig deep into their passion for making games and overlook how their passion for their profession and their specific project is being exploited to cover poor management practices.”

Former executive director of the International Game Developers Association Kate Edwards

Bonus Factoids

Adam Boyes worked in the video game industry. In October 2018, he told The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about a co-worker who spent nine consecutive days at the office working on a project. He was the father of a newborn and “His wife would bring him his daughter to visit. That was just sad, but it was his commitment to the company.”

A survey in 2015 found that 62 percent of the people working in video game development said crunch was an issue for them.

Japanese work culture has caused some employees to literally work themselves to death. It’s called karoshi and it took the life of 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado in July 2013. She put in 135 hours of overtime in a single month before dying of heart failure.

Sources

  • “Crunch Hurts – A White Paper Commissioned by Take This.” August 2016.
  • “As Red Dead Redemption 2 Nears Release, Rockstar Games Is Under Fire for Employees’ Extreme Overtime.” CBC, October 20, 2018.
  • “ ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’s’ 100-Hour Work Weeks Spark Video Game Industry Outrage.” Liz Lanier, Variety, October 15, 2018.
  • “The Human Story.” Erin Hoffman, Live Journal, November 10, 2004.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 months ago from UK

      This gives a very interesting and revealing insight into the lives of those who create the video games that others enjoy playing.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://toughnickel.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)