“Crunch” in the gaming industry describes the extreme ramp up nearing the end of a game’s production. Employees work ludicrous hours to hit deadlines and sacrifice any semblance of a normal life.
We hear complaints of this quite often and rightfully so. Under these circumstances everything outside of the job is neglected. Families, health, pets, it all goes to the wayside so No Man’s Sky can be released to the waiting mouths of gamers who can’t wait to shit out a negative Steam review concerning “no multiplayer= uninstall”.
Why does this happen?
Games are similar to films. They are both daunting projects that require many facets of work from artists/technicians. AAA games can easily have a few hundred staff and cost a few hundred million. Indie games fall on the opposite end of the spectrum where small teams of one or a dozen invest a gargantuan effort to see it through.
Deadlines are the biggest culprit of pressure. A student wouldn’t forego sleep to write an essay if they didn’t have to hand it in the following morning. It’s the same reason they went out and partied all of the other nights instead of working on it. A game is like dozens of essays working together in perfect cohesion.
It seems like a very simple solution to just do away with deadlines. If publishers stop telling gamers about release dates they can decrease the insane internet rage when inevitable delays happen. But it seems that publishers love implementing deadlines/release days because they can ramp up the marketing hype. They invest millions more on marketing that all revolves around their very special day. And like a spoiled 16 year old, NOTHING will get in the way of that very special day.
Currently, if a gaming industry worker tells his boss “16 hours a day is too much, I forget what my baby looks like”, the bossman can say “you’re right, you should go home and see your baby and never come back. We have a lineup of aspiring game-makers that would love your position”.
Let’s explore the possibilities of a Union or “Game-Makers Rights and Freedoms (to see their babies) Act”.
If a Publisher has chosen an unrealistic day to release a game and still include the many features they’ve advertised, they’ll either have to delay the game or hire more people. This means a loss of marketing money and a potential increase in hiring costs. Although hiring more programmers to work regular hours could potentially be cheaper than paying overtime (let’s not start calculating insurance, benefits etc).
How about potential negatives?
We’ve all heard the stereotypes of lazy Union workers, collecting a paycheck and telling the new guy to ‘slow down and stop making us look bad kid”.
Whether that’s true or not, I believe the gaming industry is one of passion. As it rarely pays well relative to the work and talent, people who make games generally do it because they love it.
A Union could also bring about work stoppages from collective bargaining agreements. Do we really want to lose a year of new games while two sides argue over money?
The more I explore this idea the more I lean towards the simple idea of an Act/Charter/Thing that simply limits the hours of work per day/week/month etc. We can still retain the free market that seems to work best with creative projects but at the end of the day, employees get to go home at the end of the day.
Here’s a discussion video on our YouTube channel: