Video game developers are under a lot of pressure when they are busy developing. Welcome to Crunch Culture, the world of overworked developers.
In order to understand Crunch time, you have first to understand how a game is done or produced.
- When developing a new product/game, what is the process like?
- How many people make up the production team?
- How is the game development funded?
- How can delays happen?
- Is crunch time something impossible to avoid?
- What is crunch culture in video games?
When developing a new product/game, what is the process like?
Generally you start with a general idea of a videogame that you think you could make from the company. You start thinking about the concept of the game from the point of view of fun elements and from the point of view of visual aspect (how would be the characters, how would be the scenarios, etc). You must pass some market filters to see that the idea could really work well as a videogame.
In the case that the answer is yes, we start with a process of building what we would call a game pitch of the videogame, to show it to possible videogame publishers to see if they also consider the videogame interesting. This pitch can be a ppt presentation of the game, but it can also be a demo of the game that the studio develops in order to show the gameplay and visuals of the game and make it easier to sell to the publisher. Generally, studios first do a pitch only with the presentation, and if they see that the publishers like it, then is when they start with the development of the demo.
In the development process of a demo of these characteristics, usually between 3 to 5 people are involved and usually work with some pressure, but not much, because it is the studio that is supporting its funding, and the pressure that may or may not be, is to reach a fair, or a date on which the publisher may have asked us for a demo.
If this pitch is successful, then a publisher will buy the game and pay for its development for a well-defined budget and a very specified production duration. The development payment, or financing, occurs on a milestone basis, i.e. the publisher will pay the studio a predefined amount against the delivery of a series of materials and progress of the game. These milestones are what increases the pressure of development, and if not well planned and well controlled from the point of view of project / production, could at some point, cause the studio to ask for extra work to workers to reach that date, because if you do not arrive, basically the studio would not be paid and therefore could have a financial problem.
The development of video games has a lot of risks and it is not very difficult to make mistakes in time estimates because elements of the video game, in its conceptualization, may seem fun and or interesting, but once implemented may not meet expectations and require to be redone, which would begin to generate deviations and delays. The team may not be as experienced as they should be and so everything slows down, etc….
If all goes well, you meet the milestones, until you reach the stage of closing the game and sending it for editing, which could be to the Xbox or Sony platforms, or towards the manufacture of physical discs. And finally it would be available for players.
How many people make up the production team?
The answer to this question will depend on the game, its quality and its complexity.
- A small casual game for mobile or pc, could cost about 50 thousand euros, and occupy 3-5 people for 5 or 6 months of work.
- A medium sized game for PC or consoles, could occupy 10-15 people during 12 to 16 months, and could cost between 150 to 300 thousand euros.
- A game with a certain size for consoles, could take about 2 years and about 25 to 30 people for 1 million Euros.
- A game with top ambition can have more than 100 people for more than 2 years and cost from 10/20 million euros to 200 or 300 million euros.
How is the game development funded?
The closing date is signed when you sell the game to a publisher. If you work without one, in self-editing mode, you have more flexibility to define the date, but even in this case, it is important to define concrete dates in order to meet a development budget.
So that means that in order to be paid, you will need to deliver to the publisher specific parts of the game at specific times, for which in turn, you will be receiving part of the funds you need to continue working on the game.
What happens if the project delivery date is delayed?
If you are moderately delayed without affecting the sale of the video game, you may delay the payment of the associated milestone, and you may have financial problems to pay salaries, or to pay other expenses.
If the delay is significant and causes you to miss a release window of the game, for example Christmas, or a joint release with a movie, this could cause the game to be canceled, the money received to date to be refunded, and even legal issues of compensation.
Those delays and the impact that it can have on the funding of the studio is what usually is behind the usage of crunch ( although in some cases some studios are constantly under crunch).
How can delays happen?
Although most studios don´t like to resort to crunch time, but sometimes there are issues that are out of the developer’s control, things that don’t work, more work than estimated, slowness of the team, bad planning of the producer, etc… This put at risk the milestone and the associated payment coming with it and if you need that money to continue operating as a company and pay salaries, then you have no choice than crunching, which can be from asking the team to stay a couple of hours more at the end of the day, to work non stop 48 hours for a final push, or to work during a weekend to get to a delivery on Monday for example. Generally, crunches should be usually very short in time, and should be paid or given back as vacation days. But sometimes, they are difficult to manage.
But, there are also studios that have their workers constantly under crunch time, which in the long run will be very negative for the company as people end up getting burned out, leaving the company and telling their history on why they left, with the bad word of mouth generated.
Is crunch time something impossible to avoid?
Crunch time can be avoided to a certain extent. Control production scheduling well, include pockets of hours to manage risks associated with work estimation errors. Control the execution of the project very well, and when there are any deviations somehow reinforce the team, or try to renegotiate the scope with the editor to make sure that the deviations can be mitigated.
This involves working with experienced producers who have worked extensively on complex and well-executed projects. Also have video game designers who know how to define the scope associated with the video game.
What is crunch culture in video games?
The games industry is complicated, complex and challenging. Video game developers go through hell in the final weeks, months and sometimes years of the video game development cycle in order to deliver as much of what we love as possible, a lot of studios have overabused of the crunch and have generated the negative word of mouth which has grown through the industry and cross its borders until getting a reference of being a generalized culture, the Crunch Culture
What is a crunch culture?
As seen above, It can be natural to work hard at something you are passionate about, especially if you want to share your work with others.
Crunch Time culture is different., because you are forced to work overtime on the edge, directly or indirectly where days before you were exhausted and without a justified or visible reason.
In the games industry, crunch culture means that game developers work incredibly long hours, sometimes 80-100 hours a week, and unpaid overtime is the norm. This is usually done at the end of the game development cycle, so that everything is in the best possible condition before release. However, the crunch culture is not limited to the last weeks of development, but can last for months and sometimes even years.
Some people say that crunch culture makes for great video games, because the pressure while being under a crunch period theoretically sparks the creativity and attention for details. But, for many video game developers it has led to burnout as long working hours are simply not sustainable and productive if they take a toll on developers’ mental and physical health long after the game is finished, and if the workflow is constantly exhausting, demotivating and deprives employees of a sense of well-being.
The crisis culture does not only affect studios working on AAA games. Any video game studio, be it a large studio or an independent studio, and be it a first, second or third party game developer, can be hit by a crisis culture. However, for AAA game studios working on large or popular video games, this is usually the norm because of the volume of work involved.
Unfortunately, crunch culture has become misused and become some kind of commonplace in the games industry that those working in the industry are proud to celebrate it, rather than criticise it.
Crunch culture is a serious problem in games
As things stand, crunch time is not going away. There are people who disagree with it, but there are few who disagree with it, and few who even know what crunch culture is.
Crunch time is just one of the biggest problems surrounding the games industry. Others include terrible monetisation practices, locked content and games that are broken at launch. Games are all good things, but there is much that needs to be improved.
Making crunch time disappears is something that should executed by the industry executives, that are the ones that usually have the key to avoid this practice.
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