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IGDA Split Over "Crunch Time" Development

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the plenty-of-time-to-sleep-when-you're-dead dept.

Games 99

LingNoi writes "Arguments between members of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) have been red hot over recent controversy because of a 'Studio Heads on the Hotseat' panel video (skip to 21:00). The fighting started when IGDA board members (that also happen to be studio executives) which were taking part in the discussions made clear their favor for 'crunch time,' a method of doing overtime on a game to make very tight deadlines. It has been seen as hypocritical that an organization whose goal is to create a better quality of life for developers is led by studio executives who are happy to overwork employees. The IGDA released a response which didn't take sides on the issue."

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Cramming and the art of innovation (0)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528291)

No one ever sat down, planned out a beautiful piece of art, then executed it according to plan. At least nothing worthy of the name art.

All inspiration comes in flashes, and it is frequently in times of great stress that the best inspiration comes. After inspiration comes implementation, and that can take a while and be methodical.

But what better than to keep the environment of inspiration for as long as possible, even during the implementation? You gain the benefit of the first inspiration as well as subsequent innovations because the pressure remains high.

Art isn't for the weak. It is created by the strong under great periods of pain. It is only by coming through that pain and finally seeing the greatness of the art afterward that an artist can truly be happy.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (3, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528347)

But this is normal for engineering. Two of the three top projects at my workplace are going to go this way. The increase in workload towards the deadline is almost exponential.

Its bad management, pure and simple.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528929)

Only two of the three? Hot damn, I like those odds! Where do I sign up??

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (2, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529959)

An occasional 'crunch time' is just life: it's easy to slack off on a project when things go well, and add extra features or levels to fill your worktime, and find an unexpected market need or disaster in QA cause a last minute crunch. It's when crunch time is for every project, and you can never get your staff _out_ of crunch time that it's blatant mismanagement and manpower starvation. I've seen excellent engineers driven into the ground by that kind of misuse of their time, where they were never allowed to fix issues or do their work far enough in advance to avoid panic-laden crunch times: it's deadly to good engineering.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) | more than 5 years ago | (#27538083)

Exactly (and I wish I had mod points!)

It's not just engineering that suffers, it's innovation and creativity in the product as well. It doesn't matter whether you're writing an accounting app or a game, innovate approaches to problems can save huge amounts of time, and greatly enhance the product. It's very hard to innovate when you're exhausted, stressed and miserable.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27530145)

But this is normal for engineering. Two of the three top projects at my workplace are going to go this way. The increase in workload towards the deadline is almost exponential.

Its bad management, pure and simple.

Please let me know what bridges you are working on so I can avoid them.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

Broken scope (973885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528361)

Some beautiful art... that needs extensive patching.

What a load of Bull! (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528407)

You have a strange theory on how to optimize the artistic process, but the point is, it can't be done.

Re:What a load of Bull! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528477)

Uh, yes it can.

Ask almost any professional artist to produce an image by (X) date for (Y) money and they will - on time and within specifications.

Maybe a "fine artist" can sit around waiting for the right "motivation" but the pros just get it done.

Re:What a load of Bull! (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528565)

Uh, wait to take a comment out of context. We aren't talking about drawing a picture. We're talking about A GAME. Something that is FAR more complicated/complex than a mere picture.

Re:What a load of Bull! (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528879)

But not a heck of a lot more complicated/complex than a collaborative picture, which also involves manufacturing or paying someone else to manufacture the canvas, easel, paints, and having to stop and remeasure for different museums every step of the way. And where half your artists are using acrylics, and half are using watercolours, except for the one person who insists on painting by putting the entire canvas on the floor and flinging chocolate syrup at it.

Which is why so many games use an existing engine. It's like starting your picture with the easel already set, a nice set of premixed colours, and possibly even a set of measurements for common museums.

It's also why so many games studios refuse to hire people who fling chocolate syrup at things.

Re:What a load of Bull! (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532807)

I think you're confusing an illustrator with an artist. Even if you can draw well enough to make a photo quality image, it doesn't make you an artist.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (2, Insightful)

Morlark (814687) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528505)

Y'know what else comes in times of great stress? A botched rush-job.

Inspiration is one thing, but as you quite rightly pointed out, after that comes implementation. Funny thing about implementation, it can take a while, and be methodical.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529607)

Y'know what else comes in times of great stress? A botched rush-job.

Which is why they never have time to di it right, but there's always time to do it over ...

What they're basically saying is that they are incompetent managers, unable to create either realistic deadlines or the processes to meet them, and that they should be fired. Deming [wikipedia.org] would have recommended the lot be given their walking papers for just that reason.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27533817)

It sounds a lot like most game dev shops use the waterfall project management method, with a monolithic design doc.

Yeah, you need a design doc. Especially if you want to keep different parts of the game congruent.

But it seems to me like a more scrum-like development method would benefit games quite a bit - at least for the developer end of things. It's difficult to work art assets and designs in due to the vetting involved, though...

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27535107)

If the agile development roundtable at GDC 2008 was any indication, scrum is already rather popular in games development, and gaining momentum.

Never tried it myself though. I'm quite happy being able to go to my boss and say "What do you think I should be working on next?". I'm not convinced that self-management is the path to self-empowerment.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528713)

No one ever sat down, planned out a beautiful piece of art, then executed it according to plan. At least nothing worthy of the name art.

So sorry to hear you have such a low opinion of the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Versailles, Blenheim Palace, the Taj Mahal, Nelson's Column, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Sydney Harbour Bridge, ... clearly these are much lesser as works of art than EA's latest edition of FIFA Soccer.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (2, Informative)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530325)

No one ever sat down, planned out a beautiful piece of art, then executed it according to plan. At least nothing worthy of the name art.

Are you sure about that?

Do you consider the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to be a beautiful piece of art?

What about the Cathedral de Notre Dame?

What about tapestries?

Video games aren't like small paintings or music. The big game studios aren't making "art" completed during inspritation fugues, they are making a large commercial products that may be based on inspiration. This requires lots of mind-numbing repetitive work.

Do you think an heirloom furniture maker works only in bouts of inspiration? No... they drudge at sanding and all the other little bits required for the finished product. Almost all the inspiration comes at the design phase.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

RomanesEuntDomus (1094023) | more than 5 years ago | (#27537305)

What the ?

If you are on crunch, you have absolutely ZERO time to innovate!

All you have time for is implement, quick test, check in. Then later on someobody else has to fix your crappy rush job because you created a dozen other bugs.

Crunch times cause more problems than just trying to get a product out on time, plain and simple.

Re:Cramming and the art of innovation (1)

Peganthyrus (713645) | more than 5 years ago | (#27537991)

The myth of the suffering artist is a load of bullshit. Pernicious, damaging bullshit - it kept me depressed for quite a few years because I was afraid that the Muse would vanish if I stopped being so damn mopey. I got out of that and guess what? I don't suffer for my art, and I do more of it; I'm confident enough to embark upon year-long personal projects [urnash.com] and get them done.

Have you ever done any beautiful art? I have. I like to think I have, at least, and people look at my stuff and call it that. Yeah, there are sparks of inspiration that come from nowhere. I have whole sketchbooks chock full of that kind of thing. Then I look at the books and decide which ones to bother working up into finished pieces. I have a lot more bits of awesome inspiration than I will ever have the time and energy to finish.

And the last place I feel inspired is when I am stressed out, tired, worried, and fearful. That part of the brain comes on when I'm relaxed and have the freedom to jumble all kinds of random things around in my head until two or three things blend together into something neat.

Me, I haven't done any video games - I had enough crunch in the animation industry under someone who thought like you did. I burnt out and left. That's what perpetu-crunch does.

You couldn't be more wrong, or more pretentious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27545089)

No one ever sat down, planned out a beautiful piece of art, then executed it according to plan. At least nothing worthy of the name art.

Michelangelo's David.

Crunch Time ALL THE TIME Is Evil... (2, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528301)

I gave up being a video game tester after six years to become a help desk support specialist to make the same kind of money working 40 hours per week instead of 80 hours a week. Now that I have time to enjoy the money I'm making, I'm writing a novel about my misadventures as a video game tester. Unlike the real world, managers in my novel do die for working people to death. :)

Re:Crunch Time ALL THE TIME Is Evil... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27530889)

But, but, everyone loves playing games. You should have been paying them to be allowed to play.

'Tighten up the graphics a bit, babe'
'OK, got you!'

Re:Crunch Time ALL THE TIME Is Evil... (1)

Creepy (93888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530907)

Don't think it's just video games - I had similar hours doing business software. In fact, I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel until next year - I have 3 releases with 3 month schedules each over the next 9 months (and boatloads of features going into the area I'm responsible for).

I've also worked massive amounts of hours at a help desk and got paid overtime since it was hourly and adjusted for inflation it probably would be just short of what I make now, but I wouldn't have that job or the overtime had I stayed - it got outsourced to India. I may have been one of the lucky dozen that kept their jobs, but more than likely I'd have been one of the 1000+ layoffs.

You want crunch time? (3, Insightful)

Renraku (518261) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528343)

You, as an employer want crunch time?

What do we get out of it?

We get to watch you lobby to Congress about how your company can't survive if they have to pay overtime benefits, but you make it clear that if you can't put in the 16 hours a day 6 days a week required to complete the game on time, we'll be shitlisted from the game industry.

We get to watch your marketing drones take expensive trips and have nice things, while you've reduced the number of fridges in the breakroom to one, to 'encourage people to eat healthy!'..has nothing to do with saving costs, I'm sure.

We get to watch the higher ups give us unrealistic goals. You want your own engine, you want a whole planet of scenery and stages, you want the latest and the greatest, and you want it to work on a Game Boy Advance. After all, that's what you promised Nintendo when they offered you a bonus to do so. You want it in a month, from Monday of two weeks ago.

We get to watch you use your corporate cards for lunch everyday, and dinner too during crunch time.

Then we get that lay-off notice right after the game is launched, with the new 'support' team you hired from a small university in India picking which desks will be theirs, while we're still sitting in them in shock.

Re:You want crunch time? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528395)

you think that's isolated to GAME companies?

Companies use exempt/salaried positions to avoid paying overtime. If you want paid overtime, get smart and unionize -- it's what the coal miners did a century ago.

Instead of people looking at, say, teachers and saying "wow, they have good benefits and job protection because they have a union," American workers say "I work harder than that union guy does, and don't get paid as much so unions SUCK!"

Wake up -- if other guy is getting a better deal than you, it's because YOU didn't negotiate as well as he did. I've worked shitty jobs where I had union protection, and I've worked shitty jobs where I didn't. Yep, I paid the union dues, and they didn't always do as much by me as I'd have liked -- but I'll tell you this: my overtime was paid. At the shitty non-union jobs I've worked, my overtime was NEVER paid.

In fact, at the shittiest non-union job I've had, as a software engineer, I was working long hours in crunch time when the manager came in and said "we have a comp time policy now! 5 to 1!" and everyone said "really? We work a saturday and we get the next week off?"

"Don't be silly," he said, "if you work five hours of overtime, you get one hour off! Isn't that GREAT?"

Unionization won't necessarily protect you from having all your jobs outsourced, but it will get you paid overtime, and protection from capricious firings -- and give you a formal grievance process against punitive managers.

Re:You want crunch time? (2, Insightful)

Creepy (93888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532233)

I have mixed opinions of Unions - while on the one respect, they can negotiate salaries, hours, keep jobs local and whatnot, but they also make it nearly impossible to save a company when it's in trouble due to those same contracts. Let me just sum it up - non-union Toyota is the #1 auto maker right now and financially looking very good [toyota.co.jp] . Former #1 GM is cash strapped and facing bankruptcy. Which do you think has more job security right now?

Depending on how Unions collect fees, you can absolutely get screwed in low paying jobs (some take a percentage, while others charge a fixed fee). My only union job was one of these - I got screwed in Union dues because they charged a fixed $1/hour fee for anyone making less than $12/hour - I made state minimum wage for large employers at that time working for the school paper, but all the jobs at the school paper were union jobs (but actually comprised several unions - I think I was something like the Clerical Workers Union) and I was in the lowest paying position and made $4.25 an hour - that's $4.25/hour, minus taxes, minus fee, which left me with $2 and change for every hour worked. The job was fine, but I couldn't handle the fees - I quit after a month and got a campus non-union clerical job and doubled my take home pay (it paid a base $5.50) and was, in fact, easier work. Now admittedly, I believe the union failed the worker in that case, and it is my fault for taking a crappy job as well, but I was desperate and it was on-campus so I saved myself gas money, and honestly, I didn't realize the union dues would be so high because they didn't mention it. It was only the second job I had ever worked in my life, so it definitely was an educational experience.

Re:You want crunch time? (2, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 5 years ago | (#27536585)

Let's be clear. The reason GM is failing is not because of the unions. It's because they made cars nobody wanted to buy.

When GM was raking in the cash the unions asked for a bigger cut. Now that GM is on the brink of bankruptcy after squandering their billions in profit the unions are accepting concessions.

If you think UAW unions are strong... take a look at Japanese employment contracts.

Re:You want crunch time? (1)

Creepy (93888) | more than 5 years ago | (#27601379)

GM's problems are from multiple sources - they pay 7 billion in pensions each year and $60 billion in health care for retirees, for instance (compared to $0 for Asian manufacturers, and that's expected to stay constant for the next 10 years, so that's $70 billion less profit for pensions and God only knows in health care) and are required by UAW contract to pay special incentives to employees laid off or when their plants are shut down making downsizing nearly impossible. GM did have a bit of recession hardening by having their pensions funded and only 26% invested in stocks since the 2001-2002 stock market drop (the rest in bonds), but the stock market halved in 2008-9, so they have 13% less money to fund pensions than a year ago, if not worse (unless they invested well, but I had heard it was down 15% last year).

I said I had mixed opinions - and most of these expenses and restrictions on restructuring can't be changed due to UAW contracts, so yes, it is because of the unions the company is failing. However, employees, ex-employees, and their families are all depending on these benefits and the union protects them. I worked for a non-union company that just dropped pensions entirely (Control Data Corporation - they split into pieces, so no idea who would pay them, anyway).

Re:You want crunch time? (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530355)

Just so you know, there are fun software jobs out there that are not in the gaming industry and will let you work (more) reasonable hours. Some of them even use the exact same skill set. Of course, if you get more satisfaction out of "working on a game" than doing something other than work, then be happy you found your dream job.

Re:You want crunch time? (1)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 5 years ago | (#27531839)

What do we get out of it?

Umm.. a job writing video games?

If you don't like it, nobody's putting a gun to your head and forcing you work there. Go work a nice comfortable 9-5 job writing accounting apps for MegaIndstroCorp.

What is needed... (2)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528497)

This might sound like a shameless plug for Union. I don't care about that.
If you didn't need a Union, the companies would already show the respect that the 'common' worker deserves. That is payment of overtime, guaranteed start and finish times - if a worker wants to put in extra, or if the employer requires this, to finish what they are working on, then an ammendment to the Collective Agreement can be worked out.
No, unions aren't perfect, but as a union worker I don't have to put up with that kind of crap.
I'm terribly surprised that TFA doesn't mention children working there for 16 hour days.

Re:What is needed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27530987)

Do you know any unions who don't let their top brass live in multimillion mansions, who don't make political donations to a single party only, whose only annual communique isn't a condemnation of Israel, and who have a calm attitude to people not being members?
I am half joking and half serious. I was thinking of starting up my own union.

Re:What is needed... (1)

Quantos (1327889) | more than 5 years ago | (#27533289)

Just remember that the union officials work for the union members. Okay, this is an idealist statement, but because the LU membership is generally smaller than a city, the members can actually vote out officials that abuse the system.
Depending on the skilled trade or profession you are involved in you might find that there is already an international brotherhood that encompasses it.
One more point, there are very few union members(the workers) who are biased against non union employees. They do the same work we do, and generally for a lot less money. Our problems are with the non union employers who exploit their employees.

Crunch time is inevitable (3, Insightful)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528519)

As they used to say, "The first 90% takes 90% of the effort, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the effort". Crunch time is just the expression of doing that last 90% effort in the last 10% of the schedule.

Mind you, my current employer states that they'd prefer we to not have to crunch, given the chance. I get a talking to any time I come in and work on the weekend. ^_^

Then again, I quite like crunch, as long as it's not overly extended. It's a bit of a rush, and it can be fun unless you're the one who's hideously behind on the milestone.

There are plenty of crunch horror stories though, and everyone is aware that crunch adds bugs, so usually management will look to shift or redefine milestones where possible to avoid it. Or at least my management does. YMMV.

Re:Crunch time is inevitable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528625)

I'd be interested to know how you manage to spend 180% of the effort on 100% of the work.

The rule is called the 90-10 rule or sometimes the 80-20 rule.

90% of the work take 10% of the effort/time. 10% of the work takes 90% of the effort/time.

Re:Crunch time is inevitable (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528801)

That's 180% of the _estimated_ effort, or in fact the estimated elapsed calender-time. (It's also an exaggeration for humourous effect.) If we never underestimated work, or misidentified dependencies in the work, or lost the whole team for a week or two due to a nasty virus, we'd never have crunches. And in all those cases, crunches can still generally be avoided.

I think the 90-10 rule is different. I learned it as a rule of software optimisation, while the one I started with is a principle of project scheduling.

Of course, being a principle of project scheduling, project schedulers are aware of it. My boss takes any time estimate I give him, and applies some factor I haven't dared ask about.

And it's usually accurate, which is why I haven't dared ask. I'm happier not knowing for now.

Re:Crunch time is inevitable (1)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530127)

As they used to say, "The first 90% takes 90% of the effort, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the effort". Crunch time is just the expression of doing that last 90% effort in the last 10% of the schedule.

Or figure out what kind of things make that last "10%" take so much longer than it should, and learn to estimate it properly. Including estimated time for expected requirements changes and/or making it clear that estimates will change along with requirements.

Re:Crunch time is inevitable (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27534527)

That last 10% is all the unexpected stuff. The stuff you can't schedule, but can merely attempt to estimate what time it'll take.

I'll pick some random examples.

Requirements disagreements. Not changes, but when requirements are perfectly clear to all parties, but nonetheless not the _same_ clear vision.

Greater-than-budgeted for absenteeism. As I already mentioned, losing the whole team for a week due to illness will be devastating to a milestone.

For that matter, a few low-output days at the wrong time can also make quite a big dent, if you're on the critical path.

Incredibly difficult to replicate and track down bugs. Everybody gets heisenbugs. I'm open to suggestions on estimating time to fix for an issue you haven't got a solid repro on, let alone an idea of the actual bug.

Technology changes. New VCS, new graphics engine, new audio engine, new language, new art tools, new Internet connection. You only change these things before a project starts, obviously, but that doesn't prevent them throwing up new and interesting delays well after you thought they'd settled into the routine quite nicely. And that's when they aren't so bad that you need to switch and retool mid-project.

Oversights in the scheduling. The number of times I've said "Oh, I forgot to allow time for change X, which is needed for features Y and Z which I have to do this milestone"... well actually only a couple of times, so far.

Natural disasters. When a burst water main puts your office and the server room under 30cm of water on a Sunday afternoon, the mere existence of backups doesn't remove the smell from the carpets. That can vary from shutting down the office for a few days, to merely causing everyone to take any opportunity possible to get out of the building.

And the nastiest one, to my mind.

Once the game comes together into something the designer can play with, the designer discovers that it's not actually that fun. One could argue that this is a change in requirements, but at the end of the day, "it has to actually be a game" is a fundamental requirement of producing games. Some places have the luxury of killing projects that hit this point and moving on to something new. Some places have the bloody-mindedness to ship it anyway. Some places will try and fix it during polish time. And some places will tell the publisher what's happened and try and retool the milestones to squeeze some more design time in.

Anyway, moving milestones to account for the above avoids the crunch and is usually the correct decision but doesn't actually change the fact that the project took longer than scheduled.

Re:Crunch time is inevitable (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27536967)

"The first 90% takes 90% of the effort, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the effort".

That's why you double the estimate. That way, the 1st 90% + the last 90% + the other 20% adds up to the time you've alloted.

Crunch Time ALL THE TIME Is Evil... (1)

clint999 (1277046) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528539)

As they used to say, "The first 90% takes 90% of the effort, the last 10% takes the other 90% of the effort". Crunch time is just the expression of doing that last 90% effort in the last 10% of the schedule.Mind you, my current employer states that they'd prefer we to not have to crunch, given the chance. I get a talking to any time I come in and work on the weekend. ^_^Then again, I quite like crunch, as long as it's not overly extended. It's a bit of a rush, and it can be fun unless you're the one who's h

Crunch time rush (5, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528553)

I used to love crunch time, it was like a rush. In school I always put off my assignments to the last minute, and when I was working, I always had deadlines that were too short, and it motivated me to work as hard as I could. But of course, there was always a period of being burned out afterwards.

Then one day I snapped. It seemed so stupid to be in a constant state of panic: it's not like the work actually got done faster. So one day I came up with the bright idea, "why not plan enough time from the beginning to get the job done? Then I won't need to panic at the end!"

It was hard at first, I had trouble figuring out how long things would take, but after a while I got really good, even when it involved figuring out how some mystery hardware works (ie, it's going to take a LOT longer than you expect). I still get things done just as fast, if not faster, and I am happier and more efficient. In addition I know how long things are going to take, so I can promise things to customers and deliver on the promises. And I have more energy to put towards productive things, not towards stress.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528651)

When your boss comes to you with a 4 month project and a set of X/Y/Z goals, you can plan out your time.

When, at month 3, those three XYZ goals have morphed into XYZ + A-W + most of the Greek, Hebrew, and something that looks like Arabic alphabets... Well good luck with that schedule!

When your boss demands you compensate for his inability to manage temporal resources by working yet more unpaid overtime. When you point out that you are ALREADY working 7 days a week, through weekends and holidays, putting in excessive overtime every single day. That you are down to barely 5 hours of sleep a night, sleep deprived on a daily basis to the point of visual hallucinations.

That you do nothing other than work, commute, sleep, eat, shower, and shit. That is your entire life. There is nothing else to cut out.

Yet they still want more uncompensated overtime from you.

How much worse things can get?

How long before employers start issuing cots? Will they install showers? (My last employer actually did that!)

Why is it that nobody wants to provide food?

We're all so critical of third-world sweat shops where they make kids work 12 hour days, 6 days a week. Mere 72 hour work-weeks are starting to sound pretty damn good to me! A day off every week sounds like heaven!

What really gets my goat is when I take my salary, divide by the number of hours I'm working, and realize my per-hour take home is LESS than that of a security guard. Tell me again: WHY DID I GO TO COLLEGE?

I like my work. I love programming. But this is just painful!

Re:Crunch time rush (4, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528755)

That's unreasonable. If you are salaried, you should be doing about 40 hours of work a week. That doesn't include time surfing the internet and wasting time in other ways.

Don't let your boss push you around. He will try to get you to work as many hours as possible, many of them will manipulate you in miserable ways. Don't commit to do more work than you can reasonably do: push back and say, "sorry, if you want me to do that, it's going to take X more days." When the goals change be honest, say, "sorry, if we want to make that change it's going to take this much longer." Then let your boss decide if it's worth it or not. If he gives you a deadline that can't be done in a certain amount of time, tell him, "Sorry, I can't do that." Be honest. If you are working too hard like that, it's your own fault. You need to make changes.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27534479)

I tried pushing back.

I was unemployed before the week ended.

Now unemployment is running out, nobody is hiring, and it looks like I'm going to default on my mortgage.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27564159)

Yes, that is always the fear. But it's not as legitimate a fear as we like to think. Sure, if you tell your boss to "piss off" when he asks you to work overtime, you're gonna get fired. And be reasonable - if you think the company did everything within reason to meet a deadline, and it won't put you out to do a little extra work, go for it.

But if the boss pops a surprise monday-morning deadline on friday afternoon, tell him politely that you have plans. If he asks specifics, be vague - it's none of his business. "My wife and I have some things to do with some people" or whatever. If you do get laid off, or you see the writing on the wall, then find another job. It's rare that a manager or company lasts very long by overpromising and burning people out and forcing them to work excessive overtime.

Your manager won't tell you this, but if he plans poorly and can't get the work done on time with the staff he has, that's a failure on HIS part, and will show up on HIS review. Of course it could still end up on yours as well, but document the deadlines you agreed too (or that you DIDNT agree to them), and politely make your case to whoever it needs to be made to.

Re:Crunch time rush (1)

Bitch-Face Jones (588723) | more than 5 years ago | (#27534609)

hey good idea. i'll just go tell my boss to lick my love knob and find a new job. fuck him. la dee da. oh wait, that's right. I can't do that because we're in a recession and I could sooner bend a spoon with my mind than find a job in this economy! Oh well! Back to work!

Re:Crunch time rush (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27535163)

i'll just go tell my boss to lick my love knob and find a new job. fuck him.

Be respectful. Just because your boss asks you to work too hard (or even if he doesn't respect you) that is no reason to disrespect him. He is not your superior, he just has a different job than you, and you know more about your own job and your own capabilities than he does, so you have to let him know. At the same time, don't let yourself be disrespected. Don't let yourself be pushed around. Stand up for yourself and don't accept deadlines that are impossible. If he insists that you do the impossible and you have told him so, just say, "I'll do my best" and then do your best.

I can't do that because we're in a recession and I could sooner bend a spoon with my mind than find a job in this economy!

If you're always afraid of being fired, then you've already lost. It's not that bad. I got laid off two months ago and within a month had two job offers. My coworker who was laid off at the same time as me applied at three places and got a job. Don't let the media scare you, 90% of the country is still employed (and a good portion of those unemployed aren't actually looking).

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27540449)

That's very unrealistic. As long as there are unemployed programmers willing to work 100hr weeks, as long as you can be replaced, it doesn't matter what you tell your boss. He knows what he wants done. It may be unrealistic and unreasonable, but if you don't kill yourself doing it he'll get somebody else who will.

As for getting fired: Wait until your over 40. It is that bad! Most employers prefer to retain staff rather than hiring anew. So they simply lay off fewer people. The very few who are hiring want the pick of the litter, the best of the best. You better be really on your game or you will lose the interview. It's not enough to be an outstanding coder. You have to know the games they are playing, the trick questions, and prepare proper answers in advance.

Years ago, interviews consisted of one 2-3 hour session with, at most, 2 or 3 people. Nowadays, 3 days of interviewing, dozens of people, tag-team style interviews, multiple phone and in-person interviews, with 20+ hours per company being the new norm. With some firms I've spent over 100 hours. Some wanted presentations. Others had take-home problem sets.

I'm still unemployed.

It really is that ugly out here...

Re:Crunch time rush (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27543105)

If your interviews last that long, the reason is because you're right on the edge between a good candidate and a bad candidate: they can't decide if they want to hire you or not, so they make you go through more interviews. This is good because you only need to change one or two things and you should get hired no problem.

Finding a job is a skill like any other. If you are having trouble, you need to improve your skill.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27564257)

"As long as there are unemployed programmers willing to work 100hr weeks, "

There aren't. Worst case you might have a bit of a commute or have to move. Maybe learn a new technology. It sounds like you're vastly exaggerating, and possibly have way too high of expectations for salary or finding a job with Very Old technology.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27541045)

> If he insists that you do the impossible and you have told him so, just say, "I'll do my best" and then do your best.

Been there. Done that. Boss says "No. Not your best. Do it or find another job."

Or he'll decide that, since you can't perform, he's going to micromanage you. Then he'll refuse to listen to your ideas, declare your approach a mistake, redirect you along other lines that take 10x longer to complete, refuse to believe that they take as long to complete as they do, yell at you a lot, and eventually fire you for being incompetent when you can't follow his simple instructions.

Since you've been fired for incompetence, he'll now contest your unemployment compensation claim and likely win.

I left out the part where you get moved to a new cube, or rather not a cube but an open desk, filled with visual and audible distractions, where your boss can interrupt you several times an hour for that micromanagement bit.

Or where your boss tells you to take phone messages while you're working so he can take the receptionist out to lunch.

You are fucking naive.

Things can get a lot worse... Especially in an economy like this where you can't just find another job...

Re:Crunch time rush (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 5 years ago | (#27543021)

Then he'll refuse to listen to your ideas, declare your approach a mistake, redirect you along other lines that take 10x longer to complete, refuse to believe that they take as long to complete as they do, yell at you a lot, and eventually fire you for being incompetent when you can't follow his simple instructions.

You shouldn't put up with this. Quit on your own. If you are too cowardly to do that, then you're just going to keep being pushed around. You may think I'm naive, but I'm not the one who is afraid to look for a job because of a 'bad economy.' Enjoy your miserable servitude because you don't know how to manage yourself.

Re:Crunch time rush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27554053)

I always willing to look. I'm just not finding anything! Unlike you, I have a wife & kids who are depending on me plus a mortgage. Quiting because your boss is mean is a luxury!

Re:Crunch time rush (1)

pommiekiwifruit (570416) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532655)

Why is it that nobody wants to provide food?

Huh? Producers nearly *always* provide food. Junk food anyway (pizza, chinese, indian, thai, fish+chips, kebabs). That's been the case since the role of producer was invented many years ago (although some of them were rubbish at getting the order in) - even for freelancers/contractors in my experience. Why do you think we are so unhealthy? :-)

Installing showers would be a good thing, especially for all the cyclists who come in each morning (thanks to the government scheme). I think Rare had beds at the office. I used to sleep at the office when I was homeless but that was just in a sleeping bag, and it probably broke some law :-)

Is this where we're headed? (1)

taernim (557097) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528645)

As a student at a pretty well-known school with the intent of becoming a video game developer, I definitely put in my share of 40+ hour weeks (60-90 aren't uncommon). But hearing a company's CEO say he won't hire people who aren't constantly willing to put in hours beyond the workweek is definitely disheartening. What happened to the EA legal woes of a few years back? Is the solution to just say "Oh, well we expect it" up front? Hello to the new EULA of being hired? That's a grim future for all of us, if that's the precedent Epic is trying to set.

Re:Is this where we're headed? (3, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528695)

Before I left Atari as a lead game tester, I worked 28 days straight because that's what my manager expected from me. The HR person looked the other way on the six-day work week policy. When the manager told me to do this his way or take the highway, I took the highway. I was the third of a dozen senior testers to leave under that manager. Guess what? Manager got promoted and the company tilted towards bankruptcy.

Re:Is this where we're headed? (3, Insightful)

twoallbeefpatties (615632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530139)

And if I'm not mistaken, burnout is pretty much just as consistent as overtime in the industry at the moment. So there's also a big question of just how much the companies want to retain talent as well. I've known two people in the industry who left jobs at some very prestigious game companies and went to work at unknown, small-time publishers because those jobs just allowed them to see their families more often. Of course, those people were working positions on teams that were persistantly understaffed, so they were in constant crunch time - they'd finish shipping one project out the door and immediately get transferred to another team's crunch to get their product shipped on time. Either way, the, ah, "spiritual" growth of the industry has been kinda stunted lately.

Re:Is this where we're headed? (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528861)

As opposed to all the other things you don't like in your terms of employment? Frankly, I'm happier with the idea of Epic saying up front "we expect you to work 60 hour weeks" than of ending up somewhere which has a 37.5-hour week on the contract, but then gives you negative performance reviews and references if you fail to be at the office before your boss every Saturday.

Not to say I'd necessarily take a job at Epic. I don't think they're bad for doing it, I just think they're wrong [igda.org] .

Re:Is this where we're headed? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532023)

But hearing a company's CEO say he won't hire people who aren't constantly willing to put in hours beyond the workweek is definitely disheartening.

In a field that is almost entirely non-unionized, particularly in a recession with high and still rising unemployment, employers treat employees badly because employees have, generally, few protections and little recourse.

This should not be surprising.

The job of executives is to make money for their shareholders. The general interest of executives, beyond their job, is to make money for themselves. In both cases, particularly in the present economic climate, the focus tends to be on the short term rather than the long term, which means, ultimately, milking the most out of people on the bottom of the food chain in the short term with the minimum cost. Which means, if they are on salary with no compensation for or limits on overtime, working them as many hours as possible as long as there is some increased output for the increased time worked, even if the per-hour productivity is dropping.

From a developer's perspective (3, Interesting)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528657)

In game development, crunches are absolutely inevitable, as are nearly all large-scale project-based projects. There are even some companies that thrive on insane hours as a regular matter of course. I know of at least one company in which everyone regularly puts in 12 to 16 hours a day as a matter of course. They make no apologies for this, and if people go into this voluntarily, more power to them.

Unfortunately, it's all too tempting for some companies to simply use the "inevitable crunch time" as a way to exploit young and naive workers who are often all too willing to give up their lives - especially early on, with no family to think of - for the sake of a fun career - let's face it... we make games for a living, and it's a fun and challenging job (most of the time). Most people I've met in the game biz understand they could probably make quite a bit more money working outside the industry. And, for the most part, we do it becomes we love games, and want to be part of that process.

There's a significant difference between a normal "crunch" (which may not even include significantly extended hours - simply an acceleration of development intensity), and a "death march". I've seen extended crunches that have been brutal enough to cause the virtual disintegration of an entire team when a project was finished. Is any one game worth losing experienced employees over? Many companies used to believe that they could afford high turnovers and low morale caused by these crunches. I've watched many of these companies go out of business over the years as well. Obviously, I can't establish firm causation here, but it makes sense to me that the best developers will tend to migrate to where they're treated well, and a game company that can't retain talent will eventually collapse under their own mediocrity.

Let's face it - it's not as though you can plan every detail of a game from start to finish. Plans will change - you have to remain flexible enough to ensure your game captures that elusive "fun" aspect. But then again, it's not exactly some magical mystery either. Good planning and scheduling can alleviate most crunch-time woes. If you end up in a severe crunch, and your team has been working hard and competently, then it's a failure of management - either by not scheduling enough time or for not cutting unneeded features or project scope aggressively enough. There's really no other way to look at it.

Re:From a developer's perspective (4, Insightful)

Skreems (598317) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528685)

And, for the most part, we do it becomes we love games, and want to be part of that process.

Yep, and that lasts a couple of years until you realize that making games isn't anything like playing them, and that working behind the scenes on a product you used to enjoy has killed your enjoyment of them (not that you have time to play games anymore anyway). Seriously, the whole "games are so much more challenging/fun" thing is nonsense made up by people who want to justify being taken advantage of. Data is data, and moving it around efficiently is an interesting puzzle to solve whether it's polygons or account information.

Obviously there are some situations where that doesn't apply. If you work in a small shop where you get a voice in the story and gameplay as well, then there's some truth to it. But the large studios have entire teams for that, while the coders get to do the same thing they'd be doing at any other job, only for less pay and with a couple more anime action figures on their desk while they do it.

Re:From a developer's perspective (3, Interesting)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528847)

And, for the most part, we do it becomes we love games, and want to be part of that process.

Yep, and that lasts a couple of years until you realize that making games isn't anything like playing them, and that working behind the scenes on a product you used to enjoy has killed your enjoyment of them.

Which usually indicates that you've confused "love games and want to be part of the process" with "love playing games and want to be able to play games for a living". They're not mutually inconsistent, but my criteria for enjoying a game has gone up drastically since I started working in the industry.

This is not a bad thing.

And sure, I could be making more money programming in a business environment, or administering systems (and have done exactly that) but then I wouldn't be a video games programmer. I wouldn't be (sometimes a bit indirectly) manufacturing fun, producing someone's creative vision, and generally contributing to that vast pool of noise that entertained me throughout my childhood.

Re:From a developer's perspective (2, Interesting)

cliffski (65094) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529113)

If you are an indie, the actuality is closer to the dream.
A few days ago my job was to listen to sci-fi movie soundtracks and pick the bits I liked best, then give that list to a musician to compose some music. The rest of the day was spent watching Revenge of the sith on one monitor as source material to put together better laser beam effects on the other one.

Not all days are that cool, but it does happen :D Especially when you choose to do a game that's exactly like the kind you want to play (which is always a smart idea).

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

greggman (102198) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529545)

No Data isn't Data.

It's not about solving the problem of moving the data around. It's about making it fun and/or pretty. That's where the crunch comes from, not from the "moving data around is an interesting puzzle" but the "is it fun yet, why isn't it fun yet, what should we try next" and the "there's 28 more levels to make now that we found out how to make them fun but only have 3 months until our deadline"

Don't forget, a large game team is 50% artists, 25% designers, 25% engineers.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27533211)

Yep, and that lasts a couple of years until you realize that making games isn't anything like playing them, and that working behind the scenes on a product you used to enjoy has killed your enjoyment of them (not that you have time to play games anymore anyway). Seriously, the whole "games are so much more challenging/fun" thing is nonsense made up by people who want to justify being taken advantage of.

I never had any illusions that programming games wasn't vastly different than playing them - I was doing this as a hobby long before I was doing it professionally. They're both challenging and fun in very different ways. I've also never been taken advantage of. I left companies that didn't treat me well, and found ones that did. But all the experience I've gained has been valuable both to me and to other prospective employers. I've been working in the game industry for over a decade now, and am enjoying it now as much as I ever have. Many people do get burned out and leave the industry, but I can't speak as to why it happened to them and not me - I only have my own experiences to draw from.

Data is data, and moving it around efficiently is an interesting puzzle to solve whether it's polygons or account information.

Well, I'm glad you feel that way. I also believe that many different jobs can be interesting and rewarding with the right attitude. Still, *my* data is running through a dungeon, swinging a flaming sword and killing monsters... ;-)

Part of what makes game development different than other development is the cross collaboration of so many different disciplines. We work with game designers to create a grand vision and design. 3D artists /animators / texture and concept artists bring the world to life. Writers script the story, audio guys and composers bring the soundtrack to life, and others have their specialized roles as well (producers, QA, localization, etc). It all comes to life thanks to the work of the programmers (my job). It's an amazing collaboration of talents, all of whom individually could never achieve the final results without the support of the others.

To me - *that's* what's so fun and unique about game development.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

Sparton (1358159) | more than 5 years ago | (#27538701)

Well done for thinking as if programmers are the only people that make video games, while completely ignoring the creative input of designers, artists, and musicians.

Re:From a developer's perspective (4, Insightful)

cliffski (65094) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529065)

Crunch does not work. It just adds bugs at 2am that take 2 days to find.
I love games too, which is why I left mainstream dev and started up on my own. I work hard, and put a lot of effort in, but I don't 'crunch' any more, because I understand that coding at 2am is a disaster.
Its tragic than mainstream development has not realised this.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27529431)

As a developer with over a decade of experience in several studios ranging from a small startup to one of largest developers out there, I can tell you crunch is avoidable. In fact the best project I've worked on was completely devoid of any significant overtime whatsoever (the only overtime was due to some misinterpreted TCRs during finaling). It was quite an eyeopener coming from a 7 days a week, 16 hours minimum a day studio.

The biggest difference between no overtime and no life, was a highly experienced team of SEs, artists and capable managers that understood the meaning of scoping vs a bunch of junior (SEs / artists) with unmatched egos and management that deferred all decisions and day-to-day processes to the same junior SEs/artists.

I know it's a rare thing, but there was at least one studio out there where the crunch was beaten.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27534945)

In fact the best project I've worked on was completely devoid of any significant overtime whatsoever (the only overtime was due to some misinterpreted TCRs during finaling).

So no crunch time, except that one bit of crunch time?

I do admit that one is pretty damn close to zero compared to some of the horror stories that float around the games industry the same way that coffee-cup holder incidents float around support desks.

As another poster or two have already noted, I think people's idea of crunch (and the companion term, "death march") varies quite wildly.

My own feeling currently is that if you don't crunch on a project, you get left with a sort of feeling that you could have done more or better. Milestones are soft of like exams in that way.

But I haven't really experienced a crunch-free project to compare it with, nor have I experienced a death march or even been scarred by a particularly heavy crunch.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

mdarksbane (587589) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530217)

I'd say that there is a broad range of what can be considered "crunch time", and we need to define our terms.

Honestly, as a developer, part of me loves a week's worth of crunch time. Just going in until its done, and being that focused. Some people focus a lot better with that kind of a deadline.

But it has to limited (you have to know when it's over, and it can't last too long. I'd say more than 2-3 weeks is too long), it has to be reasonable (crunching to add a last feature before it goes to QA, or to squash those last couple bugs, as opposed to implementing core parts of the system), and it has to be paid.

Your spouse can live without you for a week at a time if she has warning, and you both know it's going to result in either a lot of vacation after the project's done or a lot of extra cash for projects. You just can't do it day in and day out with no end in sight, and no extra pay for it. That's the sort of thing that will destroy teams and families.

Re:From a developer's perspective (3, Interesting)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530553)

In game development, crunches are absolutely inevitable, as are nearly all large-scale project-based projects. There are even some companies that thrive on insane hours as a regular matter of course. I know of at least one company in which everyone regularly puts in 12 to 16 hours a day as a matter of course. They make no apologies for this, and if people go into this voluntarily, more power to them.
I've come to the conclusion that such things are not inevitable it is a sign of terrible management. If the company is forcing 12 to 16 hours a day especially at every stage of the cycle, they have several issues.
1) They don't care about quality. Quality is easy enough to burn without overworking your employees.
2) They aren't really getting the work they think they are. I'm as productive on a 10 hour day as I am a 16-10 hour day. Work past about 10 hours straight ends up being exponentially harder.
3) They have a hiring problem. If a company is forcing their employees to do 16 hour days they really are trying to do all the work with half the people they need.
4) They lose productivity and money from turnover. It costs to lose an employee, it costs to train the new one. I know not everyone is like this but I'm willing to stay in a job with a lower pay rate if I enjoy it. Perpetual crunch-time is not conducive to enjoyment. So at least for some employees it will save money to keep them happy.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532899)

I really should have defined what I meant by "crunch time". I knew it was going to be controversial when I said they were inevitable. But insane death marches are NOT inevitable. I actually agree with you 100%, but I think I need to clarify what I meant a bit.

By "crunch time", I simply mean an intensity of the development pace, not necessarily horrific hours and weekend work. It's the natural climax to a project, when everyone is excited about getting the game spit-polished and out the door. There have been many times when I've stayed weekends or extra hours to finish some unscheduled pet features that we otherwise wouldn't have time for. But mostly, it's just a brief acceleration of work in a final push to make the game as great as it can be in the time you have left. This has happened in every game I've ever worked on. As long as the period is suitable brief, it can be dealt with.

What it definitely is NOT inevitable, however, is 12-16 hour days and weekend work (often mandatory) by panicked management as the game comes down to the wire and it's not looking as good as it should (something that should be caught much earlier than this). And, this can happen for many months, even years at a time. That's a death march to me. I suppose some people consider that "crunch mode", and yeah, when that's happening, it's not healthy.

So, I'm making this mental distinction between these two terms that isn't widely recognized, I supposed. I agree that "crunch time" generally has a bad connotation to it, and that for the typical definition - it shouldn't be inevitable (I hope that came through in the rest of the post a bit). But the point I was trying to make is that it's natural for a project to ramp up in intensity as you draw closer to the alpha, beta, and RTM stages.

At my current employment, I have yet to actually work more than 40 hour weeks for any extended period of time. My employer actually believes in ensuring we produce quality, maintainable code, and that employees working too many hours will produce poor results. You can rest assured I'll be staying with them for a good, long time.

Re:From a developer's perspective (2, Insightful)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27533119)

Ok, yeah. I agree with you there. Any project will have a ramp up of intensity as the final deadline appears. We have worked a few 20+ hour days at my current job to meet deadlines but those are very infrequent. My direct supervisor is a former special forces aviator: he has a special sensitivity about jobs taking you away from family time and takes extra care to make sure we are properly staffed and scheduled to meet deadlines without burning the midnight oil.

I've got to say if a manager can't make reasonable scheduling and staffing decisions how can you trust that person to go to bat for you for a raise if you've done excellent work? When you work for someone there is a two-way trust bridge. If it isn't there in either direction, then the relationship is dysfunctional and is trouble just waiting to happen.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

tieTYT (989034) | more than 5 years ago | (#27537323)

3) They have a hiring problem. If a company is forcing their employees to do 16 hour days they really are trying to do all the work with half the people they need.

It doesn't work that way. I suggest you read the Mythical Man Month.

That being said, I think they most likely do have a hiring problem. How the hell are you supposed to sharpen your saw [codinghorror.com] when you work 80 hour weeks?

Is the quality of a game and the morale of the team worth sacrificing to deliver the product on its arbitrarily chosen completion date?

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27555757)

I have not read it but I am familiar with similar concepts. The problem that most managers have with throwing people at a due date is that they throw new people at an already behind project which is disaster. You can't throw new people on a team that is behind and get anywhere.

Re:From a developer's perspective (1)

A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) | more than 5 years ago | (#27537933)

I think (2) is the critical point for programmers, although I don't know about artists, level designers, marketing etc.

I'm a development manager at a software company, and we produce fairly technical (scientific) software, but I imagine programming in the gaming industry has some of the same constraints. Diminishing returns on the number of hours put in, and even extra hours becoming counter productive after a point, is an obvious reality for us.

We still have "crunch time", but it means going from 7.5 hours a day to 8.5 or 9.5 hours a day for one to two months before a big release, which happens every 18 months or so. At the extreme, one or two developers might work 10 hour days five days a week for a few weeks. We're very careful to monitor stress levels and code quality when that's happening, and make sure it's something the developer is happy doing.

But here's the thing - we meet deadlines. We rarely drop features. We produce high quality products, with no panic-driven patches coming out days later. We actually add polish to .0 releases.

We do all this by training the developers to be able to give accurate estimates, and helping them develop project management skills. The developer writes the requirements doc (we have a meeting to discuss features, but the developer produces the document that the meeting discusses). The developer sets the schedule for the release, including all milestones. And the developer takes the responsibility to decide how best to write the code and implement the features to meet the commitments they agreed to.

And of course we hire good people. :-)

Re:From a developer's perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27531857)

blah blah blah...

done triple-A game without crunch.

had a good team tho.

Re:From a developer's perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27533903)

"crunches are absolutely inevitable, as are nearly all large-scale project-based projects."

Agile development schemes protect against this, especially if what causes the crunch time is feature creep. If you've got crunch time, you've committed to doing too much for the time allotted.

Plans change - and you can't be doing waterfall style development if the plans are apt to change (especially with how often they change in game dev).

Why not pay people overtime for crunch time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27528899)

I mean, seriously, why not?

Say that management expects that the last three months of the project will be 80 hour weeks. Well, tell people that they are going to be paid less, so that you have money left over to pay the overtime at the end. If you projected the effort correctly, there's no difference in the cost, and you're a bit more honest with your employees.

People may even want to work that overtime in this point, they might look forward to crunch time!

On the other hand, you as the manager will see your expenses triple at the end of the project, and you'll have a real incentive to find a way to finish the project within, say, a 50 hour week.

On my movie projects, we pay weekends as overtime. It's only right. We build in the costs at the beginning of the project. People who say that you can't schedule overtime are lying.

Thad Beier

Re:Why not pay people overtime for crunch time? (1)

TBBle (72184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528951)

The issue that started this "split" is about people who _are_ being paid for crunch time, in so far as they have (according to what I've read about Epic, anyway) agreed to work above-and-beyond a 40-hour week on a regular basis for the money being offered. I don't think these people are being unfairly exploited.

It's of course blown out to encompass all those for whom crunch is above and beyond the call of their contract, and who aren't getting compensated for it.

And I certainly agree, no compensation, no crunch. If your studio doesn't look after you, don't labour on thinking you're setting yourself up for better later. You're just marking yourself as willing to be taken advantage of.

As any industrial psychologist or human engineer (4, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27528999)

will tell you, "crunch time" is like last-minute cramming for exams: it is a terrible way to get things done. Error rates go up dramatically, morale goes down dramatically, it has latent health effects, and leads to shoddy product.

The reason management likes it, is that they get to put all the burden on the lowly workers, and then blame them if the outcome is less than ideal. In fact, the workers were probably already blamed for making "crunch time" necessary in the first place. If you are an employee in such a place, this should send up a huge red flag that says: your company suffers from very bad management.

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

l0rd (52169) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529261)

Exactly!

Which planet do these guys live on, that it's normal to work 16 hours/day without looking for better management alternatives?

If you're going to work that much you may as well start your own company doing whatever it is you want to do. That way you get 100% say in how things are run & you 100% of the dinero.

Really strange, these people don't seem to have any lives whatsoever outside work. Kinda sad when you think about it!

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529289)

As opposed to non-human engineers?

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27530207)

Oh, SNAP!

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27544231)

Likely you already know this, but "Human Engineering" is a field of engineering, similar to Mechanical Engineering, that relates to making machines and products suitable for humans to use. So for example mechanical engineers might design a backhoe, but human engineers will likely be called in to design the operator's seat, and the controls, etc.

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

pommiekiwifruit (570416) | more than 5 years ago | (#27532735)

But, but, but the Unreal engine is perfect and bug-free and a work of genius, and doesn't look at all like it was written at 1 in the morning by someone half asleep...

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) | more than 5 years ago | (#27538041)

"The reason management likes it, is that they get to put all the burden on the lowly workers, and then blame them if the outcome is less than ideal."

I don't think that's really true. I think most management would want the project to succeed, and they're probably fairly desperate at that stage. They may have convinced themselves that crunch time is necessary, and anyone who doesn't put their whole life into the project is just not trying, but I doubt many of them like it. At least I hope not.

For a given project that's behind, what are the alternatives? It's considered somewhat 'standard' in the industry (and I know that's the real problem), and so the managers will be expected to make it happen. Standing up and saying that the project will miss the milestones and shipping dates to provide better working conditions would be unlikely to have a good result...

So the real need is to change how the whole industry views development. I think the post further down makes a good suggestion:
"Write your congressman and senator - IT should not be exempt from FLSA!"

But part of the problem is that the companies doing this to their employees are able to get people to take those jobs.

Re:As any industrial psychologist or human enginee (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#27540555)

Quote: "I don't think that's really true. I think most management would want the project to succeed, and they're probably fairly desperate at that stage. They may have convinced themselves that crunch time is necessary, and anyone who doesn't put their whole life into the project is just not trying, but I doubt many of them like it. At least I hope not."

I think you have missed my point, which is: if things have reached this stage, then the project has already been mismanaged. Sincerity has nothing to do with it. "Crunch Time" might be the way that management has decided to deal with the issue, but it is just about the worst possible way they could deal with the issue.

Quote: "For a given project that's behind, what are the alternatives? It's considered somewhat 'standard' in the industry (and I know that's the real problem), and so the managers will be expected to make it happen. Standing up and saying that the project will miss the milestones and shipping dates to provide better working conditions would be unlikely to have a good result...

Unfortunately, though, that *IS* the proper result. If the project has been mismanaged (and at this point it has), then management should suck it up and absorb the blame, which after all, they deserve. Let me try to clarify this: barring your in-house rockstar's sudden serious illness or the like, if the project does not meet its deadline, it is the fault of management. Period. Something has been mismanaged. Period. Either the deadline was badly estimated, or something else has gone wrong, but once again, the fault is not that of the workers, it is on the part of management.

Management can be sincere as hell, and as well-meaning as Mother Theresa, but if they are in this situation, they screwed up! They failed at their function.

Bravado (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27529183)

The thing that strikes me about the quality of life issues in the game industry is that there is always a struggle against it by people in the industry. While half of the industry is says things like "we need time to see our families" the other side seems to be from the point of "if you really had a passion for this you wouldn't have a family."

Mike Capps in this panel was a perfect example of this overwhelming bravado that causes so many good people to go outside of the industry for work. He stated pretty clearly that his employees have to prioritize work over family. He even went as far to say that one of the bonuses of having official crunch policies is that it allows his developers to have an excuse to give to their families as to why they never see each other. (Shortly after having divorce as an example of problems that can bring performance down. gee I wonder what happened at home)

There is a very large percentage of people in the industry who have a problem with seeing overtime and crunch as something to be proud of. Really it is the game industry equivalent of out of shape men at the gym crowding around each other lifting way too much weight and giving themselves hernias.

I know it is that way because I used to be one of them. I used to be proud of the fact that I was dedicated enough to work 80 hour weeks for months at a time, get swapped onto another team and start the 80 hr weeks again a few months later. Now that I am a little older, haven't been in the game industry for a while, and have a family I realize that it really is not worth it and how stupid I was for putting up with a work environment like that for so long. The fact that those environments still exist in such a large percentage, and even are encouraged to exist, is one of the big reasons why I haven't gone back to the industry.

Re:Bravado (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27529389)

I work at a games studio as a software developer. I used to work on the games but doing at one point 32 hour days I decided to move into the support software side of things.

Nice 9-5, well planned and not having publishers throwing their toys out the pram when when the "super must have" feature they just decided they want you to add isn't done in the 3 days before the milestone. (which inevitably gets removed before shipping anyhow).

Every time a game project comes to an end, we have mass migration of people either leaving, moving to none game team departments, or just going long term sick. Hell look at games most companies make, is it really worth reducing your life expectancy/health over? Nope!

The whole "living the dream" and "what you live for" is just management way of getting more time out of you, unfortunately it is counter productive... doing 6-8 hour days proved to be more productive as peoples brains work better when they have had you know sleep, proper food and seen the sky! ;)

Re:Bravado (1)

A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) | more than 5 years ago | (#27537975)

"Really it is the game industry equivalent of out of shape men at the gym crowding around each other lifting way too much weight and giving themselves hernias."

The sad part is that they're not like out of shape men - the ones pushed hardest are often some of the brightest and 'strongest' workers in an organisation. At crunch time who does a manager put the most pressure on? An employee that they know won't be able to get something done, or the star performer that can save the project if only they'd put more time in?

The main problem: Exempt IT (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27529611)

Programmers, analysts, and techs are not managers, and we are not doctors. We should be paid by the hour, without exception. This would force management to behave, because it would reveal to them the true cost of a project. Overtime pay is as high as it is because it accurately reflects the additional strain on your workforce.

Write your congressman and senator - IT should not be exempt from FLSA!

The gaming industrie is a tough business (1)

janwedekind (778872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27529983)

Sounds like the typical business of proprietary software to me. Milk your developers for as much copyrightable stuff as possible and give them money in return. When someone is not passionate any more (i.e. has burned out) just take the hard decision and fire them. Once you have accumulated enough intellectual property, you can start using it to push less ruthless companies out of business.

And now Della Rocca is gone (1)

twoallbeefpatties (615632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27530659)

It's noteworthy that not too long after this event, Mr. Della Rocca left the IGDA. I haven't had the time to watch the whole video yet since I'm on my way out the door to work, but a few days ago, Della Rocca put a large rant up on his website excoriating members of the IGDA for not wanting to get anything done. Summary at Kotaku: [kotaku.com]

Sorry for not having the leadership skills to beat the barriers of participation inequality. Less than 1% of the IGDA membership are truly active in driving the org forward. Sorry for not doing a better job building up a strong pipeline of community leaders and volunteers. Sorry for not overcoming your general apathy and laziness.

Sorry for not doing a better job of roping in all the snipers from the sidelines. Turns out you are all pretty damn good at bitching and complaining and being critical. But then you don't actually do anything about it and you don't get involved. Sorry for not bringing critics under the tent and getting them to work at improving things.

Sorry for not getting you to be more serious about the profession of game development. You are no longer a bunch of hacks. This is a real art and science. We need to be way more deliberate and control the path the profession takes as it evolves into the future.

It's a bit worrisome. In an industry that seems pretty staunch against unionization, who's going to make any change if even the groups that do exists for the rank and file aren't willing to take any voice in the matter?

the igda. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27531393)

Something is fundamentally wrong with the IGDA. First they state their mission is to promote better quality of life in the game industry. Then they have industry heads in the upper management(board of directors) of the igda(elected unfortunately) leading. Its like having the CEO's of a drug cartel leading an anti-narcotics organization. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the board is struggling to deal with how to defend the views of one of its own, with several industry veterans leaving as a direct result of this.

This is not the first comment about cruching from epic.
http://gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=22945

Delete the question! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27539699)

And now Tom Buscagula (IGDA board member) is running around deleting many of Brian Beuken's posts from these QoL forums, claiming they are personal attacks. Which they were not, they were very tame by Internet standards, and all contained reasoned and well thought out criticism of the IGDA positions.

So, if you ask a question the IGDA board doesn't want to hear, it seems that their response is to delete the question. Utterly disgraceful.

An organization held in contempt by the very people it is supposed to represent, this kind of action is a good example why. They don't have time to agree on what wor/life balance means, and certainly won't criticize a game developer on this issue, but they have time to delete reasoned criticism of their positions. Nice.

Union, Yes! (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#27539789)

What developers need is a union, like The Animation Guild. [animationguild.org] They represent people doing CGI effects for movies.

Film productions have crunches, too. What keeps them under control are union contracts. [animationguild.org]

  • "All time worked in excess of 8 hours per day shall be paid at one and one half times the hourly rate."
  • "Time worked on the employee's sixth day of the workweek shall be paid at 1 1/2 times the hourly rate."
  • "Time worked on the employee's seventh day ... shall be paid at twice the hourly rate."
  • "All time worked in excess of 14 consecutive hours (including meal periods) ... shall be paid at 2 times the hourly rate".

Hollywood has some other cost control provisions which are interesting. There's something called a "completion bond" [eqgroup.com] , where an insurance company guarantees to the investors that a picture will be completed. If a project gets into serious trouble, the completion bond company has the option of firing the management and putting someone else in. This keeps management from making overoptimistic estimates. Generally, a 10% cushion in time and money are explicitly added to the estimate. If the production runs over, bad stuff happens to the producer and director.

Because of contracts like that, film scheduling and budgeting are taken very seriously in Hollywood. Schedules and budgets are designed to avoid getting into unnecessary crunches.

Re:Union, Yes! (1)

Talgrath (1061686) | more than 5 years ago | (#27540869)

This is probably the inevitable for the industry, it's just a question of when; eventually people will realize that while working on a game is a cool idea, putting up with all the bullshit that goes with making a game and getting paid LESS (yes, less) than their counterparts in boring business applications, people will get a union or the game industry will be forced to set more realistic goals.

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