On the Crunch

This is a short thing because I am not feeling well.

This article has been making the rounds the past couple days. In it, Sean Murray talks about the beauty of the crunch and how it is a wildly creative time that fosters community development.

For those who don’t know, “crunch” is the compression of time before a game is supposed to ship. It is the product of bad time management, period. Full stop. The industry of video games, because of the publisher/studio model, requires hard deadlines. Planning for those deadlines, and creating accurate and realistic short-term goals during the development period, is crucial in order to prevent “crunch” from happening.

What is interesting about the crunch is that it is a potential in all industries–any product can be pushed to its deadline. However, other industries avoid crunch because it is the worst fucking idea ever. It burns employees out, and there are very few industries in which people are willing to work undercompensated overtime, sometimes up to 100 hours a week, just to maintain your job and ensure that you are employable in the future. Video games have made crunch such an important part of the development process that, as I understand it, a developer has the choice of “playing ball” or quitting out of the industry.

Murray writes about the crunch in his article:

So this is crunch I guess, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve ever heard it described. You probably know the feeling if you’ve ever created something you cared about for a deadline. Writing a book, cramming for an exam, jamming with your band into the night, doing a game jam; just losing yourself in the process. No matter how hard you work it’ll never be enough, but you get better so much quicker.

Except the crunch model, in all of these examples, is a failure of proper planning. Writing a good book requires editing, which means more time between finished product and submission; cramming for an exam is literally the worst way of studying and produces bad results, so much that it is a college life trope; a game jam is about having a product, not a polished thing that needs to support a studio and a company; jamming with a band doesn’t even make any goddamn sense as an example.

Anna Anthropy wrote about the crunch in her Rise of the Videogame Zinesters:

There exists within the games industry a phenomenon called “crunch mode”: working sixteen-hour days, staying at work until the game you’re being paid to make is finished. This isn’t something you’re asked to do–it’s expected, a standard condition of the job. And it’s likely the reason most people in the games industry, their physical and mental health fizzled, burn out and quit within a few years, forced to retrain and find a new career. According to the International Game Developers Association, the closest thing the industry has to an advocacy group for employees, 34 percent of game developers expect to leave the industry within five year, and 51 percent of them–half of them!–expect not to last a decade. That’s lunacy. (18)

More than lunacy, it is mindless reproduction of the status quo; it is saying “this worked before, I had to do it, and so all of you people are going to do it too.” It is both a hazing and a desiring of one’s own repression. It is a happiness with having all of the excess potential and labor being pulled out of your body forcefully, so much that you have to cram calories and liquid energy poison into every orifice at mach 5 just to keep up with the laundry list of shit that isn’t done but “should” be in the game.

You know another industry that forces workers to work extensive, stressful hours in conditions that are terrible for bodies and minds? Sweat shops clothing production.

In any case, I’m glad that Sean Murray feels like he’s a big strong part of the group with some real-ass experience under his belt. But like mine workers or sweat shop laborers, Murray has gotten a raw deal and has been told to smile about it so many times that he has started to do it on his own.

This should have been a learning moment.

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