Gavin Goulden Profile picture
Jan 20, 2018 25 tweets 5 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Crunch is Dumb, A Thread. #GameDev
You’ve all heard stories about crunch being bad because of burnout, diminishing returns on productivity, mental and physical health, and it being a ‘management problem.’ But one issue I would like to mention, which doesn’t get brought up often IS….
Crunch doesn’t solve the actual problem. Crunch is a short term solution for a long term problem that is backed by all of those bad habits mentioned above. So, while you can get pressured into working overtime to finish a task that was never planned for, and it’ll get done…
It doesn’t solve the problem that, somewhere along the way, something went wrong and as long as that fact is masked by crunch– it never will be solved. If crunch brings some form of success, it will be the solution. There’s a few reasons why this happens…
We’re conditioned to give a fuck and can be shamed to feel we don’t give enough fucks. Your desire to be the best, and maybe even take your own time to push something further, gets manipulated into forced overtime work.
This also leads into the passive crunch culture. You’re not specifically told to pull 12 hour days, but you don’t want to be the first one to stand up and go home, so you sit and wait for the first person to take the leap and show that they care less than everyone else. Total BS.
Also, Crunch generally only costs the employee. Without compensation, it is effectively free work – so it doesn’t change the cost of making the product. Sure, pizzas and massages are costly, but it’s not as much as hundreds of people working hundreds of hours of overtime.
I’m not going to argue for or against unions, but anyone who has freelanced before and shows a client the price tag for multiple revisions and billed time – knows that there is a difference.
Beyond that, you also WILL get results because it’s a brute force method. It doesn’t matter if the results were a bit sloppy, they hit the goal and that’s what matters. If you have enough people in a room, essentially creating an extra 6 months of work – things will get done.
This is what makes Crunch the easiest solution. It’s so tantalizing because you can get all of the work done in far less time than you should, the impact on the cost of the project is generally low, and all it really takes is to question someone’s ‘dedication.’
A rock sitting on a keyboard could come up with this answer. It takes zero effort.
I’ve been on death marches. I’ve worked to the point of hallucinating. I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’ve seen others deal with much worse and I’m positive the reason that kept going, years ago now, is because the results kept up and no one planned for a better…well…plan
At Insomniac, I’m very fortunate to be in a position here I can help prevent this type of shit and have a supportive team that believes in improving ourselves. Being the best. Being a great place to work. Being a force for good.
As a lead, in different companies, I’ve valued protecting that right and here are some things I try to keep in mind to avoid having my team crunch and to have a more healthy work / life balance that gets results, has you not at work all day, and keeps production running smoothly:
Realize there are different levers to pull in order to create time, without demanding it of your team. Reducing scope of a feature, or adjusting the deliverable. If it’s a recurring problem, consider increasing your head count. If it’s an emergency, offload work to freelancers.
Block out ideas early and solve problems at the cheapest, quickest level. Concepts, greymesh, animatics, etc. allow for rapid iteration with little impact to the schedule. “Fail early”, is another way to put it.
Be involved with scheduling your team. Know the basic timeframe for different types of assets and block your milestone out with enough wiggle room for when something goes wrong, the more numbers you have to back up your work, the better case you have against additions and changes
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Learn to say ‘No.’ If it won’t fit in your schedule, it won’t fit – there may be an easier solution. A compromise. Maybe animation only needs a blocked out character to keep working, design only needs a texture swap to prove something out, etc
When things get dire, have a trading system. If you can establish a value to each asset, it’s easier for someone to make a choice on what is a must have and ‘what would be cool if’ Generally, the essentials make a stronger game, tell the better story, keep the product consistent
Be vocal. Defend what you know is right. As a lead, it’s your job to have conversations with people on topics that aren’t easy. But, there are diplomatic solutions – there are ways for both sides to get what they want through compromise.
My point being; There are ways to prevent the problem from happening by using different tools other than people’s free time. If they choose to work more on something they like, sure, but eating into someone’s life shouldn’t be something you rely on.
Creating a process that learns from the mistakes early, is proactive about building from those mistakes, has resources prepared, has open communication about expectations – that’s how you solve a bigger problem, a problem that breeds knee jerk reactions such as crunch.
Virtually everyone in the industry has a story like what you read in these articles. That’s usually followed by some type of validation, as if it’s a rite of passage to have that story. It’s not. It’s also not a lost cause, you can help change the industry this is less common.
Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘this is just how it is.’ That’s just how shit worked in 1993 when we were just figuring this out, had no money, or history, or training to spot these types of problems. We’re better than that.
Anyway, this is what rolls around in my head after reading articles like the previously shared GI one. It’s a shame to see, but we can make things better. End rant, have a nice weekend!

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More from @GavinGoulden

Mar 24, 2018
During my portfolio reviews this year, one common point of feedback I found myself giving artists was that their pieces didn’t tell a story. I wanted to elaborate a bit in the Twitterverse, please feel free to add your POV #GameDev (1/n)
Generally, when you begin to think of the story behind your piece, it will begin to inform the choices you make during it’s production. The creativity behind the history of why something exists ca easily play into the technical benefits (2/n)
Beyond just making a knight character, and focusing on the construction of armor. Where does it come from? Have they been in battle? Is it a standard issue, or personalized? Etc. This can help give construction details to the armor itself (3/n)
Read 12 tweets

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