Develop Jury looks at both sides of the coin

Crunch and overtime â??a complex, destructive issueâ??

Passion for delivering quality entertainment is just one of the many reasons that crunch and overtime exists, says this week’s Jury, as a host of developers explained how the issue is far more complex than what can be said in an anonymous inflammatory blog post.

In fact, David Amor – creative director of Relentless Software, a studio with a reputation for eliminating crunch and – was one of the first to express how complicated the issue is.

“I used to think that crunching would always have a negative effect on staff turnover and studio morale, but now I believe it’s more complex than that: sometimes crunch will bring a team together, sometimes it’s exciting,” he said.

“What I still believe though is that things become less predictable and more chaotic. It’s hard to be sure that you’re going to meet your milestone date when you’re just past Alpha and already the team are working evenings and weekends.”

And Chris Kruger, an experienced developer who has worked for a number of studios, took a philosophical approach to the matter.

“To the company, the cost of crunch is very hard to define but any benefit at all is easy to measure. That’s why it’s such an easy decision to make for most companies.”

Kruger, who has worked on titles such as Manhunt 2 and GTA Vice City, did concede that crunch is “totally damaging”, though much more for staff than projects.

“An almost failed marriage in my case,” he said.

Team 17 Studio Director Martyn Brown made his views on the matter clear:

“Sustained periods of crunch in no way benefit projects, people or studios, increasing illness, stress and motivation,” he said.

Proper Games developer Andrew Smith reflected both views, stating that overtime can be “deeply damaging”.

Said Smith: “If you care about a game – and most of us get into the industry to make things we care about – then it’s so easy to do the odd late night to make sure you get what you want done properly and on time.

“The problem is that it gets out of control very quickly, and there are a multitude of ways it can cause damage.”

Smith also spoke of how console cycles and rapidly advancing technology will make a fully capable and confident team suddenly oblivious to the newest platform – another reason why milestones can be missed.

He asked: “How can anyone accurately predict how long a level will take to make with brand new tools that don’t even exist yet?”

But the Jury’s majority view was that crunch is a problematic by-product of passion and bad management that, however, is somewhat understandable considering the tasks at hand.

Bizarre Creations’ commercial director Sarah Chudley and Assyria Game Studio MD Adam Green both said that crunch was – simply – the nature of the beast.

“I really can’t see games, or other similar industries, being able to be produced without any sort of a crunch – whatever some studios might claim!, said Chudley, “because passionate and creative people want to utilise as much of the available time to make the best games they can.”

Cohort Studios CEO Lol Scragg said crunch was “an unfortunate necessity in this industry, as much as we try and avoid it.”

He said: “Even with great planning, strong project management and a dedicated team, there will always be situations where overtime is unavoidable.”

Meanwhile, Zoe Mode general manager Ed Daly called for studios to be more flexible to minimise crunch, while nDreams CEO Patrick O’Luanaigh said that excessive work hours for programmers can create as many bugs as they fix.

Click here to read the Develop Jury in full.

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