The abuser logic of crunch, and why producers are important

Signal boosting this, because it’s rebutting an article (and an attitude) that needed to be rebutted. The unhealthy mindset that equates work-life balance to insufficient commitment to one’s work does no one any favors in the long run: not the employees who burn out, and not the companies who get short-term productivity in exchange for burning out employees in the long term. Sure, the work gets done faster now, but then you lose good people and get a reputation as a horrible place to work.

I am a game developer, and I’m well aware that I could be making more money elsewhere. I chose this industry because I love what I do. But I also love having friends, and hobbies, and time for side projects, and I don’t think it’s healthy or sustainable to have nothing in your life but your job. (After all, your employer could go under, or lay you off, so why put all your eggs in that basket?) The industry will be the poorer if we drive away everyone who could find better uses for their free time than working into the night.

My current job actually gives me a pretty decent work-life balance, and what do you know, we’ve managed to make and maintain a pretty successful game without working stupidly long hours. How about that. So given that it is, in fact, possible to make and ship games on a sane schedule, the contention that people who don’t want to work long hours just don’t love their jobs enough starts to sound like a Captain Awkward letter where an abusive partner says “If you loved me, you would put up with [insert toxic behavior].” In fact… I’m starting to see a lot of abuser-logic patterns in St. John’s article. Such as the typecasting of people who dare to want fair pay and reasonable hours as “wage slaves”. (Oh, I thought you were like one of those cool game developers who was going to make it big, but now that you’ve had the temerity to ask for downtime you’re just like the rest of the drones.) Such as saying that if you’re feeling burned out by long hours, it’s your fault that you just couldn’t hack it. Such as the idea that because we have been given the gift of a job in this industry, we now owe it all of our time and brainpower and sanity in return. You shouldn’t have to be married to your job if your job is going to be clingy and jealous and stop you from seeing your friends.

Also, I’d like to address a point that is touched on lightly by both articles. Bolded text is from St. John’s original article, unbolded text is from Ismail’s rebuttal.

You can’t “make fun” on a schedule, under budget, on time with a bunch of people who are all grumbling about what a miserable time they are having finishing a game together.

You can’t, which is why you make sure that your employees aren’t miserable finishing a game together because you did stay on schedule, under budget, and on time. This situation occurs when your schedule sucked and your budget sucked, and that’s the fault of the entrepreneurs — not the employees.

Ismail mentions this more than once–that crunch time can be prevented by better scheduling–and I think it’s an important point that deserves to be expanded on. As someone who has starting to dip a toe into the scheduling and planning side of game development, I cannot over-stress the importance of planning ahead, time budgeting, and managing feature creep. If employees are crunching to finish a project on time, it’s because somewhere along the way something went wrong: someone didn’t budget enough time to allow for bug fixes and other unscheduled tasks, or was over-optimistic about the time it would take for necessary tasks to get done, or added time-consuming features that weren’t in the original estimate. And these things do happen, but it’s the job of producers and management to allow for them and leave breathing room in the schedule–and then to monitor progress along the way to make sure everything is still on track. If the project is too big to finish on time, they can cut features, or extend deadlines, or hire more employees; pick a side of the vision-schedule-resources triangle. But it’s not fair to employees to force them to take up the slack when someone above them has dropped the ball on planning. And to suggest that “this is just how it is” in the industry, or that making great games requires crunch time and everyone just has to suck it up, diminishes the role of all the producers out there who are working hard to get games shipped on a sane schedule.

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