Why Do Game Developers Crunch?

Crunch time. It’s the bane of game development. In order to meet a launch deadline, I’ve often had to work 60, 80, even 100 hours a week on a game I was developing. I remember visiting a developer’s office at midnight while I was producing a Who Framed Roger Rabbit game for Disney, when suddenly the lead programmer pulled a pillow out of his desk drawer and then dived under the desk to catch a couple hours of sleep before resuming his debugging work.

No matter where I’ve worked, no matter what the circumstances, the project eventually involves crunch time for the development team. Those of us who work in the game industry take it for granted, but those who work outside of the industry (especially my wife) often ask me, “why does crunch time need to happen?”

Actually,there are lots of factors contributing to crunch time:

  • Many games are dependent upon creative and/or technical innovation, which is difficult to predict and schedule.
  • Game design is an iterative process. The only way to tell if your game is fun is to observe playtesters playtest it, and if they have problems understanding or enjoying your game, you have to go back, find a solution to the problem, fix it, and then playtest it again. So, it is difficult to predict how many iterations it will take before a game is good enough to fix.
  • Game development is a very complicated endeavor, often involving hundreds of thousands of lines of code and art assets, or even more. There are millions of things that can go wrong, and people make mistakes, especially when they are under pressure or tired.
  • Game publishing is very competitive, and so publishers put pressure on developers to make games faster, cheaper and better. Often those expectations are unrealistic, requiring developers to work overtime to meet a deadline.
  • Some game development teams, especially in the early days of the game industry, are staffed by very young and passionate people who put all of their energies in making a game, even at the expense of their personal lives during the length of the project. This lead to the stereotype of the game developer with no life. I once had a boss at a large publishing company me, “You’re not a real game developer unless you are work 60 hours a week” even when you’re not struggling to meet a deadline. Today, there are companies who work with a Crunch Time Culture, although the game industry has realized that employee burn-out is a problem and are try to find ways to avoid it.

Thankfully, I think things are getting better. While crunch time still happens far too often, more and more managers in the game industry are realizing that working such longer hours is unhealthy and that crunch time can cause more problems than it fixes. Now we just need to find some other way to get 20 hours of productivity out of an 8-hour work day.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on March 25, 2013, in Game Production and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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