Tim Schafer Opens Up About the Costs of Crunch

Photo by Darwin Yamamoto (CC BY 2.0)

Last week, Resources for Humans sat down with Tim Schafer of Double Fine Games, one of the most recognizable game developers around. Over the course of an almost 30-year career in the industry, Schafer has seen crunch from almost every angle. But whether overwork is mandated or self-driven, he’s skeptical about all of it.

Talking about his early career at LucasArts, he shares the initial appeal of crunch.

It was, and still is, part of the culture of programming to focus on a task and just keep going and going until it is done. At school, that meant going into a bunker full of computer terminals and coming out at 5 a.m. And at LucasArts, young workers would regularly crank out code until late into the night.

“We were happy, and the work was so rewarding, it never occurred to us that we were being exploited,” said Schafer. “Ron came into the office at one point and said ‘We’re going to have to start working evenings and weekends!’ and we just said ‘OK!’ But at one point we did calculate how much we were being paid per hour and it came out at $3.50, and we were a little more depressed after that.”

 
Those long hours didn’t come without cost. Along with its health and productivity detriments, crunch did serious damage to Schafer’s personal life. In the interview, profile, he explains how he sees overwork as a major factor in the end of his first marriage.

“You don’t realize until it has happened that you’re doing all this damage to your personal life by staying at work all the time,” he said. “You can mentally put the rest of the world on hold, but the rest of the world can’t necessarily be put on hold by you. I was so gung-ho about it. If you think someone will wait for you and tolerate you not being around… people move on.”

 
Schafer eventually came to find sustainable hours more productive for himself and his team, a conclusion borne out by the research on overwork. Now, his team works together to find more efficient working strategies and, in doing so, get around the issues of overwork, overload and burnout.

Head on over to Medium for the full profile, and to see how this healthier working schedule has changed Schafer’s life for the better.