Talking about crunch in game development can seem like inside baseball. It’s an issue that game developers are intimately familiar with, but one that doesn’t get talked about outside the industry.
With a New York Times opinion piece last week, Jason Schreier (news editor for Kotaku) is helping to draw the world’s attention to the issue of crunch. From the bold title — Video Games Are Destroying the People Who Make Them — to the vivid examples, he creates a compelling and disturbing picture of a well-documented danger in the industry.
The designer Clint Hocking described suffering memory loss as a result of the stress and anxiety of crunching on a game. Brett Douville, a veteran game programmer, said he once worked so long and for so hard that he found himself temporarily unable to step out of his car.
Modern video games like Mass Effect and Uncharted cost tens of millions of dollars and require the labor of hundreds of people, who can each work 80- or even 100-hour weeks. In game development, crunch is not constrained to the final two or three weeks of a project. A team might crunch at any time, and a crunch might endure for several months. Programmers will stay late on weeknights to squash bugs, artists will use weekends to put the final polish on their characters, and everyone on the team will feel pressured to work extra hours in solidarity with overworked colleagues.
Schreier recently released Blood, Sweat and Pixels, a book documenting the almost impossible journeys some of our favorite games take to release.