How Midnight Hub Is Making a Game Without Crunch

Lake Ridden, from Midnight Hub

Creating games can be an intense job. It’s not uncommon for studios or publishers to expect the people making their games to work sixty, seventy, eighty hour weeks, all without additional compensation. Crunch, in other words. It’s an unhealthy, harmful practice — but it’s also a big part of how many games get made. Each time a successful game gets made on the backs of crunching workers, it’s seen as an argument that the practice is necessary and unavoidable.

Some studios are pushing back against that idea. Take Bungie, long known as a studio that mandated quite a bit of crunch. The studio announced earlier this year that they’d shipped several recent products (including Destiny 2) without mandated crunch. And Bungie isn’t alone. Midnight Hub is a five-person studio based in Sweden that’s attempting to release a new game — Lake Ridden — without crunching, and co-founder Sara Casen has documented those efforts.

In the first of a series of articles on project management, she gets to the heart of the issue:

When making almost anything, may it be a video game or a house, you basically have four main resources to manage; money, time, materials and humans. Money is usually the easiest to understand. When there is no more money in the bank, projects really tend to come to a halt. Time is kinda straightforward, it’s 24h hours per day and you can’t get more of it, deadlines are set. Materials are kinda easy to understand when making games, it’s clearly dependent on money and usually include things such as computers, licenses, office space, coffee etc.

Humans, on the other hand (sorry if I come across like some robot overlord that labels human as a mere resource). My experience as a project manager is that a lot of managers see humans as the variable that can be squeezed just a little bit more. If the money is coming to an end, time is running out and we already have all the material, then people choose to push the human factor harder. That’s mainly because it’s hard to know how much you can theoretically get out of a human resource. Some people work 80 hour weeks and love it, others have very little output after 6 hours a day. So management often tends to push the human resources for as far as they can. You know when you don’t have any money left in the bank, but how about your employees? When you have pushed someone to burn out it’s often too late. In my opinion, it’s easier to raise more money than to fix the longterm damage done to someone’s brain.

It’s true for solo devs, too. When you’re out of time or money, the easiest thing to keep pushing is yourself — but the consequences can be dire.

Casen shares a lot of strategies her company has used to avoid crunch and protect employees, including some very common sense policies that should probably be standard in the industry.

  • Cut down on hours in the office. We’re at the office 9-5 and have one hour for lunch in the middle of the day.
  • Everybody leaves at the same time, no one is left behind to work alone.
  • Management has stated it’s a goal to avoid crunch and overtime.
  • Pre-paid vacation for all our employees.
  • Possibility to work 80% or 50% if you’re currently dealing with a “Mammoth Task”. This is those tasks that totally drains you out. They are usually: something you have never ever done before, very difficult to do, takes weeks or months to complete and have serious consequences if you get them wrong. An example could be crafting a shareholders’ agreement contract for the studio, putting together a pitch for an investment etc.
  • Days off to recover if you’re traveling or have to work on a weekend.
  • Closing down the office entirely during summer and Christmas vacations, no one works alone.

Midnight Hub hasn’t shipped Lake Ridden yet, but it’s an experienced team taking a solid shot at improving working condition. Find Casen’s full post at Gamasutra for more and learn more about Midnight Hub’s project management practices in the second post in her series.

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