Crunch is yet again a hot topic in the gaming news. With the recent stories about crunch development there has been a renewed interest in Take This’ 2016 white paper on crunch and many organizations have come to us for comment on the topic.
As the expert authority on mental health issues in the video game culture and industry, Take This is dedicated to working with the game community to remove long-term crunch, or “cultural crunch.” As part of our efforts to increase mental wellness in the gaming community, Take This provides consultation to companies on crunch and related cultural challenges, identifying strategies and standards that address both moral imperatives and a developer’s bottom line.
Crunch has long been a badge of honor in the industry and is a deeply-embedded aspect of its culture. Simply put, crunch is harmful, and overlong work hours should not be a proxy for “passion.”
Take This wrote the white paper in order to call out the persistence of the culture of crunch years after it had first been highlighted, since crunch has so many harmful effects on workers’ mental health. These negative effects can be both short- and long- term, and often coincide with declines in physical health, non-work social connections, productivity, turnover, and job satisfaction. Research indicates that productivity declines sharply after as little as four days of extended work hours. Even slight increases over a 40-hour work week are detrimental to hourly productivity after two months.
And still, the problem persists, especially because of a few very successful companies and franchises where good games have come despite a culture of crunch. According to the IGDA’s 2017 Developer Survey, crunch is an ongoing challenge, “These statistics indicate an upward pressure on the ‘typical’ regular schedule. As well, crunch was still a problem: 51% said that their job involves crunch time… Forty-three percent said they were in crunch more than twice in the last two years; and 53% said that crunch time was expected at their workplace.”
Culture change is hard, and eliminating crunch is about culture change. It’s true that much has changed in the industry. Many, many fantastic developers have eliminated crunch from their vocabulary. Many others have made crunch a situational, short-term experience that is closely monitored and limited. As we think about the games we purchase, consider the human cost of those games. How many lost hours with friends and family went into that game? How many illnesses are part of the build? How many people’s emotional and physical health declined to make that game? What lessons are we continuing to teach the next generation of developers and gamers about what is considered “normal” in the game industry? Especially when there are well-intentioned studios producing quality games without crunching, there is a moral imperative to removing long-term, compulsory crunch from work environments.