I’m reading a book called Game Production & Development written by Erik Bethke.
Bethke states on several occasions that crunch is a result of bad planning. I agree with that statement. Crunch IS a result of bad planning, in combination with feature creep and a lack of timely decisions. But crunch is also a result of a culture that expects me to love what I do to the extent that I should be compelled to give my time away for free.
I’m expected to be passionate about games. What this means, to me, and I suspect to many others, is that if we’re running late on a deadline, I should just fix it.
Bethke’s book is full of these contradictions. “Don’t overwhelm the developers” versus “I proudly work 80 hour weeks, and really, if you’re a good dev, you should want that too.”
Yes, this book is from 2002, but I can easily find job ads on LinkedIn or company websites that ask for “dedicated” and “passionate” developers. The subtext is clear. They’re looking for the fools among us who would spend our time at our desks, struggling to finish our tasks within often ridiculously unstructured or unplanned projects. The culture counts on us to give our time to companies that will drop us faster than a hot potato when we’re no longer useful.
I’ve spent hours of overtime at all the studios that I’ve worked at. I worked a year and a half overtime on Anthem. My days ranged from 10 to 16 hours. Despite this I was told there were people in lead positions undermining me and campaigning to have me fired, presumably because I told them “no” now and again.
To my knowledge it is easy to make yourself unpopular at the company you work for, and most companies seem to be fine with the lack of loyalty from their end.
But we who work for those companies should sacrifice ourselves, our time and sometimes our long term health and above all stay loyal to the company we work for. We don’t have the luxury of dropping the company like a hot potato once it starts expecting us to give everything we have and get very little in return.
As I said, Bethke’s book is full of those kinds of overt or covert implications. As a game developer you should be damned happy that you even get to work in this industry, especially if you belong to a marginalized group or the “lower status” disciplines such as quality assurance or certain design areas. 1
Bethke’s book may be ancient by game development standards but when it comes to the marked lack of production methods and the cultural implications that really, you should love working with games so much that you would sacrifice to do it is remarkably up to date. 21 years and not much has changed, except the budgets are bigger, the games are bigger and the chance of failure is enormous.
The people who pay in the end are not the publishers or the developer studios. The people who pay are those passionate souls who went into games for the love of it all and were ruthlessly ground down in the passion machine that is game development.