Don't be a crunch hero

Don't be a crunch hero
Will Luton

By Will Luton

September 16th 2011 at 10:30AM

Crunch doesn't have to be a reality of any development for any employee, says Will Luton

Last month a certain outspoken analyst posted a video blog on Team Bondi’s alleged crunch practices that provoked a Twitter frenzy. At the time I was – stop press – on holiday.

I like outspoken people in the games industry, even when they’re wrong. I don’t think there are enough of them and we should encourage a culture where people speak their mind.

But crunch-romanticising rhetoric, of which Michael Pachter is not the only champion, is dangerous.
When I talk of crunch, I don’t mean the odd extra hour of paid overtime, but of employees coerced to work tens of hours over their weekly contracted time for weeks or months, often unpaid.

Crunch leads firstly to employee burnout and, in extreme cases, relationship breakdown and serious mental and physical illness.

A recent study found those regularly working 10-to-11-hour days increase their risk of heart disease by 60 per cent. It is a figure which has not surprised doctors who regularly deal with issues arising from unfavorable work hours.

On top of this it doesn’t make sense financially. Beyond even the cost of employee replacement, crunched employees are less productive. The amount and quality of work per hour drops as hours lengthen, increasing production costs.

IS CRUNCH A RELIC?

Phil Harrison commented at the Develop Conference that teams working on service-like games, like we do here at Mobile Pie, have more a ‘constant hum’ than crunch. A digital minimum viable product release is surely easier than a final physical one? Release soon, continue to build while it’s live sounds good to me.

Yet talking to other start-up devs about crunch, many are sheepish. It still exists and rather than crunching to RTM they’re crunching to first release, concerned about making a splash in a competitive market.

I believe that crunch exists not because of necessity but because of culture. ‘Heroes’, as Fried and Hansson of 37Signals call them in the thought-provoking book ReWork, pride themselves on long hours and poor work-life balance. Heroes tell people to suck-it-up and get on, because the industry is tough.

This quixotic attitude creates even more heroes and forces people out of the industry, sometime before they’ve even joined it.

One commenter on the Pachter video says “being someone who has great passion for games and has wanted to work in the industry since I was young, I feel let down... I lost a great deal of motivation”.

My advice to GameName – the dismayed commenter – and anyone starting out who encounters crunch is: This is not the norm.

NO MORE HEROES

Yes, work hard. Yes, do overtime if it’s offered and you want to do it, but show the strength of character to say no when you don’t. If you maintain a healthy work-life balance, you will be more productive, creative and happier when working, which will do much more for your career than being tired, unproductive and miserable when turning out the lights every night.

Here at Mobile Pie, as you won’t be surprised, we don’t do crunch. Few of our employees have ever done overtime during their time here, when they do they are paid or offered lieu. I believe this makes us a stronger team. Certainly we’ve not lost a single staff member in our three years so far.

Crunch is not and doesn’t have to be a reality of any development for any employee as many non-crunch studios prove. The tide is now turning, showing that we can work hard, smart, stay healthy and still produce great things.

Do your bit to stop crunch. Don’t be a hero.