Video game development philosophies have grown by leaps and bounds since the development of the first commercial video games. However, one facet has become a mainstay of development which has had a detrimental effect on the talent within the industry, and that is the glorification of working overtime or “crunch”.
Leadership and planning
The concept of overtime was developed as a way of deterring employers from overworking their employees. Increasing pay during hours worked exceeding the norm, to pay and a half and eventually double pay, one would expect employers to limit the use of OT, which most industries traditionally have.
Yet the video game development community has taken the concept of OT and bastardized it into a symbol of dedication, workers who go beyond the mandatory 12-16 hour work day and also give up their weekends for a project, for months if not years at a time are seen as team players. Even when presented as voluntary additional work to help a project meet its milestones, the reality of what is happening is that the leaders and management have failed to adequately measure the scope and workload of their project and are now throwing man-hours at the project to stave off failure.
This is a perpetual cycle and as such the necessary failure, needed for growth in maturity and understanding of project planning, never comes. OT hours are thrown around, and additional hires are made, all as a way of treating the symptom, as a way of denying the core problem; a failure in project management, not a lack of work produced or time. In this environment, talent is used up and forced out, by being subjected to this severe breakdown of work-life balance, most developers eventually quit to go to another company or to leave the industry entirely, only to be replaced with another unwitting and eager professional.
When the workforce gets wind of this inefficiency and sees that they are being parked as warm bodies in chairs, waiting for the departments that have fallen behind to catch up to be given new work, they begin to wonder how the company can afford this payout. That is a good question and when we begin to see the wages of professionals within the industry we can see how OT is factored in. As a whole developers within the video game industry are severely underpaid compared to people with similar titles in other industries, thus the only chance they have to make a living is to make up for the lower base income through the participation in OT.
The law of diminishing returns
The final and most important point to consider when we are deciding on whether or not the abuse of OT to be something we want defining our industry is the law of diminishing returns. By cannibalizing our talent pool for a project, we destroy the mentorship and leadership structures that can help the next wave of developers learn and replicate the success of our past projects.
When companies face a mass exodus due to prohibitively demanding work environments, they lose more than some good workers, they lose their culture, their history, and their ability to provide growth opportunities for their employees. In an industry which is treating workers as disposable commodities; abusing them with busy work to mask poor planning, glorifying OT stated as a way to make up for low wages, and an environment which promises opportunities for growth but is founded on exploitation, we must ask ourselves if there isn’t a better way to lead, and a better way to work.
Do you have an experience working OT in the video game industry? Do you feel that the application of OT can be helpful to a project? Do you believe in the prolonged application of OT as a sustainable labor model or do you believe it will prove to be a hinderance to the growth of the industry? I welcome discussion on this topic and if you have experiences of your own you wish to share please do so in the comments below, or write in to firstname.lastname@example.org.