Crunch time: More industry vets voice opinion on topic du jour

By Stephany Nunneley
27 July 2011 20:34 GMT

More and more developers are offering opinions on the recent hot topic of the dreaded crunch time. While some contend that a certain amount of time spent crunching during a game’s development cycle is inevitable, all seem to agree it can be avoided if proper planning is implemented and adhered to from the start.

Hothead on a maturing industry

Mike Inglehart is just one developer believes a certain level of crunch time par for the course as a development deadline draws closer.

Inglehart, who works for Hothead games, is also of the opinion that poor planning leads to crunch, and even if you stick to a development plan drawn up during pre-production, it is still bound to happen.

“Obviously some things are beyond your control, but generally crunch comes around because people tend to bite off more than they can chew in the time and budget that they’re afforded,” he told Edge.

“Developers and publishers should put more stock in their people and be realistic: understand what you can do in the time you have. Preproduction and good planning could ultimately limit senseless crunch.”

Ingleheart goes on to say that if an employee is put under constant crunch duress, it may sour them to the industry, causing them to never want to work in it again.

“The industry’s maturing now: lots of guys have families. When I started I was 25, so the only thing I had to do was go home and pay the bills and lock the door.

“You can’t sustain it project in, project out. You burn out and you might not want to work in the industry anymore.”

Ubisoft and BioWare veteran Charles Randall

On the other side of the argument, Ubisoft and BioWare veteran Charles Randall, believes crunch is avoidable and the lack of maturity in the industry is one of crunch’s underlying causes.

“I have been making games professionally for over twelve years now,” he wrote in his editorial on Edge. “By my estimate, in that time, I’ve worked about five years of crunch. And by crunch, I mean at least 60 hours a week. I’m not counting the odd day where I had to stay an extra two or three hours. In general, I’m not even counting the few days leading up to a milestone where I ate dinner at the office and kept working.

“Every single bit of crunch came down to poor planning, or a refusal to accept reality. And I’m not just putting the blame on the people I worked for, which is why I’m not naming names or pointing fingers. I’ve done plenty of crunch on my own, because of my own refusal to accept reality. There were more than a few times I took a nearly impossible set of features as a challenge, and then did the crunch to make them real. It is rarely worth it.”

Randall also took unberage with analayst Michael Pachter’s view on crunch time, especially when he stated that those who couldn’t handle it should go get a hourly job building automobiles.

“Then you get someone like Michael Pachter, who has never actually worked in game development, broadly stating that crunch is something you have to accept,” he said. “Well, it isn’t. He is wrong. He states that periods of crunch should last three to six months at the end of the project. Given that almost no games have a development period of more than two years any more, he’s saying that to make games, you may have to give up a quarter of your life. Or worse.

“Bullshit. Crunch is avoidable. But it requires a level of maturity and acceptance that the game industry sorely lacks. People argue that there’s always a period of crunch necessary at the end of a project. But that’s not true, either.

“If you are disciplined enough to accept deadlines and understand that there’s a point where you have to stop adding features, schedules can be planned with some lead time for debugging.”

Look for the debate on this to fizzle out sometime by the end of the year.

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