As Games Recruiters, we spend a lot of time talking about company culture and one question comes up time and time again…
Giles our Games and Interactive Manager explains how we can make Crunch a more positive experience…
Is it really that big of an issue?
Comparing the IGDA’s ‘quality of life’ survey from 2004 and 2017, we can see a lot has changed as various questions become obsolete, they are removed or updated, but the section on crunch is still going strong and shows some interesting changes (or similarities)!
At first glance, it would seem the chart highlights the amount of people working crunch periods has dramatically reduced, however in actual fact the 2017 report shows another *44% stated they worked long hours not considered ‘crunch’. It would appear that perhaps the definition is changing, or that studios are trying to avoid overtime being considered ‘a crunch period’?
Either way there is no escaping it and the Games industry’s obsession with crunch is nothing new. But in amongst all of the exposés and clickbait headlines, an important topic is often overlooked - what are we actually doing to effect change?
Good v Bad
The blanket term of ‘crunch’ is currently used to describe so many situations that it is sometimes hard to get to the crux of what is being discussed. It can help to break this down into two categories.
😇 Good Crunch v Bad Crunch 😈
This separation allows us to refer to good crunch as a ‘well planned’ and ‘well structured’ process where an entire team is motivated and leaves feeling positive and that their time is going to the greater good. Versus bad crunch that is unplanned, unstructured and everyone is working to tight deadlines around the clock, and burning out. This could go some way to explain the split in the 2017 IGDA’s ‘quality of life’ survey.
How employers can avoid ‘bad crunch’ and keep staff onside (and healthy)
- Have regular one to ones to make sure everyone is coping mentally with the extra hours and workload
- Health needs to be looked after during stressful times. If they’re giving up their time (and possibly mind) for your cause, then the least you can do is look after their body! Provide balanced healthy food to keep them going
- Make sure that getting to and from work is not stressful. Have trains stopped running? Team transport or taxis can make the end of a long day more bearable
- Give time back in lieu – this can be a couple of days at the end of crunch time, late starts, early finishes or extra holiday so the work/life balance isn’t sacrificed.
All these things make a big difference to how your team is going to focus during crunch and feel about it afterward.
How you approach the period after crunch is potentially the most important part of the process. Have a debrief with all the key team members to help identify why crunch took place and if it was successful. Bugs and unforeseen issues are inevitable but if you want to make sure that the same issues don’t arise time and time again then appropriate plans need to be put into place for future projects.
On top of the mechanics of why crunch was needed it is essential to listen to your team to find out how they found the whole process. The physical success should not overshadow the mental stresses experienced by the team and how they are feeling about it.
If your employees can walk away seeing it as something where the team banded together to do great work and support each other through a difficult time then this can be a really positive team building experience.
So – make sure you learn from every crunch and develop processes each time!
Employee tips coping with crunch
- Look after yourself! It can be tempting to go for the coffee pot every time you’re lagging but 15 coffees a day will do more harm than good. Take time to move about (get as much fresh air as you can), eat food that has plenty nutrients in and remember that these breaks will increase your productivity and probably the standard of work when you return
- Talk to your family - Explain to them the issues you’re facing and the reasons why it’s important you work late. Whilst making work a priority is sometimes required, it’s good to even this out by making your family a priority when things have calmed down. Book some time off, or a special treat together when you know the project will be wrapped up
- Talk to your team - if the rest of your team is working late, you may feel that you need to stay glued to your screen too, a quick chat and look at each other’s tasks and making a new plan could mean you both getting out a bit sooner
- Speak up - Likewise, if you are struggling with a hard day or stuck on a task, speak up before the office disperses. Maybe someone can help lighten the load, or at least grab you a sandwich and listen whilst you let off some steam!
- Talk to someone outside of the bubble – it’s easy to get too wrapped up in work so taking time for a coffee or a phone call with someone unrelated to the industry can help to give you some perspective. Explaining the situation to someone who isn’t involved themselves will make what you are saying clearer. Sometimes the words that come out of our mouths can surprise us when we’re talking to someone new – and who knows they might have some great advice!
In most instances, crunch WILL arise in some form or another, but with a plan in place, and regular communication across all levels of the team, it can be a positive experience with an incredible final product everyone can feel proud of.
If you have an opinion on crunch or would like to discuss further please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me on Twitter @GilesFenwick.
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