Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Good Crunch, Bad Crunch, No Crunch

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2017

I’ve written about this before, but I’ve recently encountered some people who have responded to the stories of crunching (particularly in the games industry) with a universal backlash that all crunch is bad, and that you should never crunch. In my mind, his equates to an admonition that you should never, ever work hard. And that makes zero sense to me.

Look, going back to the bad ol’ days (and no, I’m not so old I had to live through those… 🙂 ), if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. The crops needed to be planted. You needed to go back out and hunt and put meat on the table. The decisions were pretty straightforward.

Things are less direct now, but the same rules still apply. You do what is necessary for you and your immediate family.  In the grand list of priorities, these should be on top. Other relationships follow from that. Now, there are some jobs where you put your life and safety on the list to save and protect others, and that’s a whole ‘nother story. But most of us aren’t saving the world in our day-to-day duties. We’re earning a paycheck.

Now, when you put it all in that perspective, how hard you should work and crunch becomes a little bit simpler. There are always variables and things you don’t know. But if your the detriment to your health and your immediate family’s happiness exceeds the probable short-term and long-term benefits, it’s time to reevaluate. That’s bad crunch.

If the potential benefits are high and exceed the sacrifice–nice overtime pay, bonuses, a small extra effort yields significantly better job security, you have a stake in the business and hitting those deadlines means money in your bank account–then it’s good crunch. Or at least not bad crunch.

I recently had an experience with the day job where we had to put some pretty long hours into a project prior to a trade show. It was rough. We were unveiling a new technology, a new product line, and a whole new platform for us. It was a big deal. Then I was called away to work the show, which was yet more long hours. But by all accounts, it paid off. We were noticed, made a splash, and our phone is ringing with people calling us. I have a stake in the company. This is potentially very rewarding to me down the line, but at the very least it means my usually-not-too-crunchy job that I really enjoy sticks around for a while. In my mind, a couple of months of craziness was worth it.

There are forces in the world that will try and confuse your priorities and your goals. Make you think that you should treat your employer and fellow employees as family. Make you worry about your reputation in your chosen industry will be crippled if you don’t put in 70+ hours a week for the next two months. Your own pride driving you to neglect what’s most important in life.  Your fear of having to find a new job, or fear of allowing your fledgling business to fail. All of these may have their place in the priority scheme, but their importance can be easily distorted. You should also be concerned about whatever forces are trying to distort them, and to what end.


Everyone has to evaluate things differently. As examples: I don’t have little kids at home anymore. I don’t have to worry about babysitters if I come home late. I don’t have health issues that make it difficult to put in some extra hours. I have two side-businesses I run that get neglected during crunch, and I have to weigh the opportunity costs. I work in an industry where ageism is a problem, and I’m not getting any younger. These are all factors for me. Yours will be different.

Anyway, all this is to say that the backlash against all crunch and any crunch is a natural reaction to abuses that have been made, especially in the tech industry and video games biz. THIS is where the problem lies. I’ve worked at abusive companies. The games industry, in particular, built a reputation and culture for superhuman effort during a time where all the employees had a direct stake in the success of their games, and even a moderate hit would make them a small personal fortune. When their stake was reduced, the culture remained, encouraged by the new stakeholders. This was true in much of the computer industry. There has been a LOT of “bad crunch” out there.

But crunch happens. The need for crunch happens, because of mistakes, because of sudden opportunities, or just because nothing ever goes as planned. As your stake and potential upside for you and your family increases, rolling up the sleeves and putting in the extra effort may be worth it to you. As long as it’s for the right reasons and also within reason, crunch isn’t a terrible thing.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Stropp said,

    I agree, sometimes it’s necessary to put in insane hours and effort to get something done on schedule (or at least as little past the schedule as possible.)

    A good manager

    a) listens to her developers when they tell her how long something takes. (It’s amazing how many times I estimated something to take n hours and then found it on the schedule for n/2 or even n/4.)

    b) then builds the schedule to not have any crunch time at all. That way when things take longer, and they invariably do, the crunch doesn’t have to last longer that absolutely necessary.

    The horror stories coming out of the gaming industry, schedules with crunch time built in for the entire development, made me avoid ever getting into it despite wanting to. I do have a personal and social life!

    Has that changed?

    I guess the only way to really work in the games is to go indie.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep, exactly!

    When I was at Symantec, they did a pretty good job of scheduling: they asked for an estimate with “ideal man-days” (if you had zero interruptions, how long would it take?), and then doubled the time. Then, when building the schedule, they doubled it again, to make room for surprises, unexpected tasks, etc.

    The challenge really comes in when you simply can’t get there from here. You have a budget of X and specifications for 3X. It’s all well and good to say, “Well, you should charge three times as much, or demand a smaller scope!” but you have a situation (like in the games biz now) where there’s just no way the market will bear it.

    Then you have to get very creative, in process, in delivery, or in pricing. Or all three. Or you pull up the stakes and call it quits.

  • McTeddy said,

    I hesitate on this one because it IS a complicated issue.

    Primarily, I speak out against it just because people toe lines. People don’t really go the speed limit.

    There are MANY things that people do that are against the rules, because it’s not actually harmful in small, controlled doses.

    People bend rules.

    I say “Zero overtime” because I know we’re going to miss it. Missing 0 overtime still leads to a reasonably healthy success rate.

    But if we normalize 10-20% crunch as the target and miss? We’re actually raising to a level of crunch where there might be consequences to the employees, morale and product quality.

    In truth, Crunch is just complicated and I’m not at all against it as a whole.

    But I’m a strong supporter of proper planning and pre-production and I often see these fully ignored because “We can’t predict everything.”

    It’s a dangerous pattern to be in and I’m worried it’s only going to get worse if we don’t don’t try to push back early.