Monday, March 10, 2014

How Does "Crunch Time" (mandatory 60+ hours a week over a long period of time) Affect you Physically and Mentally?

When I first started working on a presentation on Toxic Development Environments for the Austin Chapter of the International Game Developers' Association (Austin IGDA), I had really given this a lot of thought because I knew I had been damaged by the overtime I had worked over the decades

The whole 15 minute talk is right here. and you can download the slideshow here.

It was heartfelt because wow, a lot of these environments were lived through by yours truly. I was really upset when I got off the stage and needed a minute to get myself together. Yep. It's that bad sometimes. 

Ideally, this blog should result in a series of in-person discussions with game developers sharing their experiences with therapists, preceded by mutual non-disclosure agreements. A little more formal than Alcoholics Anonymous, because, well, you'll lose your job if you get caught bitching or telling people how it is at your job or your old job. Complaining about people? Wow. Slander. Really. And when I get the time to put this together, I will. But more importantly... let MY pain move YOU to make this happen in your own town. It's a movement that needs to happen. 

In person, the idea is to talk about how crunch has affected you physically, mentally, and the like. We simply HAVE to discuss this in public, where others that have lived to tell about it can share their stories

You are NOT alone. 

This blog isn't going to be a huge diatribe. It's just going to give you some tools to read about this. To start the conversation.

This blog isn't going to walk you through how to "change things at your office." It's going to give you some information that you may choose to share at your office OR maybe even change the way you run your office. 

In the game industry, crunch is RAMPANT. In fact, I've heard it's this way in every "creative" industry. If you've never been subjected to this torture, it may not even make sense. For those of you that have experienced it, I know your pain and you have my sympathy. It simply does NOT have to be that way. Really. It doesn't. 

You are smart enough to do this research yourselves; I'm just going to give you some places to look. Dig in wherever you think you need to go. The rest is up to you

Online Resources for You to Research. Pick Your Poison.

Abusive Managers
A “manager” could be a peer, an immediate supervisor, the owner of the company, an untenable contract, or a publisher. Abuse comes in many forms, verbal, mental and physical. This abuse also affects your friends and family.
Some Mental Health / Self-Assessment Resources
Resources exist that allow you to get help for yourself or others that are suffering through crunch and/or are in toxic environments.

Crunch Effects
How does “crunch” affect you, your friends, your mind, your body, and your family? Oddly enough, this subject has been studied in other industries ad nauseam. Studies point to so many health issues, both physical and mental, that I’ll just skip the details. 

Productivity Issues Caused by Crunch
Overtime is bad for your project. And ultimately bad for your employer.
Productivity Issues Caused by Lack of Sleep During Crunch
These two articles actually suggest one specific feedback mechanism by which excessive overtime self-loads for failure beyond a limited timeframe.
Health Risks of Crunch
Yes, crunch is actually proven to be bad for your health in many ways. There are some serious humanitarian concerns.
Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors
Overtime is bad for your body. And ultimately bad for your employer.
Turnover and Depression Caused by Crunch
Crunch is bad for employee retention. DUH! It is possible that this is something that can be brought up to the HR department because their goal is to keep employees employed and healthy. Your mileage may vary.
  • Turnover and ambivalence Observation on long term HR impact. Anecdotal evidence is presented, but the consulting firm at least claims it bases its conclusions on information gathered from exit interviews.
  • Major depression 
Inspirational Books
No talk on this subject should leave you hanging. Here are some books that help create sustainable environments and contain actionable ideas that you can implement immediately. People swear by these. Really. Just buy them and start reading. Now!
In conclusion
Let me know if I missed anything that YOU have found. Or share your stories. Don't worry, it's safe here. Well, maybe it's safe. Who knows if your employers are lurking here? Kidding! 

Well, sort of.


Billy Cain started his game industry career at Origin Systems in 1992, and has participated in the creation of over 200 hit games for home game systems, mobile platforms, and PC / Mac, and has launched three game development studios in Austin, Texas. He believes that games are going to save the world through improving brain plasticity in adolescents as well as making education fun. 

He has worked too much crunch and is currently trying to make it up to his family. 

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