Crunch Isn’t the Problem

Management in the Games Industry

At management level game development isn’t about making the game, it’s about looking after the people who make the game.

Gotcha with that title right? Nice and click-baity. So now that you’re here what am I banging on about? Well this series of blog posts will take a bit of a look into what Crunch is, why it happens and what can be done to stop the practice of beating a workforce into the ground.

If you’ve been around Games news for the last… 50 years or so, you’ve probably seen an article or two on Crunch. For any who have missed said articles; Crunch is the name given to the practice of increasingly brutal overtime toward the end of a development cycle in order to get a game out on, or more usually just after, its deadline. The severity of this overtime varies from company to company and project to project but it’s very common, often exhausting and leads to more than a few people burning out and leaving Game development for good. Haven’t heard of this? Think it’s not so bad? Well maybe I can’t convince you otherwise but here are some links:

Here

Here

And Here

It’s not exaggerated, it’s horrible, it’s exploitative and it burns people out. It hurts more than just the game; Crunch affects families and friends too in ways a job never should. It’s a problem, and a serious one that needs solving, but it’s not the problem. Crunch is a symptom of a much more insidious disease that is built into the very genome of the industry. Bad management.

So why do we do it and why does it exist in the first place? Why don’t we just all leave and do something else? Good questions! I like you. I was going to make you watch an advert to continue but since you’re so nice…

Over the course of its development, the industry has employed some of the most talented and brilliant programmers, designers, artists, animators, sound designers and more to bend their creative muscle toward making the next million-dollar cash cow. For the most part, most of those people must have done their jobs pretty well. Ok sure, there are more than a few stinkers out there when it comes to bad games on the market but even those generally have functioning code, or reasonable art design, or nice animation or sound. In fact, the most common cause of bad games coming out in the modern industry has little to do with the ability or talent of the team making it. It’s about Management.

‘What Is Management’ is the subject of lots of books with lots of pages that sit on lots of desks and say very little about anything. Before we move on to have a look at what makes good management let’s quickly also have a look at some of the things that management is not:

“Management is not about cracking-skulls”

Cracking Skulls

This is a big one. I’ve spoken to managers who actually are proud of their practice of beating an employee down in order to scare their department. No-one should ever be subject to management like this, it’s abusive and cruel and a sure-fire way to make sure your employees don’t produce their best work, or any work! If you’re reading this and you think this is appropriate, you are a bad manager and you shouldn’t be doing the job.

“Management is not about Naming-and-shaming”

shame

Anyone who advocates ‘naming-and-shaming’ as a management technique is lacking an understanding of a fundamental tenet of management: trust. If you don’t trust your manager you can’t relax enough to do your job and if your manager doesn’t trust you they can’t delegate responsibilities properly. Trust is key and no-one can trust someone who thinks that an appropriate response to every little mistake is to parade that mistake out in public for all to see. I’ve never worked at a studio where this practice wasn’t advocated by someone at some point. It’s juvenile, cruel and it undermines the whole concept of management.

“Management is not God”

Gordon God

Management is a relationship. Your manager is not an all knowing being who is beyond question. Any relationship is about communication; your employees cannot know that there is an issue with their performance unless you tell them! Management reviews maybe boring and take time away from developing the game but they’re vital to allowing employees to express how they feel about their responsibilities and discuss issues they may be having. If you think that’s not important and people should just shut-up and do what they’re told then once again, you’re a bad manager, into the sea with you.

“Management is not Satan”

Robot Devil

Employees, your manager cannot know what you are thinking unless you tell them. This relationship is a two-way street and you can’t be too scared of your manager to sit down and, as professionally as possible, tell them exactly what you think of the project and what is going on. Some of you may be thinking ‘scared?! Why would I be scared, I’ve known my manager for years he/she’s great!’ but…

“Management is not your friend”

friend

This last one is important. Read it again. Your manager is not your mate while in the office. Not the girl you maybe went to Uni with or the guy you’re dating. In the office management is management and that relationship is separate so you cannot be worried about hurting your manager’s feelings. The relationship between manager and employee is a practical one and in order to function it has to be beyond worrying about feelings so if you, or your manager, have a problem with bringing your feelings to the office, that’s a problem that needs fixing.

From my own point of view: Management is a structure put in place to allow employers to administrate the needs and responsibilities of their workforce on a day to day basis and for employees to communicate their needs to employers. As a manager your first responsibility is people, not development. Being an effective manager is about being a middle-person between employee and employer, making sure that everyone’s needs are met as best as they can be and that people aren’t being crushed in the gears of big business. If you’ve read this and are thinking “what about the game though” you’ve missed the point.

At management level game development isn’t about making the game, it’s about looking after the people who make the game.

Thanks for reading :)