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How to Avoid Crunch?

Many people working in the creative industry, including video game developers, say that crunch cannot be avoided. Keeping deadlines is problematic for artists, since creation of something artistic is an extremely unpredictable and chaotic process, which sometimes requires staying at work overtime. However, you can fight it and take some steps to significantly reduce or even avoid crunch altogether!

Topics covered in this article:

  • What is crunch?
  • Consequences of a long crunch
  • The causes of crunch
  • Dealing with crunch
  • What to do during crunch?

What is crunch?

Crunch is certainly not part of the daily life of developers, but it does happen sometimes and is quite a problem. We use this word for the periods of time, most often just before the achieving any important stage of production (commonly known as milestones), when employees are required to regularly stay at work overtime in order to catch up with deadlines. Most often, it takes place just before the product is released to the market, for example a game, when postponing the release date is not easy and is most often met with dissatisfaction of both players waiting for the title we are creating, and investors financing the production. Unfortunately, the crunch is not always limited only to the last stretch before the premiere: often by signing contracts with investors, we undertake to achieve certain milestones on pre-agreed dates. It may be the end of the prototype creation and entering the phase of development, finishing half of the planned mechanics, or preparing a playable demo version for a gaming expo. Although crunch is most often referred to in the context of the video game industry and IT in general, this term is also familiar to other representatives of the creative sector.

Consequences of long crunching

As you can easily guess, staying longer at work for a long time, and sometimes even on weekends, in addition to double the intensity, is not pleasant. If this time is not compensated in any way, we have a recipe for disaster ready. What impact can it have on employees and the entire business?

  • Lowered efficiency. Exhausted employees significantly lose productivity and stop noticing a huge number of mistakes made. As a result, the quality of their work drops significantly.
  • Accelerated burnout. Long overtime work causes loss of motivation and accelerated burnout.
  • Negative impact on the atmosfphere in the team. Each of the employees would prefer to spend time resting and playing with their family instead of being forced to sit in the office with their colleagues. This in turn may lead to situations where if a new problem arises, it may intentionally be unreported to avoid being the one to bring bad news.
  • Quitting risk. At the first opportunity, employees will collectively take a couple days off in order to rest and spend some time with their families. In extreme cases, they may even quit after (or even in the middle of!) the crunch, which will further worsen the situation of the rest of the team and the entire company.
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The causes of crunch

It is said that bad management is the only cause of crunch. While this is not untrue, this statement overly simplifies the problem. Sometimes it may be the fault of excessive optimism when setting deadlines for respective milestones - a problem typical for small studies that are just debuting. Other times, the problem may be chaos in communication caused by poor information exchange. In yet another case, the necessity to work overtime results from deciding on a specific vision of the project, while skipping the prototyping phase altogether. Later, in the middle of production, it turns out that the idea just does not work and the studio needs to redo a significant part of the content. Understanding the reasons why wrong decisions are made is crucial to avoid repeating them in the future.

Dealing with crunch

We already know what crunch is, why it is dangerous and what it results from. The big question is: what can we do about it?

Do not make all decisions on your own

Employees are able to independently estimate the time needed to perform the entrusted part of the work. Their opinion will give you a better sense of the scale of the project.

Ensure good flow of information

Communication is the key to identifying and solving problems before they get too serious. There are many solutions for companies on the market that significantly improve this process and help you track the progress of work.

Make sure you have an appropriate margin of error when setting deadlines

Things do not always go according to plan. We can't predict office power failure, central server failure, or whether we will get stuck for a week because of a sudden complex problem.

Ensure reasonable workload

Depending on the size of the team and the nature of the production, it may be better to focus on the methodical creation of individual parts of the game step by step, or to divide employees into smaller teams that will simultaneously work on, for example, different locations in the game.

Don't bite off more than you can chew

Consider whether you really have a large enough team to cope with the tasks at hand? For a team of several people, creating a complex open-world game is virtually impossible, regardless of their experience. Perhaps it is worth considering expanding the team or outsourcing some of the work to external subcontractors?

"Will we really need this?"

Sometimes it's better to compromise and cut a few non-essential parts from the production, even if that means losing a few months worth of work. Such decisions are always difficult, but they can save the whole enterprise and save employees from staying overtime.

Appreciate the efforts of the employees

When the worst comes to the worst, it is important that employees can count on fair treatment. It should be kept in mind that legal regulations regarding overtime differ depending on the region and the form of employment. Regardless of the regulations, try, to your abilities, to ensure your subordinates an adequate reward for their efforts and allow them to take leave. Showing understanding and equal treatment is the absolute basis for a healthy atmosphere in any company.

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What to do during crunch?

Above all, stay rational and don't panic. Unfortunately, crunch cannot always be avoided, even with the above advice. Try to do everything to complete the tasks as soon as possible and keep the team motivated. Respect your colleagues, act as a team and let everyone know what else needs to be done and how much of it is left. Putting extra pressure on anyone will not help, it will only hurt everyone around. Crunch will end eventually, but the atmosphere will stay with you for a long time - so make sure it's the best it can be!

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