Why ‘crunch time’ is still a problem in the video game industry
Dean Takahashi March 20, 2016 11:23 AM
Kate Edwards likes to do cosplay (costume play) as characters like Thor, a valkyrie, Indiana Jones, and Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones. That may give her the fortitude to handle her next big task as executive director of the International Game Developers Association. Last week, during the Game Developers Conference, Edwards announced the IGDA is going further in measuring the “crunch time” practices, or mandatory uncompensated overtime required to finish projects, at major game companies.
Kate Edwards 喜歡用索爾，女武神，印第安納瓊斯，以及權力遊戲的布蕾妮來角色扮演。這些角色給予她堅毅的感覺來處理她的下一個任務：IGDA 的執行監督。上周，在 GDC 活動時期，Edwards 公佈 IGDA 將進一步評估大型遊戲公司關於實務上加班的時間或為了完成專案所得到的加班報酬。
The group has already been doing those surveys for the past couple of years. Now, it will gather more precise data from employees of game companies, and it will report on the companies with the best crunch time practices later this year. And next year, the IGDA will reward the companies that are doing the best. But if companies with bad reputations refuse to change, the IGDA might publicly report companies that continue to force employees to work uncompensated crunch time.
In an interview with GamesBeat, Edwards said that surveys for the past two years show at least 37 percent of game developers say they are not compensated for crunch time, when they work long hours in a day or week to finish a game.
在一場與 GamesBeat 的訪問中，Edwards 說道過去兩年的問卷顯示出最少百分之三十七的遊戲開發者在長時間工時中為了完成遊戲無償加班。
“We know it is a persistent problem,” she told me. “Now, what do we do about it? We’d prefer to highlight the companies that are doing really well. If there’s an exemplary company, we will highlight them. If we found an example that is grievous, we’ll probably highlight that as well.”
Uncompensated crunch time has been a challenge in the industry for the longest time, and it was drawn into the open by the “EA Spouse” controversy, when developer Erin Hoffman wrote an anonymous screed criticizing Electronic Arts for requiring employees to work long hours in the final process of shipping games — and then moving them on to new crunch time projects as soon as they finished. The 2004 episode drew a lot of attention to crunch time, but the issue has almost been forgotten again.
無償的加班對產業來說是一個挑戰，最早可以追溯到 EA 配偶的爭辯。當時開發者 Erin Hoffman 匿名檢舉：美商藝電讓員工在產品上線前超時工作，然後讓這個情形在專案結束持續延長到其他案子。在 2004 年這個事件吸引了對於加班議題的關注目光，顯然現在大家都已經遺忘這件事。
Edwards said the IGDA board of directors will privately raise their concerns with leaders at companies practicing uncompensated crunch. If those companies do not change their practices, then the IGDA may take more action, including publicly speaking out about those firms, Edwards said. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
Edwards 說道 IGDA 董事會私底下針對實行無償加班的公司領導者進行了瞭解。假如那些公司不改變他們的實行方式，IGDA 會採取更多行動，包含公布公司清單。接下來是這次訪問的逐字稿：
GamesBeat: It looks like you’re starting gradually, but it seems like you have to get your data absolutely right now. It can’t be vague. If you associate it with named companies, it has to be very strong data.
Kate Edwards: This will be the third year of the Developer Satisfaction Survey. We’re launching today. We have two years of data, which is built on several years of older quality of life data we’ve been doing since 2004. Looking back over the stretch, it’s been obvious from the data we’ve collected — we all know crunch is an issue.
包含今天發出的問卷在內，這將是第三年的調查了。我們至少已經有兩年的數據，那些數據是來自從 2004 年關於生活品質的數據。拉長來看，我們收集到的數據非常明顯，加班確實是一個議題。
We also know compensation can be an issue around crunch. Seeing the numbers in the last couple years has given us an indication. Between 2014 and 2015 we saw 38 and 37 percent of developers, respectively, stating they don’t get compensation for crunch time. That’s ringing an alarm. That’s a huge percentage. More than a third of developers get no compensation for something that’s common in our industry.
我們也知道加班報酬也是另一個問題。從前幾年的數據來看已經顯示出徵兆。在 2014 年及 2015 年間，我們看見百分之三十八，及百分之三十七的開發者分別都指出他們沒有拿到加班的報酬。那是一個警鐘。因為比例很高。超過三分之一的開發者在加班盛行的產業內沒有拿到加班費。
What we’re trying to do now with this initiative, which for now we’re calling the Crunch Comp Initiative, is the next step. What do we do? We see data that tells us this is a persistent problem. We’ve known anecdotally for many years that it’s a problem. We’ve collected data that more specifically shows it’s a problem. So what do we do?
The approach we’ve decided to take is to extend beyond that. We’ve collected data from developers through our survey, but if we can get developers to start offering their own experiences through a mechanism that allows them to report in a style like Glassdoor, that kind of method, they can show us. “Here was my experience. Here’s how I would rate the company on this issue.” Hopefully, we’ll get a significant accumulation and be able to see across the board.
我們決定要採取的行動會根據這個延伸，我們已經用問卷從開發者那邊收集資料，但是假如我們能設計一個機制令開發者能夠舉報這些行為，細節，及評分（如 Glassdoor 這樣的網站一樣），希望這樣，我們就能累積關鍵性的證據。
It’s going to take time to ramp this up and get feedback, but as we get that feedback, we’d prefer to highlight the companies we see that are doing well and say, “Look, this company is getting good feedback on this issue.” The board does a positive impact award every year. Maybe if there’s an exemplary company, we’ll say, “Let’s specifically highlight this company for what they’ve done.”
Conversely, though, if we found an example that’s particularly bad or grievous, we would probably talk about that as well. If we’re seeing, on a scale of 1 to 100 or whatever, they’re rated at five by a lot of developers, that’s obviously an issue.
GamesBeat: You do it as a survey now. Would you have to change it at all to have that Glassdoor capability, where people can approach you and say what they think?
你目前是以問卷的形式進行。你會改變為像是 Glassdoor 的形式嗎？人們可以舉報他們所知道的事情？
Edwards: We’re planning to continue the survey every year. That’s still a benchmark we use. We collect a lot of data in there that would not be collected elsewhere. We’re looking into partnering with a third party like Glassdoor or one of the others out there. They have the mechanism already.
我們正在計畫每年進行這樣的問卷。這是一個用來評量的標準。我們在此收集了的資訊在其他地方無法得到。我們正在尋求第三方的組織像 Glassdoor 來協助我們。他們已經有這樣的機制。
If you look on Indeed.com, for example, they have subcategories for the workplace. They have a work-life balance category for companies. If we can work with them to get a couple additional categories, specific ones about issues related to the game industry, and partner on those categories … ultimately I’d like to see, if we can get this set up, we could roll out all kinds of issues. How are they doing on diversity from an employee perspective?
舉例來說，假如你觀察 Indeed.com ，他們有關於工作環境的子分類。關於公司的生活平衡的類別。假如我們能夠跟他們合作設立部分新的分類，關注於遊戲產業的議題。如果這樣可行的話我們可以展開各種議題。從員工的多樣觀點來審視這些議題？
GamesBeat: Your data is good enough to point people out publicly.
Edwards: Now that we’re in this era where that kind of mechanism works and it’s something that people are used to, we see it across the board with Yelp and TripAdvisor and all these methods. There are imperfections in all these methods we have to be aware of. Obviously, all of it’s going to have to be vetted. We’ll have to look and see what people are saying, so someone’s not going on there and randomly commenting. Which is why, again, we’d like to use a method from a third party. They’re already doing that.
現在我們正在決定應該用哪種形式運作，也會是人們所習慣使用的形式，我們考慮了像 Yelp 或 TripAdivsor 這樣的討論區。當然我們知道所有的方案都有不完美的地方，也應該被審視。我們依然必須觀察大眾所說的，而避免只看我們收集到的資訊。這是為何我們正在找第三方的協助。這件事正在進行中。
GamesBeat: Have you found that some people already feel like they can’t be honest because they don’t trust the anonymity of it?
Edwards: Yes. That’s part of it. You look at some of the examples out there, like Glassdoor, there is anonymity there. You decide what level of anonymity you want. I’ve seen Glassdoor reviews where you can pretty obviously pick out who it might have been or narrow it down very closely. Maybe the person doesn’t care, but they have the ability to dial in and out of anonymity.
沒錯。這是其中的一個部分。看像 Glassdoor 的例子就知道，確實是有匿名功能的。你會決定匿名的層級。我看過
Something like TripAdvisor, you can set up an anonymous account with a fake name or something. A lot of the stuff I see there is people logging in with Facebook, though. They have no qualms about tying their name to reviews. Typically, when people do that, they’re giving good reviews.
GamesBeat: What do you already know as opposed to what’s going to be in the next survey? You already know that 37 and 38 percent are a problem. Do you know other things associated with crunch time?
Edwards: We’re not just tracking compensation, of course, but just the occurrence of crunch. When we look at the data between 2004 and 2014 — we didn’t incorporate 2015 data into this particular segment — the occurrences of crunch are declining. It’s not quite as often, and when it does occur, it’s not quite as long. But it’s still happening. I’m expecting we might see that continued trend. Looking at it on a yearly basis, maybe it’s not quite as good of a snapshot. I don’t think it’ll change that radically. But we’ll have to see.
我們不只是希望追討加班報酬，而是希望追蹤加班的事實。當我們查看 2004 年到 14 年的資料時－這裡還不算 2015 年的部分－加班的事實是在下降的。這很少見，加班發生時不會很長。但這件事仍然發生了。我期待這個趨勢繼續。雖然以年作為基準觀察並不是一個好的級距。但我不認為這會快速改變。我們仍要持續觀察。
We always ask — and I don’t expect the answer to change — about the cause of crunch. It’s pretty consistent. Poor project management. Inexperienced managers. Things like feature creep. Those are usually the big ones.
GamesBeat: I always thought that mobile was going to be different. I wonder about the categories now, whether you’d be able to identify problems in certain categories. It seems like mobile would be worse for crunch time because the updates happen all the time in free-to-play games. They operate 24 hours. They’re always connected. It’s an always-on environment.
Edwards: The thing that helps with mobile, though, when it’s always on, there’s a level of predictability. It allows you to predict staffing and content flow and work flow better than when you have something like a massive RPG that you’re trying to do over the course of years.
A lot of the mobile stuff tends to have better control over feature creep for example. It’s usually a specific type of game. There isn’t often room for feature creep, depending, although you might have cases of something like adding a whole new set of power-ups you can buy. But even there, when I’ve talked to people in the industry, they have an understanding of what work that entails. It’s not as if at the eleventh hour someone says, “We need another power-up set.”
The potential is there for any game project to feature creep or just run away with people. But in mobile, it comes down to a company culture issue. If they want people to be constantly crunching on their content that will never end, that’s a pretty dismal future for most developers. I don’t think it would be sustainable from a workplace standpoint. With something like a large triple-A title where you expect a light at the end of the tunnel, even if the light keeps creeping further away because of schedule changes or features.
The problem I’ve seen in the triple-A space with crunch is partially just because it’s part of the creative process. Whether or not they call it that, people crunch in film, in television. Writers crunch to finish that last chapter the editor is yelling for. It’s the nature of creative work, that it’s never really done. The only reason a film releases is because someone sets a date and backs up the schedule with marketing and everything else that has to happen.
It’s why we have director’s cuts. “Well, that wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Here’s this version that shows you what I would have done.” With games, we can kind of do that. We just release DLC or do a patch.
GamesBeat: Although it seems like DLC’s made it so you lost whatever downtime you used to get when you finished a game. Now, a game’s never finished.
Edwards: Exactly. That’s one thing that brings it closer to the mobile model. With mobile, games tend to be more confined in their scope and more predictable in how their content rolls out. The DLC model being applied to a triple-A console game is almost like you’re trying to apply the mobile model and expecting people to sustain that same workload — especially if a game becomes really popular. “Oh, we need more DLC.” That’s not sustainable.
GamesBeat: The Zynga team on FarmVille got more relief when they opened an India office. They didn’t have to be on 24/7 anymore. They could hand it off to a team on the other side of the world. It seems like that’s one way to relieve the time pressure.
Zynga 的 FarmVille 團隊開啟了印度辦公室後得到了解脫。不再需要加班，而是將超出的工時交給地球另一端的員工。似乎這是唯一的方法。
Edwards: Absolutely. It’s just making sure you staff and plan for it. We’re seeing a lot of companies where .. as we see crunch time diminish a bit in the industry, that’s part of a maturation process. I hope it’s a maturation of management at game companies, understanding that this model had its time in our industry’s histories, but … as industries mature, like we’ve seen in the general IT sector, a lot of companies are pushing their employees to take better care of themselves. Even if it means being in something like a company-town environment. “Go use the gym at our office.” They lavish their employees with ways to take care of themselves. We’re seeing some game companies do that too. But I’d say not on the scale that we see outside the game industry.
GamesBeat: They’ll also do it just to keep employees at work all the time.
Edwards: No, certainly. Developers think about the ulterior motive. “Why do they give me this incredibly good food for dinner every night? Oh, they want me to stay here and eat it.” It can be a trap. I understand why companies do it. But that kind of model, where it becomes something we’re used to … during the DICE awards, some of the winners on stage accepting awards were talking about how they missed … their kids. It struck me as I was listening. I’d love to ask them as a parent — OK, 10 years from now, what would you rather have? The award or the time with your children? I can guarantee what the answer’s going to be.
Edwards：不，不是這樣。開發者有時會腦補。公司給我這些食物就是因為想把我留在辦公室。這一定是圈套。我很清楚了等等的。但是我看過在 DICE 的頒獎典禮上得獎人會說他們留太少時間給孩子。這讓我很困擾。我想要問那些身為父母的得獎者，十年後你希望得獎還是把時間留給小孩？我打包票答案仍舊很明顯。
It’s about the value of your time. Trying to get a perspective on that in our industry is something we still struggle with. We’re passionate about making games. We love making games. Developers want to make games indefinitely. When we ask them these questions, they’re very clear about that. But you don’t want to do it at the expense of everything else in your life.
GamesBeat: You’re almost trying to tell people this for their own good. Sometimes they’re not realizing that crunch has a cost for them.
Edwards: It does have a cost. It has a long-term effect. It takes a real toll on health. If you work 70 hours a week, that’ll affect your health without a doubt. We understand that there are reasons it happens, but there are also many good reasons it doesn’t have to happen or at least not to the degree it does.
Better project management is part of that. But one of the things that will feed that, especially in the game industry, is having a better handle on the creative scope of what you’re making. That’s a harder task. When you set out to create whatever massive project it might be — I understand. I’ve worked on many games. I get how the energy of the creative process is so important that it changes the scope and changes what you have in mind. I’ve been involved with projects where that last-minute inspiration hits. It’s the weekend before cert and somebody says, “Oh my God, we need to do this. It’ll change everything. Let’s stay for a 72-hour stretch and get this done.”
You have to weigh it. Is the player going to care that much about the time you’re spending? Or is it something you can do in another version or in DLC later? Is it really something you have to put yourself out there for? I don’t know if game companies tend to be as judicious as they need to be in thinking about the overall effect of that. It’s hard. They know their launch must be successful. But in my view, if you’re not already sure about that in the creative vision you started working on, maybe you should have had a different creative vision.
GamesBeat: Do you get a sense of whether good managers are the ones who restrain their employees from doing crunch? Do employees want to crunch without realizing the cost to it? Or are people being forced to crunch when they’d rather not?
Edwards: It’s a mix of both. Long-standing tradition in our industry has been one where it’s been more about forced crunch. Sadly, I’ve heard this many times from different developers. They say, “I can’t complain about it, because the standard response is just, ‘Go ahead and go. We’ve got 20 people to take your place.’” Which instantly ascribes a lack of any value to the specific employee in the company. You’re just a cog and easily replaced. That’s not a great morale-builder to begin with.
When I give talks, sometimes I have a slide that’s a frame from Bridge on the River Kwai. In that movie, the Japanese general kept telling the POWs, “Be happy in your work.” Sometimes we get that attitude coming in the game industry. Just be happy. You’re lucky to be here. We want to see that go away. People should have a choice.
A lot of it comes down to, when you’re hiring into a company, if you’re interested in working for a company, companies should be explicit about how much they typically crunch. Be upfront about it. “We look back on our work data over the last few years, and we generally crunch a third of the time.” Disclose an idea of what crunch is like, and tell people about whether or not they’ll be compensated for it. Then, developers can at least make an informed choice.
When it comes down to individual managers, it’s important for them to be monitoring both the physical and mental health of their employees. “Hey, you’ve been here three days straight. Maybe you should take a break?” At the same time, there’s a certain level of creative freedom you want to allow. If you have someone who says, “I don’t need to go home. I don’t have a family to see. I want to work another 12 hours on this because my train of thought on this issue will be complete, and I’ll get this done. Then, I can walk away feeling good about it.”
There’s a balance. To some degree, if somebody is that into a particular task — even then, managers need to step up and draw a line. “You’ve been working on that for three days, and you still don’t have an end in sight. Maybe you should clear your head and come back to it.”
GamesBeat: Is there already any established practice as far as compensated crunch at particular companies?
Edwards: I don’t know specifics. It’s hard to get that information from companies. We’re looking into it, though. If you look in the DSS data, we have people reporting that they get certain bonus structures. We ask all kinds of questions around bonuses, around whether or not the bonuses are performance based or project based and so on. The 37 and 38 percent we’re identifying are people who say, “We don’t get any of that. We just do it.”
GamesBeat: For the companies that show repeated problems, how are your board members going to communicate with them? What are the steps you’d take before going public?
Edwards: First and foremost, board members will approach the company directly. “We’ve been noticing a lot of people reporting issues around this problem in your company.” We’ll just sit down and have a conversational approach. We’ll get the company’s perspective and understand their point of view on the issue. We’ll see if there’s any acknowledgement or understanding that it’s an issue. If there is, we’ll try to discern if there’s a plan in place to fix this and change the way business is done. Or, is this based on a specific anomaly, a specific project? Maybe it’s not normal, but it spiked because of something in particular.
Basically, we’ll just do some discovery and learn more about it. The process from there is ultimately going to be up to the board to decide as far as how vocal they want to be. Our perspective is that if we see an example of a company where we’re able to determine with certainty that it’s a problem, they know about it; they’re not willing to do anything about it; they’re not taking steps to fix it; then, it’s likely at that point that the IGDA will speak up publicly. “Hey, developers, if you’re looking for a job, here’s an example of a space that you probably don’t want to consider. After our repeated engagement with them and after collecting data on the situation there, it’s probably not the best situation.”
基本上，我們會做一些調查，收集情報。流程會上報到董事會，讓他們決定是否要發聲。我們的觀點是假如我們在這間公司看到一個例子，那麼可能這就是一個問題，他們可能知道這是一個問題；他們可能不願意處理；他們可能沒有採取行動來修正；那麼 IGDA 就會把這件事公開：嗨！開發者，你正在找工作嗎？這裡有間公司記得要跳過。當然這並非一個最好的結局。
GamesBeat: Companies won’t be happy about that. Have you felt any backward pressure yet on that topic?
Edwards: Some companies are uncomfortable with the topic because they recognize that it’s an issue. A lot of what we’re dealing with, too, is a certain degree of legacy. We’ve been on this industry train that just keeps chugging along at a very fast pace. “We got the first game done. We have to get the sequel out. We have to get the DLC done.” It keeps moving, and there’s no chance to step back for a moment and say, “What are we really doing here? What’s our workplace like?”
I don’t know to what degree there’s any deep introspection at the company level. I know some companies do that. A lot of companies say they do. I’m not saying I disbelieve that, necessarily, but I don’t know about the degree to which they take action when they hear from their employees about issues that come up.
That’s why, when it comes to the method we want to use, we want to do a quiet engagement and give the company a chance to talk with us. Along with this initiative, we’re going to take some of the data we have and stuff we’ve done in the past around best practices and how you can avoid crunch and create an environment that works. We’ll share with the companies and see if they want to employ those ideas.
I don’t think it’s going to be swift. Obviously, we want to give companies a chance to react, especially if they’re open-minded. But I’m sure there are some that won’t be. In those cases, the last resort we’d want to do is basically outing a company as a potentially problematic workplace for developers. That’s an absolute last resort.
GamesBeat: Do you have a timetable for when you’ll get to finished data?
Edwards: We probably will do some kind of listing, like what we do out of the developer survey right now. We ask developers which companies they’d most like to work for from a general perception standpoint. Valve is always at the top of the list. We’ll do something like that — which companies were the highest ranked every year in terms of how they deal with this specific issue. I’m hoping that we can crank this up and get something open by Q3 of this year. That’s when we’ll have something we can invite developers to start giving input on.
Kate Edwards is the Executive Director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), appointed in December 2012. She is also the founder and principal consultant of Geogrify, a Seattle-based consultancy for content culturalization, and a unique hybrid of an applied geographer, writer, and corporate strategist.
Kate Edwards 在2012年十二月開始擔任 IGDA 的執行監督。它同時也是 Geogrify 的創辦人及主要顧問。Geogrify 是一間西雅圖針對內容本地化的顧問公司。Kate 也同時有地理學家，作家，及企業戰略分析的背景。