Today, the International Game Developers Association announced it would begin tracking crunch time practices industry-wide with an emphasis on uncompensated crunch time. In an official announcement, the IGDA promised to reward companies with best crunch time practices with an announcement later this year, and the presentation of an official award at Game Developers Conference in 2017.
Speaking with Gamasutra, IGDA Executive Director Kate Edwards explains that the impetus for this initiative was feedback gathered in the annual Game Developer Satisfaction Survey from 2014 and 2016. According to the DSS, of those developers experiencing crunch, nearly half are working more than 60 hours per week, with 17 percent working more than 70 hours.
Over a third of respondents, 38 percent in 2014, and 37 percent in 2015, reported that their companies had not paid them for this extra crunch. When developers were asked what issue most affected public perception of the games industry, crunch and poor labor conditions were the most common responses.
“This is one of the key factors that influences developers in regards to how long they plan to stay in the game industry,” says Edwards. “When responding to how long they expect to stay in the game industry, their initial response is without the working conditions, [they’ll] say they want to work indefinitely in this industry, and that they don’t want to retire.”
"When we ask ‘why would you leave the industry’ and ‘why have you left the industry,’ it’s almost always answers about working conditions, better pay, or better hours."
“So when we ask ‘why would you leave the industry’ and ‘why have you left the industry,’ it’s almost always answers about working conditions, better pay, or better hours, factors relating to a huge amount of work.”
Anecdotally, Edwards says most developers she’s spoken with have expressed a belief that crunch correlates directly to poor project management or feature creep at their companies, and they feel they’re working long hours for unnecessary reasons.
Citing the impact of company reviews on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn, Edwards says the model for public social feedback on organizations has driven the IGDA to begin creating a method for employees to confidentially report on abusive working conditions, similar to the Set Safety app created for the film industry after camerawoman Sarah Jones’ death in 2014.
This feedback, according to Edwards, will help the IGDA create resources for better crunch practices in partnership with companies who use effective strategies. “We thought it would work well on this particular issue, in particular because we don’t necessarily want to vilify companies, we want to highlight those doing a good job, and maybe get they can talk more about exactly how they achieved their success.”
Edwards does want to delineate between crunch time and employees choosing to invest extra time for passion projects, making other comparisons to the film and television industries. She says however, that there needs to be disclosure and clear terms about excessive overtime. “All these salary vs contract deals are an issue here. If someone is on contract, it should be ‘you do crunch, and you get paid for crunch,’ not ‘we might crunch, and whether you get paid is up in the air.’”
“I’ve heard this from developers, where they say they’ve brought up the excessive hours without being paid, and what they’re told is ‘you don’t like it, leave, I can hire 20 other people to fill your shoes.’ That’s not an adequate answer to those concerns.”
"I’ve heard developers say they’ve brought up the excessive hours without being paid, and what they’re told is ‘you don’t like it, leave, I can hire 20 other people to fill your shoes.’"
In addition to gathering data and working with companies who manage crunch well, Edwards says the IGDA intends to use their special interest groups to create resources and guidance for companies and developers in the industry. “For example, we have a game credit standard that helps companies properly credit people who’ve worked on games. We intend to create a whitepaper based on previous quality of life surveys, and we intend to refresh those and add new input.”
“When we identify a company doing well, we’d like to invite their participation to add to or endorse the document to help draft best practices around crunch and compensation.”
One of the biggest questions that’s persisted in the industry in the wake of crunch complaints is that of unionization—would developers choose to form a union in the face of harsh labor practices? Edwards says the IGDA has also been tracking this data, and has some interesting results.
“In 2009, we asked if developers thought a union would be a good idea, and 33% responded yes, and in 2014, we asked ‘if a vote to create a video game union was held today in your country, how would you respond?’ and 56% responded they would vote ‘yes.’”
Making another film and television connection though, Edwards cautions directly using
those union models as exact formats for what could work in the game industry, arguing that the existence of jobs that didn’t even exist in the last decade such jobs in virtual reality means a traditional union may not move fast enough to adapt to industry challenges.
The IGDA also intends to continue using the Developer Satisfaction Survey to gather feedback and responses on crucial issues, and continue promoting diversity initiatives announced after last year’s survey.