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Prout: Avoid Crunch, Make Demonstrating Fun Part Of Pre-Production

Proving a game concept is fun before it enters production is the most often-overlooked way to avoid crunch, says art director Dave Prout -- "play it before we build it,"
If a game enters production before its concepts are fun, developers are setting themselves up for crunch, says Spark Unlimited co-founder and Certain Affinity art director Dave Prout. Unfortunately, crunch -- defined here as mandatory overtime factored in as necessary for the completion of milestones -- is still a problem in the industry. In a new Gamasutra feature, Prout examines the root causes: everything from poor planning to feature creep and more. But there's no surer stumbling block than entering production too early, he asserts. "When a team is already in production without a compelling, fun gameplay experience, it's in trouble," states Prout. "Crunch is a symptom of the root cause of premature production; by resolving premature production, the need for crunch will massively diminish." Other media would never even think about the crunch mentality for production: "In film and television, if an early treatment was suddenly plunged into full production, it would be considered a catastrophic failure of the development process," Prout notes. "In the game industry, when a fledgling creative vision is suddenly staffed with talent, it's considered ensuring success. This is a fundamental fallacy in our thinking," he continues. "An unproven creative vision is not helped by prematurely burdening it with a production team, which waits around for something to do." Developers in pre-production, when tabulating all the risks on their table, must also account for "fun risk," according to Proust. "While many companies profess to have a green-light process which culls unviable projects before the full investment has been spent, I haven't heard of one yet that, in practice, truly requires projects to demonstrate the core fun factor before entering production," he points out. Developers must "play it before we build it," he adds: "Our games must be compelling before the tech design and visual targets, and before production planning begins." "To prioritize differently misunderstands the nature of what we make," Prout states. "People don't buy games. People buy fun." The full feature on crunch and pre-production is now available at Gamasutra.

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