Crunch time, the concept of being pressed up

    Crunch time, the concept of being pressed up against a deadline to complete a goal or milestone. Putting in more hours than usual on a project in a given work period than is healthy. This practice is abundant in the video game industry. Company’s constantly pressuring their workers for more productivity and more work. It is so bad that it harms the mental, physical, and relationship health of the workers life. The workers consumed by peer pressure to stay with the rest of the team and work twenty-hour shifts, lest they be marked as not a real part of the team. A lingering sense of dread for the job security in which most employees feel they are replaceable. The normalization of treating developers like cattle, building in gyms, showers, and dining areas lending to the idea that they should never leave.  History The concept of crunch time has been around for decades. Ever since there has been an employer who has needed more for less from their employees. Every industry has had to deal with the concept and each industry has dealt with it in their own way. The film industry for example has formed a union, and directors are given free rein to work without worrying about the release date of a movie jumping ahead in time. In 1926 the forty-hour work week was introduced by automotive leader Henry Ford. Much to the dismay of the leaders of the businesses overseeing his industry, Ford continued his research and concluded that shorter work weeks lead to increased output. ( Staff, 2003). This research was continued through the 1950’s by hundreds of outlets almost none of them argued against Fords claim. Increasing employee task completion and reducing project cost by allowing for social benefits and more time off to relax is how product-based industries should work. Since the late fifties this has been standard in any industry, and those who didn’t found themselves clashing with newly formed unions. But in 2017 most major tech companies continue to employ the idea of crunch time on their workers.  EA Spouse An employee of EA had his spouse write up a letter online aptly titled EA_Spouse, which gained major attention from the industry as many employees stepped forward to corroborate the claims made. In the letter it read, “Mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm seven days a week with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior at 6pm. This averages out to an eighty-five-hour work week.” (Ea_spouse, 2014) Major news outlets picked up the story as it gained popularity, putting the unhealthy working expectations into the light. Employees from almost every major publisher came forward anonymously to chime in on the problems. In a flurry of well managed PR statements most of the publishers were able to wave off the heat, but the EA_Spouse letter remains a milestone in the industries history.   Studies.  So, with all of this information why do major tech companies continue to treat their employees this way? Most major companies want to create a great product that will sell, for the least amount of money possible. This means avoiding overtime hours, extra payments, adding more employees and constantly having work be done. Most employers may see a worker’s productivity as a linear equation. An employee works to create 4 assets in 2 hours, so they should make 6 in 4 hours, 8 in 6 hours, and 10 in 8 hours. While this may seem logical on paper, to continue this trend for extended periods of time causes crashes in productivity. The workers have motivational, emotional and health-based limits that can break this equation. Sometimes it may be easy to forget when looking that the numbers that these are people and anything can happen in an hour. On that note, hourly productivity is important but needs to account for these limits that the workers have for working long hours, later hours, and extended days of long, later hours.  Several studies have shown that the later someone stays up working the less productive they are as a whole. The most productive time that a worker can be doing good work is in the early day. Quantifying the best way to increase productivity while maintaining a healthy balance is hard. As stated earlier we must look to other industries who have solved this issue for guidance. But even then, with the companies having a hold on the industry seeing meaningful change will take time and effort.   There are a few other factors that must be accounted for when trying to find this balance. The first of which is sleep. Linda Cook published a paper trying to answer the question of how long someone can be awake before they lose all productivity. They found that working multiple all nighter’s has a cumulative decrease to cognitive functions, (Cook, 2003). Another problem that must be accounted for is errors. As the mental state of the employee decreases the chance for errors goes up, some of these errors may even undo all of or more of the hard work that was previously fought for. This can set back the entire project and create more crunch time, and eventually as there is more crunch time there are more errors. In a similar article Colonel Belenky says that losing as little as one hour of sleep has substantial effects on soldiers, leading to reduced awareness and accidents. The Los Angeles Times did a piece on an article by Karen Kaplan in 2005 that states, “Being awake for 21 hours impairs drivers as much as…which is the legal limit for noncommercial drivers.” (Kaplan, 2005). So why would the companies that value productivity so much put the projects that they want to have succeed in the hands of these overworked people?  In conclusion from all of the evidence over history and from the past decade it has been shown that crunch time not viable in the long term for the industry. Older more experienced designers are shunned out because they cannot work the hours, and younger people are being burnt out faster. From the top of the companies to the single developer time management skills, and a healthy schedule work week need to be used to solve this issue. It will lead to happier workers, and better video games. All while increasing profit over a long-term time table.  


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