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About crunch mode
Wednesday, June 2, 2010 | Permalink

When I was at ATI/AMD a couple of years ago I was working 7.5 hour days. During my more than three years there I can only remember working overtime once. This was due to an ISV needing urgent help with what they thought was a driver bug, just an hour or so before the end of the day on a friday, and they needed it fixed before the weekend. Turned out it was their fault, but anyway, that was the only time I stayed in the office a couple of hours extra. When I decided to switch to the game industry I worried quite a lot about things like overtime, because you know, I want to have a life too, and the game industry have a really poor record in this area. One of the main reasons I joined Avalanche Studios in particular was because they have an expressed policy basically stating that "overtime is a failure of the management". During my time here I can say that overtime has been rare. Yes, it has happened a few times, in relation to important deliveries. But generally it has been in moderate amounts and have only lasted a couple of weeks at most, and with employees able to plan their overtime freely. As we get paid for the overtime work, alternatively can swap it for vacation at a later time, and the company also provide overtime food in crunch time, it's not much of an issue when it does happen.

However, I keep hearing the situation is not as rosy in many other places. I believe the situation is better among Swedish developers than elsewhere, but I suppose that might have more to do with local laws than a better mentality. I think the situation has improved a lot though, especially after the famous "EA Spouse" story, but I still think there's a immaturity in the industry. Somehow game developers are perceived "from the top" as a bunch of 20 year old nerds that are all single and probably stay up all night anyway. Well, I'm 30. Many of my co-workers are married, have kids, and I'd say a majority are in a stable relationship with someone who might care if they can share dinner at home tonight.

I saw this article today named Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work: 6 Lessons. I knew that productivity drops the longer people work. What I didn't know was that the common 40-hour work week was not some kind of arbitrary standard, but the result of research and studies done a century ago. Turns out this is the sweet spot for getting the highest output, at least for industrial jobs. Increase to 10 hours and you not just less per hour, but get less done in absolute terms. This raised a question though. Should a manager strive to get the highest possible output per employee, or the highest output per invested dollar. If the former, the 8-hour day is likely optimal, but if the latter, maybe going down to 7-hour or so would make more sense, because of increased productivity. Say you get perhaps 95% of the output at only 87.5% of the cost. Come to think of it, the 7.5-hour day at ATI was probably not just an arbitrary "bonus half hour free" to be nice to employees, but probably someone had a deeper thought there. Because this was only for office type employees, while people working in production had the typical 8-hour days. It was probably optimized for different variables by some clever dude.

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Bjorke
Thursday, June 3, 2010

I have a theory about overtime: overtime doesn't really improve a blown schedule, but it leaves people feeling that they somehow DID something about it. And then blew the schedule.

sqrt[-1]
Thursday, June 3, 2010

I actually got in trouble with a manager once for consistently not working 8 hours - even though state law sets my max hours to 7.5 and my contract also states this.

I also work in games, but overtime has never really been much of an issue - what is a pain is working on a project with another studio not in the same time zone. The 4am starts are not fun.

Jackis
Thursday, June 3, 2010

When I started working as a programmer, I was "19 years old nerd" (well not nerd actually, but 19 years old), and we used to have much overwork there, especially before deadlines. I have been working there for about 2 years and then quitted after we have whole week-end of extra-work and a night of bug-fixing, so at sunday I came there at 11 am and leaved only monday at 13 am. And when at tuesday I came a bit late (at 12 instead of 11) - I was fined for that. That fine was the last straw
After that I worked in a company which made entertainment training simulators. Not game industry, but very close to it. When I joined it, it has no simulators ready at all, so we participated in the whole building process from the very beginning. It was very interesting and I liked my job very much, until I got a wife So I had to share my time between work and home. I used to stay at work for 9-10 hours, and I have to mention about the start time - it was 12 am (because our boss came to work at 2-3 pm and leaved it at 11-12 pm), so he wanted everybody to be on their places at 8-9 pm, when he began his daily pass-by. But when I got married and we started to think about babies, it became clear I have to optimize my time. So I talked to my boss about that but with no success, so after 5 years of hard-working I decided to find something calm
Now I'm working in navigational simulators industry for a little bit more then a year. We have strict working hours and I have A LOT of spare time in the evening. Firstly it was rather uncommon to me... 7 pm and I'm at home...But my wife was happy, so as my small daughter also

David
Thursday, June 3, 2010

I am not actually convinced that it is the number of hours which is tiring(in any industry). More what is stressed during the time at work.

For example when working in the software industry, at the end of the day I would be mentally, but not physically tired. The inverse would often be true when working in the bar/catering industry due to a lot of running around etc(although this generally involved more than 7.5 hour days 6 days per week etc...).

Rob L.
Monday, June 7, 2010

My (mid 20, single ;^) ) rather limited experience as a professional game programmer is, that we would work overtime because we wanted to show we get things done. I haven't been explicitly told to do it, only asked. (I know that what sounds like a question sometimes isn't one, but that hasn't been the case here.)

Yes, the schedules have always been invalidated (mostly) due to technical issues and initial delays due to extended legal work, that haven't really been compensated in revised schedules; and yes, we knew we wouldn't achieve much working through two weeks straight (only on some occasions, it has been seven days more often), but at least we managed to get milestones done until the deadlines. We would then get "compensation days" off, one day for every weekend day of work.
Oh, yes, there has also been overtime food. That always reduces stress a little.

Things changed towards the end of production, though:
We would absolutely always work overtime - I guess ten hours a day was the average for at least three months (programmers only) - and there wouldn't bee any possibilities to take days off. That really "destroyed" most of us.

The product was finished on time, but most people needed at least a month off of work, finally taking their well deserved vacation. Speaking of which, some of us didn't make any vacation worth mentioning besides "compensation days" over the course of one and a half years!
Some have started looking into other industries for more regular work time, which is unfortunate, but also probably the best for them.

Well, what does that mean for me? "Overtime is a failure of the management" sounds about right, save for the few "nerds" that just get emotionally invested and want to get everything done, no matter what.
I really have to stop getting in love with the things I'm working on. ;^p

Seriously, it's very demanding, but isn't it worth it in the end? :^)

Best regards,

Rob