"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform."
- Mark Twain

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.

[ 5 comments | Last comment by Rob L. (2010-06-07 15:28:20) ]