Crunch in video games


In Chapter 7 of Managing Media Work Toby Miller talks about the New International Division of Cultural Labour (NICL) and how within the realm of digital games companies such as Rockstar and EA are using “exploitative labour practices as their power increases via the destruction and purchase of small businesses” (Miller, 2011) referring to what is known within the industry as “crunch”.

Crunch within games is a hotly debated topic, as mentioned in the chapter the ea_spouse case raised awareness of what was going on at EA LA in 2004, though there have been other press worthy cases since, including Rockstar San Diego during the development of Red Dead Redemption, KAOS Studios when developing Homefront, and as touched upon in a previous post, Team Bondi.

At the same time industry bodies such as TIGA and companies  (in some cases the same companies as are reportedly crunching) are speak out against crunch including Splash Damage, EA, who now prescribe to a philosophy where crunch should be “optional” and Minecraft developer Mojang. However Mojang, who have based their income model on alpha investment, having consumers buy alpha copies of the game at a reduced rate to fund the on-going development of their product, releasing regular updates to keep investors happy, means that final release is not such a pressing concern.

So what are the causes of crunch? Some responsibility must be placed on the publishers, demanding the best game possible while giving the developer minimal time and/or resources to achieve it. The majority of the blame seems to be aimed at the developers, specifically the game producer. While game development can be an unpredictable (no one knows for certain how long a new feature may take to develop), good project management by the producer and task time estimation by seasoned developers can keep the project achievable within a given time scale. That said, whether on target  or not, whether all game bugs have been identified and resolved, developers who are passionate about what they do will always want to squeeze out a little more to make the game the best it can be.

On a personal note, while talking to a producer from Creative Assembly at Develop earlier this year, I mentioned that during a games development competition I had been involved with that we had only one day of crunch across the 12 weeks we were competing, to which he replied “but if you had crunched more would your game have been better for it?”

So can we abolish crunch? Probably not, people make mistakes, things go off plan, it happens. What we can do however is try to prevent the use of crunch as a conscious production tool as with the examples mentioned at the top of my post.

– Craig Harkness

Miller, T. (2011). The New International Division of Cultural Labour. In M. Deuze, Managing Media Work (pp. 87-99). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Inc.


One Response to “Crunch in video games”

  1. 1 Crunch in video games « Media Organizations @ IU | industry, blog, iphone, app, creative, games, programming, project, various, criminalminds

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