Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Overtime is Fine

No wonder Twitter is having an initial public offering soon, considering the energy with which a recent tweet from @RyseGame spread throughout the game development community. The tweet, which admitted that the Crytek Ryse game development team was working overtime in the leadup to launch, was the subject of much derision and lampooning.

'Crunching' is a term used by game developers for what everyone else calls 'overtime,' 'putting in the hours,' or just plain 'working late.' The '#rysefacts' hashtag driven flames that licked the Ryse twitter feed fell into two camps: One, those calling into question the appropriateness of promoting overtime as macho (very valid), and two, those making hay over the fact that the Ryse team was working late at all (invalid, and the subject of my following rage).

Countless pundits, developers, and journalists referenced clever studies about how working extremely long hours can lead to decreased productivity, impaired relationships, and physical deterioration. Some developers proudly proclaimed that they never worked late at all - Though, none any as successful as Crytek appeared to make that claim.

The self-congratulatory, vindictive nature of this tweet storm was disturbing and naive. What right do all these people, these people with such supposedly perfect ideas about productivity, have to insult and disparage the way the Ryse team is managed? Is anyone on the Ryse team being forced to work late? Are they being chained to their desks, fed intravenously as they hunch over XBox One development units?

Of particular note were the independent developers who proclaimed the virtues of their work environments over larger teams like that of Ryse. Independent development, so the nebulous twitter narrative went, was free of such archaic practices as working past 1800hrs. One tweet even made the fallacious claim that Natural Selection 2 playtest team made it through development without pulling any all-nighters. And they are volunteers!

Here is an insight into the life of an independent games developer: On the night (morning) before a recent deadline, I was racing out of the Unknown Worlds office into a cab bound for San Francisco airport. It was 0430 and I had just finished up what needed to be done for a showing in Seattle. My next memory is of waking up on the plane to my own dribble discoloring my shirt, as the plane pulled into the gate at 0900. My most dignified moment it was not.

Oh you silly caveman, I hear the twitter horde say, you just did not plan your time effectively! Oh yes I did - This was the eighth week in a row that I had not had a weekend, and not far off my next most recent night without sleep. It was another eight days before I finally rested properly.

This kind of story is not exceptional, it is normal for highly motivated, highly engaged human beings that are persuing an endevour they are passionate about. It does not mean that my employer is dysfunctional, a slave driver, or understaffed. On the contrary, Flayra is forever telling me to get out of the office and do less work. No amount of productivity enhancement can reverse the lump of labour fallacy. It does not mean that people who do not pull hours are not highly motivated, highly engaged and passionate.

The multi-month mega work period that my dribble incident was a symptom of was my choice. Like those who work at Crytek, I chose to subject myself to a challenge that encroached on a significant proportion of my life. At the end of it, after sleeping fourteen hours straight, and watching the results, I was even happy with it.

Choosing to engage in long hours does not make me a dysfunctional human being. I am faster, fitter, and stronger than any game developer I have ever met that switches on at nine and off at five. Even if I am not as successful as I would like with the ladies, I lead a healthy social life. I am very aware of the danger of 'overwork.' And many on the Ryse team are likely no different.

No one has the right to mock my work practices. And you have no right to mock the developers of Ryse (or their management). You can politely disagree with it, you can present evidence against its effectiveness, you can outright state it ineffectual. But joining in on the groupthink bashing that was '#rysefacts' is not ok. It is insulting and deserves a second, complimentary tag: #circlejerk.

1 comment:

  1. Actually my tweet never said we did not pull all-nighters. I said we did 0 crunch hours. Big difference.

    A good definition of Game Developer Crunch hours can be found here: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/188671/game_developer_qualityoflife_.php?page=2

    As someone who has experienced real 'Crunch' first hand, I can tell you we at the NS2 Playtest group have never pulled typical Game Developer-style Crunch, as described by game developers in that article. An all nighter or two every few months would not be described as 'Crunch' in this respect.

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