Mike Darrah, formerly of BioWare, sat down on the MinnMax Show podcast today to talk about a variety of topics with host Ben Hanson. An early topic discussed was the issue of crunch in video game development and how to stop it, where Darrah believed progression had to be forced.
Crunch time is a scourge in video game development where developers work extra hours in the last months of a game’s development cycle, which often results in stress, burnout, and other issues. Darrah, however, as an 18-year veteran, had his own thoughts on why crunch happens and what can be done to get rid of it. Darrah said:
“I think a lot of what really crunch is doing is that it’s getting people tired enough to ship things.”
Mike Darrah went on to explain how a large amount of crunch is developers focusing too much on smaller, less-important issues while not understanding the negative effect that that has on the wider products. Various other studies into crunch support this theory, where crunch doesn’t make games better and can even, in some cases, lead to them becoming worse.
Darrah and Hanson discussed ways to counter crunch that included having a strict calendar for development that forces developers to move on instead of dealing with minutae, such as picking a place where the game is now in the “finishing up” phase.
Darrah also brought up stories in video game development where games are supposedly “in development” for several years, but are actually finished up within the last year or year and a half, a problem that he somewhat attributes to Triple-A games having too much time and budget. Darrah said:
“I think we can start to pivot the mindset of the team but most importantly the mindset of the leaders towards when it’s time to be finishing things, and that time should be earlier, I think, than we normally think it is.”
It’s not an impossible goal, either. Various other, smaller development studios, and even Triple-A companies like Insomniac Games who did not go into crunch while developing Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, have been able to avoid crunching on their titles. In the view of Mike Darrah it seems like the issue is one of attitude, more than policy.
You can watch the full podcast by following this link.