Working for yourself is all about freedom. You leave the corporate world to chase your own dreams and work your own rules. You seek happiness while developing what you love. In a way, it’s a quality of life decision.
This weeks indie games summit at GDC has been surprisingly relevant. Each talk was consistently honest, presenting unvarnished analysis of the struggles other developers have faced. A surprising number of the presentations have ventured into quality of life discussions, in one form or another.
Crunch work permeates our industry, and the indie world is not immune to it.
Unpaid overtime is appealing on a level: get more work done in the same time span. However, the brief increase in productivity is quickly offset by the hidden costs and diminishing returns. Increased bugs, decreased productivity. Decreased morale, and increased health risks. Used occasionally it can help reach certain short term targets. But in spite of all the well-known long-term problems, it is still used (and abused) all the time.
Long hours, crunch and peer-pressure are something you put up with in the games industry because you love making games. But they lead to employee turnover. Some stick with it. Some change jobs to escape it. Others strike out on their own.
But if anything is apparent from the IGS sessions, it’s that indies easily fall into the same patterns. A trio of indie startups hammered on the importance of avoiding crunch at all costs.
Crunch is any easy trap. It’s the hero mentality. It’s procrastination, the lack of structure in the work day which leads to slipping deadlines. It’s the external pressures (deadlines for competitions, conferences and agreed to release dates) that force us to catch up or killing ourselves to deliver what we over-promised.
A couple years into my career, I decided to no longer crunch on other people’s projects. Why should I pour my health and my energy into someone else’s vision and someone else’s profit? For the feint promise of a theoretical bonus? It makes no sense. I decided I would only ever crunch again for my own projects, when I have a stake in the success of the project.
Still, I crunch. Put in long hours. But it’s not productive. I don’t enjoy it. I am happiest when I am productive at work and can leave my work at the office. I rationalize it that I am in the start up phase and this will pass, but I may be deluding myself.
Alex Zacherl from the Bit Barons has convinced me that I am. What is the point of working for yourself if you’re going to fall into the ugly patterns? My goal for my studio is to never have employees crunch. I cannot ask employees and colleagues to put in long hours when I railed against the practice for so long. So I must avoid crunching myself (although I do fall into the same deadline trap).
There is no point of working for yourself – chasing your dream – if you’re killing yourself in the process.