Crunch Survival Guide

Regardless of whether you think crunch is avoidable or not, if you work in the game industry, you will inevitably have to crunch at some point. While the amount of extra hours and the duration of the crunch will vary, you will almost certainly find yourself, for some period of time working more hours than is strictly comfortable. Having just finished one of these periods of crunch (see how I failed to blog for, like, ever?), I figured this might be a good time to jot down some things that I did that helped and some warnings for the next time:

  1. Eat sensibly, sleep, and drink water. It sounds like a no-brainer, but taking care of yourself will make an enormous difference in your ability to survive crunch. Water is easy. You’ll need to get up from your desk every couple of hours anyway, so keep a large-ish cup at work and refill it every couple of hours. If you’re the sort of person who forgets to eat, set an alarm on your phone. If you’re like me, you tell yourself that you deserve those french fries, or you deserve to sleep in an extra hour. Most of those things that you deserve aren’t going to actually make you feel better. You deserve to feel good.
  2. Do something in your off-hours. Some days, you won’t have time to do anything but work and sleep. These days suck, and there’s not much you can do about it. Hopefully, though, your crunch does not consist of 16 hours of work/commute for 7 days a week. After 6 (or 12) 14-hour days, the temptation to plop down on the couch for a day-long marathon of Desperate Housewives is incredibly tempting, but if you do this, you will probably find yourself feeling pretty bummed about wasting your one day off. Work out. Go for a walk. Clean your refrigerator. If you can afford it, get a massage. Personally, I’ve been enjoying cooking, and I have to give a big shout-out to Domestocrat for providing me with tons of awesome new recipes to try. Plus, this helps with the whole “eating sensibly” thing.
  3. Communicate with friends and family. This is where social networks come in really handy. You’re not going to have a lot of time to go out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay attuned to what’s going on in the lives of the people you love. Keeping in touch will keep you sane, and if you have friends who aren’t crunching, they’re likely to be a lot more sympathetic when you say you have to work this weekend. It can be hard to find things to talk about when all you’re doing is working. When in doubt, remember that most people enjoy talking about themselves, and you’ll probably want to hear what they’ve been up to too.
  4. Be kind to your coworkers. The longer crunch goes on, the more tired people get. People make mistakes. People get snippy. People occasionally have to leave at a reasonable hour because their kids are sick, and you’ll be annoyed because you don’t have kids, and so you don’t get an excuse to leave. Just remember that when it comes down to it, you’re all in the same boat, and you’ve all got each other’s backs.
  5. Focus on your goal. Remember, the goal is not the end of crunch or the ship date. The goal is to create an awesome game. If you remember that there’s an actual reason why you’re putting in these extra hours, you’ll feel a lot better about doing it, and you’ll be a lot more productive as well.

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My name is Maitland Lederer, and I’m a video game developer. I learn stuff you probably already knew and have opinions you've probably already heard. I figured it might be a good idea for me to start writing down the stuff I've learned so I don't have to relearn it. It's not, like, great wisdom or anything. It's just things I happened to learn, usually today.

Header photo by D Sharon Pruitt, used under a Creative Commons License.

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