Adjusted Reality

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” – Mark Twain

Overtime and Mismanagement

While I can’t talk that much about the specifics of my company, I certainly can discuss certain aspects of my job and the industry as a whole.  And one of them is making sure that a team of 20+ people stay on schedule.  Sometimes it’s not so hard, but sometimes it’s like herding cats.  In the rain.  And I’m a scratching post.

Some of the stereotypical things about the gaming industry are super cool.  The casual attire is a plus – today I wore a blue hippie hat, a star trek shirt, a hoodie, and blue snowboarding pants – and I fit right in.  Everyone has toys on their desks (oh, sorry, action figures) and there are nerf gun fights.  There are many work-related interoffice discussions about dragons and magic.  There is often a lunch card game or roleplaying game going on.

However, one of the negative stereotypes of working in the games industry is crunch time, otherwise known as extended hours, overtime, death march, pulling all nighters, see your family when the milestone is reached, etc, etc.  I’ve been through some of the worst of it.  I’ve worked 24 hours straight before.  I’ve worked 6 months of 7 day weeks where I had to beg for a day off.  I went through a period where my downtime was working at home.  This industry LOVES my workaholic tendencies like peanut butter loves chocolate.

Now, everyone understands that sometimes you need to pull a long night to finish something up.  I’ve been ass deep in work before jammin’ to something great in my headphones, and have looked up and it’s way later than I should be at work, and I don’t mind that at all.   The problem is – it gets old.

Take my 7 day week for about 6 months.  The bonus there was that I was actually making overtime.  The not-so-bonus?  Overtime on 9 bucks per hour in San Diego isn’t really worth it.  It’s ramen when you’re working 40 hour weeks, it’s fancier ramen when you get a little extra, and the taxes really kill ya.  What happened was it stopped being productive after a while and people just started soaking up the hours and getting the same amount done, and since so many people were doing it, you stood out like a sore thumb if you, for heavens sake, worked a SIX day week or left early.  I moved on from that place after a year, and things got a little better at the next place, but it wasn’t for too long, and soon we lost the overtime pay when we made the change to salary.

There’s nothing like extra hours when you’re not paid for them.  Especially when it happens for an extended period of time.  Zliten worked crunch for about a year straight as his innauguration to game design.  His reward after shipping the game?  2 weeks added to his paid time off.  He probably worked that extra in the last 2 months.  I lead such a small team that I never was TOLD to crunch, but what does any dedicated young upstart trying to prove herself do?  I found myself still at work after midnight A LOT.  I’d wake up groggy, not be productive until after lunch, and then do it again.  It was much less fun that this.

The other thing they tried to pacify us with (well, not me so much, but Zliten) was food.  I gained my weight at the end of college about the same time I maxxed my credit card with bar tabs, but Zliten gained his during that year of crunch food.  Low quality, cheap, crappy, non-nutritious troughs of food.  I do believe they got the same thing over and over for that year.

I am a lucky duck now at my place of employment, and work with some amazing people.  Our studio philosophy is to really kick ass and focus while we’re there, and go home when it’s time to go home.  So while we’re a bit of a drag about people sitting there watching videos or playing games all day or being too rambunctious, it makes for very few long days.  We are currently working our first 50 hour week in a year.  It might last for 2 weeks.  We worked approximately 2 months worth of crunch (mostly just 5o hour weeks, I don’t think we ever worked both weekend days) in the last 2 years before we shipped our first title.

The best thing?  Individually ordered crunch food.  Except on pizza nights (where they know to also order me a salad), we can order whatever we want from the restaurant of the day and it’s delivered.  One day, I got a super healthified burrito (about 300 calories).  Yesterday, turkey no cheese no mayo with a side of veggies.  Tonight, I splurged and got meatloaf, and it was TOTALLY worth it, but I could have ordered chicken, rice, and veggies.

I have had the opportunity to sit in on a lot of interviews lately, and one of my favorite loaded questions to ask is “what is your philosophy on crunch?”.  I’ve heard some great horror stories, but one of the common themes is that having to crunch for extended periods of time is due to mismanaged products.  Which is totally true.  Like me, most managers in the game industry came up out of other departments.  We’re not MBAs.  We don’t have exceptional experience managing anything, we just were good at what we did.  Or in some companies, not so good at what we did but weren’t fireable.  Depends.  I’d like to think I’m the former, but whatevs.

That being said, I’ve learned some time saving tips in the last few years.  Let me share them with you:

-If you’re procrastinating, move onto something else if you can.  There is no use sitting and staring at something you’re supposed to be doing without making progress.  If you can put it off without repercussions, do it when you are motivated.  For example, if you’re supposed to grocery shop and then do laundry, and you’re putting off the shopping, just start the laundry instead.

-Figure out how you work best and encourage it.  If you’re a born multitasker, make sure to have a to do list with more than one thing on it and plan to have a bunch of things ready to go at once.  If you get easily distracted, make sure you have a closed-door office that’s tidied up before you start working.  If all you can think about is getting out of the house and you feel lonely, grab your laptop and hit the park or the coffee shop.

-There is no substitute for a To Do list.  Nothing kills productivity than forgetting what you’re supposed to do next and having to search around for what you’re supposed to do.

What’s your best tip for being productive?  Any funny/true stereotypes about your job or hobby?


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Rainy Days and Mondays


  1. Divinari

    Tangent to all of this… how might a good writer get a break into the game industry? What jobs might I keep an eye out for?

    I don’t know that doing what I’m doing right now for work is what I … want to do. I know I’ve got the acupuncture thing, but that is a long way down the road. I still need to have a job, regardless. And I’d like to be happier. 🙂

    Tangenting back to your post, I totally agree with the procrastination thing. There’s no point in doing nothing when you could be doing something else, you know? Took me a while to learn that one, too.

  2. Hmmm, hard to say. Most of the guys I know who do it were screen writers or authors first, but honestly? Write a lot. Write fantasy/sci fi/whimsical fiction. Maybe start a website and see if there is a good community around that anywhere – I just don’t know. Apply for anything that comes up. You have the benefit of being employed for writing right now, just play up your writing skills and let them know your passion is fiction and you are very into games, and it might work!

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