As part of an interview with IGN‘s Rebekah Valentine, legendary game developer Tim Schafer shed some light on the ways he and his team at Double Fine are working to maintain a healthy workplace while also reducing crunch. Schafer is known for transparency, and you can see this on display in the 32-part Psychonauts 2 documentary from 2 Player Productions. This is unusual, given the high degree of secrecy in the video game industry.
Schafer, best known for his work on The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts, and, most recently, Psychonauts 2, wants to make it easier — and healthier — for people to make video games. He notes that the documentary’s goal is “pulling back the curtain and letting people see that they could probably get a job in games.”
But making video games is no easy task, and is plagued by crunch, a term used to describe employees working extended overtime in order to meet deadlines. Despite being frowned upon, this practice is common in the video game industry, as many developers work upwards of 80-hour weeks (or more).
“It’s hard, because people do want to work hard on something they love,” Schafer tells IGN. “When they care about the games so much, a lot of people want to throw themselves into it completely.”
“Managing that balance between being really productive and making something you’re proud of, but while also watching sometimes just basic habits, like going home at 5:00 and seeing your loved ones, just getting enough sleep, some basic caring about yourself and your team or something. It got harder during quarantine, because we couldn’t really watch what people were doing. It’s easy in the office to be like, ‘Hey everyone, go home.’ Early in my career, if I needed to leave early, I’d kind of sneak out, no one saw me. And then later I was like, ‘I need to walk down the hallway and yell goodbye to everybody at 5:00, so everybody sees that I’m leaving, so they start to go like, “What am I doing here?'”
Schafer’s candor with this particular topic is an effort to generate a discussion, which will hopefully lead to less crunch overall.
“I think it’s about transparency because a lot of these things have been exposed recently where there have been managers who don’t think they’re being abusive, they’re just being themselves. And they don’t realize being in a management role is having an amplifier, and all your little funny quirks are now having an effect on people and affecting their quality of life…I think it’s good that the industry is talking about that.”
While Schafer doesn’t necessarily have a catch-all solution for avoiding crunch altogether, he believes that being open and generating discussion about the major issues that plague the industry is a great place to start.
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