Crunch has some advantages that are hard to replicate during ‘normal workdays’. Working with a group of people for a concentrated amount of time towards a well-defined goal and deadline has effects similar to a game jam: it allows for rapid iteration, you can keep focused on the task of meeting the deadline for an extended period of time and with the defined deadline, decisions are a lot easier to force – which can then be iterated upon further if necessary.
With a well-timed crunch, you can get a project past a bump, you can advance a project at a rapid pace and in doing so, motivate yourself and your team.
On the other hand, extended crunch does affect your concentration and your ability to think clearly. It is unhealthy to be working for extended amounts of time straight and as the crunch starts to last longer, the advantages lessen disproportionally to the damage crunch can potentially do to the human psyche.
When Vlambeer was having a rough time, right after the cloning debacle, we’d work late every day of the week and fool ourselves into thinking we took enough time off by working at home one day of the week. Obviously, we did not get anything done regardless of how long we stared at our screen apathically. We learned that the danger of romanticizing crunch is that the advantages to a short crunch seem so easily reproducible that it seems like a good idea to crunch for an extended period.
The decay of mental capabilities during crunch is not a linear one. If you crunch for a long time, you’ll eventually reach a point in which the advantages of the crunch have been negated, leading to potential stagnation on the project. Stagnation is always hurtful for motivation. Not having a life outside of work due to crunch won’t help with that. To add insult to injury, the ratio of crunch time versus recovery time shifts towards longer recovery time as a crunch progresses.
On the other hand, the past week we’ve successfully crunched a week on LUFTRAUSERS, culminating in pulling an all-nighter to meet the Independent Games Festival submission deadline. When we went home, we discussed that the crunch actually made us feel better instead of worse. We realized this crunch had been short, focused and without annoyances or distractions.
It helped that both the project artists, Paul Veer and Roy Nathan de Groot and the musician, KOZILEK, had been working ahead. We didn’t need to wait for any assets to be created and as such, our reliance on the creation of external assets was none. We also kept external distractions to a minimum. We locked the door, killed the phone and discussed no other projects or work.
Obviously, we’re still learning and growing – but the way I look at it now is that crunch can be a good thing. Sure, there are a lot of conditions for it to be a good thing and it absolutely has to be something you want to do. It should have a well-defined target, well-defined participants and a well-defined duration. It should not be part of normal production, but it can be used effectively to either reach a specific goal or to solve a problem with a project.
Most importantly, take time off when crunch is over.