So once upon a time I produced a little known but BAFTA winning music game called Frequency for Sony. My ego was soaring, but my studio was closing. I entered the duldrums of the unemployed but was confident I could land a coveted producer spot on a AAA franchise. Man was I wrong. But this post isn't going to be about my apparently terrible interviewing skills but about one single interview question, that I've had more time and experience to think about.
When I was called up to Redmond, the Halo team had just gotten through a year of crunch, like 7 days a week,¬†12 to 16 hours a day, or so I was told by the leads I interviewed with first. They all asked me what I would do reduce crunch for the sequel. For them, clearly, the producer's job was to fine tune the machine to avoid people getting chewed up by the cogs.
Then I sat down with a manager, evidently one who hadn't seen my resume before that day, and after asking the obvious dick question, "Why do you think you could do¬†this job?" he asked, "What would you do to make the team work harder?" I kid you not.
So was this a sign of a dysfunctional team or some kind of trick question where they compare notes afterward. If it were the latter, I clearly failed the test because I wasn't even allowed to finish the day's interviews. So of course, it haunted me. This¬†was the big "what if" in my career, considering how well the Halo franchise did. On the other hand, it may have been a dysfunctional team, considering the fact that they were¬†replacing the¬†Halo 1 producer.
Dysfunctional or not, they produced some brilliant games. Clearly they did something right.¬†The question I have to ask is, "Was it worth it?"¬†They'll probably say yes and continue to crunch their teams thinking it necessary for success. Let's all thank them for their dedication. We all benefited.
Yet I asked this question¬†again¬†when¬†I crunched¬†as a designer on a¬†game that¬†wasn't a hit. Will people thank me for how hard I worked? I think not.¬†Then in games¬†I produced where we didn't crunch¬†but we still made¬†our¬†date, I asked "What if we did more? Did I settle?"
There's the rub. Does crunching make a game better? Or is it¬†just what it takes to make a game on time?¬†Teams can work just as hard on a failure, or get extension upon extension and still ship a shit game.¬†In fact, studies have shown the productivity of a team goes steadily¬†down after a week or more of crunching. So evidence would indicate that crunching does not make a better game.
So why do we do it? Some would say it's¬†a symptom of a failure of management. Iteration-itus, poor planning, scope creep, meandering vision,¬†etc.¬†That's probably what I said to get booted off the Microsoft campus that day. More idealistic people¬†would say it's because of the passion of the team who wants to make the best game possible despite a deadline. But making a guy crunch doesn't make him passionate. He's got to want to work, and doing what you love makes the work much easier. From my own experience, it did¬†not feel like crunch as long as I was having fun. Unfortunately¬†it's also been my experience that not everyone feels the same way nor works as hard as I do. Why not? Isn't this the best fucking job in the world? I'd always said that a player would never know how hard you worked, but they can tell if you were having fun making it. The joy¬†will come through in the design.
So what would be my¬†answer today to the first question, "What would I do to reduce crunch?" It would be the same answer I'd now give for the¬†second¬†question "What would I do to make a team work harder?" It would simply be,¬†"Inspire them to¬†have fun, of course."