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Students raise awareness of work-life balance for game designers, developers

Working mandatory overtime of 60 and 70 hours a week to meet constant deadlines before a product’s release isn’t what most people would consider desirable working conditions. But that’s what often faces workers in an industry that fulfills the demands of more than 165 million U.S. adults who play video and board games, which has increased even more during COVID-19 due to the desire to feel connected to others.

 Columbus College of Art & Design is taking on the “crunch culture” mindset plaguing the game industry with the launch of its Game Art & Design major in fall 2020 (pending accreditation). In addition to preparing students with the skills needed to succeed in this booming business sector, CCAD is educating them about the negative effects of working intense weeks of overtime through its Healthy Creativity initiative. 

The campus wide campaign promotes the concept that health and wellness make for better artists and designers, which inspired CCAD’s Game Arts Project class to design an original tabletop game to raise needed awareness of work-life balance in game development. Aptly named 100 Hours Till Launch, the game uses player choices and outcomes to demonstrate the consequences of laboring long hours in the industry and educate on best work practices. 

Led by Liz Keegan, CCAD Assistant Professor of Animation and Game Art & Design (pending accreditation), students tackled the problem of crunch culture while getting firsthand experience in creating a tabletop game. 

“In supporting CCAD's Healthy Creativity initiative, these game students committed to better understand and challenge the root cause of crunch culture within the industry they wish to enter,” said Keegan. “After considering several options for addressing this major issue in game development, it became clear that the perfect format for engaging in dialog and problem-solving would be through gameplay.”

Negative effects of crunch culture 

Games today are more complex than ever before, so it is no surprise that game makers often experience periods of working long hours beyond the traditional 40-hour weeks to meet deadlines. In a recently released survey, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) found that 42% of game developers surveyed reported that their jobs involved working crunch before a game’s launch. During crunch, 52% of employees worked between 45 and 59 hours and 19% worked between 60 and 69 hours a week. A sizable minority—13%—worked more than 70 hours a week. Often, employees received little or no financial compensation for working overtime.

No one benefits from crunch culture, according to Take This, a mental health nonprofit that authored “Crunch Hurts.” Research shows that employees who work long hours experience stress, lack of sleep, and are more likely to suffer from both physical and mental health issues. Crunch can also be expensive for studios bearing the costs of absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, and lower rating scores due to increased bugs in a game’s performance. 

Playing the game

100 Hours Till Launch positions players to explore ideas of empathy, respect, inclusivity, and being empowered to make choices within their studio. The desired outcome is for players to reflect on crunch culture, its negative effects, and come to understand that a manageable work-life balance benefits everyone—designers, developers, and companies in the game development industry. 

Throughout the process, the students worked closely with game content expert Matthew Tarulli, one of the founders of ODAM Publishing. “It’s been a great collaborative experience for me to work with the students at Columbus College Art & Design’s Game Arts Project class and with Professor Keegan to develop 100 Hours Till Launch,” Tarulli said. “The game helps players look at the crunch culture from different perspectives to help raise awareness of the problem. We at ODAM Publishing are proud to partner with CCAD to spark change within the industry.

”CCAD students not only learned about game development firsthand but also the importance of raising awareness of crunch culture to challenge the status quo. “Working with a team with such diverse skills has been an incredible experience especially on a project that’s impacting others,” said Jordan Hughes (Illustration, 2020). “Knowing our hard work will turn into an educational tool made me want to put all of my energy into the game.

”Noah McKee (Illustration, 2020) appreciated learning about the inner workings of a studio, as well as the difficulties and pressures of creating games. “The experience revealed to me the necessity of a strong, passionate team and the power of leadership, delegation, and responsibility,” he said.100 Hours Till Launch will be available free while supplies last at select events in Columbus, including the GDEX Gaming Expo, Sept. 18–20, and the Origins Game Fair 2020, Oct. 7–11.

For more information about CCAD’s Game Art & Design major, visit ccad.edu/academics/gameart

To learn about the college’s Healthy Creativity initiative, visit ccad.edu/healthycreativity