John Carmack comments on crunch

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#1 Edited by Mugenfan98 (5 posts) -

I heard the comments of John Carmack in regards to what was essentially crunch time hours and he said "These people are choosing to do this." " I definitely don't buy into that sort of of social engineering level of things...they agree that they will wave the flag and say I'm doing this because I care so much about this." Am I misunderstanding what he's saying? Or is he really condoning crunch as a matter of they should have passion. It's around the 1 hour 7 minutes of the podcast. I emailed the bombcast to get their thoughts. I wanted to see what the community thought.

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#2 Edited by niko_of_death (278 posts) -

I think the best comparison you can make is to weight cutting in combat sports. Basically, for those who don't know much about combat sports, you must weigh in before a fight to verify you are within the weight limit for your class (for example, the UFC's Welterweight division is 156-170lb), risking a heavy penalty to winnings and the invalidation of title contendership, but in many cases (most notably UFC), the weight in takes place a day before the fight. As a result, to gain a competitive advantage, people will build mass well above the weight limit, then cut weight heavily prior to the weigh in through dehydration (sometimes to the point where they can barely walk into the weigh in), then rehydrate in the time between the weigh in and the fight. Obviously, there are some people who do this because its what they want to do, they see it as just another part of the training process, while others only do it because they would fall far behind without doing it. This is basically what crunch in game development is. Crunch definitely is not something that exists only because of greedy CEO's wanting to get as much money as possible, it's been an aspect of gamedev culture for a long time, programmers are known to stay up insane hours even for projects that are purely for fun, and the wild west nature of game development in the past probably helped this. Of course, not everybody is like this, but many feel they have to (or be outright required to) because it's what everyone else is doing. Like weight cutting, this is an issue where management needs to prevent/mitigate this type of behavior for the developers own good, because even if it's not required/pressured, developers will not stop this on their own.

You should also remember the type of person Carmack is. He's a huge workaholic, and a good amount of what we have in games today is thanks to him overworking like hell in the 90s.

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#3 Posted by Dregdon (27 posts) -

@mugenfan98: I'm pretty sure what he is saying is that there is no illusion when anyone is hired to work on these games that crunch won't happen. People who work in the games industry are told this from day 1 when they are hired and they agree to it.

A more apt comparison than the one above, I think, would be that people in combat sports sign up knowing they can and will be injured during fights. At that point they can't really just get injured then complain about how their sport is so dangerous when they knew going in what it was going to be.

I don't even think Carmack is agreeing with crunch existing just that he is saying no one is going into that crunch not knowing it was going to happen months in advance, or possibly years depending on when they were hired. Compared to the general thought that people in these jobs are just being blindsided with crunch they never expected to happen which is just not true in most cases.

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#4 Posted by Humanity (19039 posts) -

I saw that segment on the show and I do think it is the conflation of Cormack coming from a position of certain privilege and him inherently being a workaholic. Saying that people choose to do overtime and that at Carmacks company there were people that went home after 8 hours and no one held that against them is a little ignorant. He goes on to clarify that he himself has never worked for a big studio like Activision or Rockstar which is very telling. It is very different when you are just another coder in a team of hundreds - those people are not just choosing to work 100 hour weeks because it's what they want to do. Certain people excel in that sort of environment and throwing themselves at work is great for them, but that is not healthy for everyone. Having someone with his reputation basically hand wave away criticism of forced crunch and social pressuring is a pretty bad look for the industry.

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#5 Edited by BonelessSpirit (53 posts) -

Surprising to find out a multi-millionaire game dev who has been his own boss not understanding or empathizing with the plights of the common worker.

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#6 Edited by Rahf (544 posts) -

@bonelessspirit said:

Surprising to find out a multi-millionaire game dev who has been his own boss not understanding or empathizing with the plights of the common worker.

Perhaps it's simply because he cannot fathom how that is, and cannot find the empathy for people that struggle with long days and incredibly pressured schedules. Programming and IT jobs in general don't lend themselves to social reflection and introspective looks at past personal actions, especially when your own genuine opinion is that it isn't a problem. He seems to be a guy that always looks forward and less so looks at now, perhaps never at then.

"Work is life and life is work, everyone knows this." That's how I picture a person like Carmack.

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#7 Posted by dudeglove (13790 posts) -

Read masters of doom and it’s pretty obvious what Carmack’s stance on crunch is and likely doesn’t consider it a problem based on what he went through to make wolf 3d and doom

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#8 Edited by North6 (1195 posts) -

I thought it was good that Rogan brought it up, didn't expect too much insight from him there but he did well.

*edit* Also, I assume this is in reference to JRE, this thread seems like its missing some context. It was a really interesting interview.

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#9 Edited by csl316 (15037 posts) -

One of the issues with devs that remember those old days is that had more ownership over what they did. It was a 10 person team doing what they wanted, steering the ship, and getting by on "passion."

Whereas now, you're part of hundreds or thousands of people doing one small piece. Hard to compare having the passion of driving Doom's developmemt to bug testing for 12 hours straight every day.

Yes, they choose to do this. Like nurses, teachers, or police. But there are always better ways of doing things. He put in his hours and now expects the same from the new generation, which is a very boomer way of thinking from someone a little younger than that.

Carmack's a legend. His work put him there. But your average game dev doing 80 hour weeks probably won't wind up being a legend, too.

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#10 Posted by North6 (1195 posts) -

@csl316 said:

One of the issues with devs that remember those old days is that had more ownership over what they did. It was a 10 person team doing what they wanted, steering the ship, and getting by on "passion."

Whereas now, you're part of hundreds or thousands of people doing one small piece. Hard to compare having the passion of driving Doom's developmemt to bug testing for 12 hours straight every day.

Yes, they choose to do this. Like nurses, teachers, or police. But there are always better ways of doing things. He put in his hours and now expects the same from the new generation, which is a very boomer way of thinking from someone a little younger than that.

Carmack's a legend. His work put him there. But your average game dev doing 80 hour weeks probably won't wind up being a legend, too.

It's clear he's operating on a different wavelength than most people, which he freely admits. He's not a manager, not great with people, and just gets lost in the passion of work. He seems really candid and is basically saying "this worked for me". Because that dude is a unicorn, I don't think others should expect to take his route. He freely admits to taking "work vacations" where his wife ships him away so he can just sit in a room and code for 13 hours a day and not be distracted.

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#11 Edited by deactivated-5d6f0f4262550 (29 posts) -

Seems like everyone here assumes that he didn't take risks and work round the clock to make his business. The guys every success was a consequence of him working ungodly hours.

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#12 Edited by Humanity (19039 posts) -

@oldmankenobi said:

Seems like everyone here assumes that he didn't take risks and work round the clock to make his business. The guys every success was a consequence of him working ungodly hours.

I actually think everyone in this thread is acknowledging exactly that but with the caveat that development looked different in his time and for him specifically. Id was a thing he co-founded and he didn't have publishers breathing down his back and forcing his hand. All they did back then was passion driven for their product to not only succeed but be the best it can be - but it was done on their terms. It's a lot different when you don't have a stake in your own work and your "passion" is mandated by corporate entities above you.

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#13 Edited by devise22 (749 posts) -

@humanity: Bingo, hit the nail on the head there. In Carmacks day you reaped the crunch. If you and your team were responsible for putting all those hours in, it was your team, your game, your reputation. It's why so many of those names are rich now. They don't realize that they helped build the industry from being a small place into a large one. One where those same type of devs are putting that crunch as a random programmer on a team, who then is likely to get laid off after the game releases or god knows what other garbage we've seen big studios do. Nowhere do these employee's get the recognition or the cut that guys like Carmack did. It's just work abuse, forced under a culture of people who said "we did it this way" who are all people from the past.

Even more so, game development teams have gotten much, much, larger. If Ubisoft puts 200 people on a game, and we assume even half of those 200 had to crunch serious hours. Is every 100 of those people crunching getting the fair cut they deserve, or recognition? Or is it just another notch on their portfolio to say "I helped ship this other game."

The frustrating part for me is, film/television figured this shit out years ago. Production teams are teams, and when a movie hits big, the production team gets a bigger cut. All of them, the whole team. So even though the industry is also rife with crunch, the argument that people know going in makes far more sense because the industry treats every big project as a big heyday when they score. In games crunched developers often if they want to keep their job go from crunching to release a game, to crunching to release DLC/patches, to crunching to prepare for the next game. There is no stop and celebrate the thing you did, no big payday/pay-off like you see in other industries that also have the type of self labored crunch Carmack is talking about. Granted, film went crazy with Unions to make sure there was these type of payoffs and protections in place for the workers putting in those hours, so take that for what you will.

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#14 Posted by deactivated-5d6f0f4262550 (29 posts) -

@humanity: Most say he is out of touch is the point. That other stuff you're saying is bit of a stretch. Low level corporate work sucks for sure, if that is what you're saying.

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#15 Posted by Onemanarmyy (4582 posts) -

@oldmankenobi: you said everyone assumed that he didn't take risks and work around the clock to make his business. There's maybe 1 post that supports that, the rest of the posts acknowledge that Carmack works his ass off and is quite a workaholic.

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#16 Posted by Humanity (19039 posts) -

@oldmankenobi: Which parts are a stretch? He did co-found Id. It was a small team. They did work insane hours because they wanted to, because it was their passion, their ideas. Large studios do force crunch and as noted above, in gigantic 100-200 person teams the recognition for said crunch is incomparable to when Carmack coded a game with a handful of his buddies in a basement. He is out of touch, but thats to be expected.

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#17 Posted by deactivated-5d6f0f4262550 (29 posts) -

@onemanarmyy: @humanity: I guess I should have said it seems people are trying to lessen what he did because he seems out of touch. The kind of "yes, but" reasoning. In the interview he doesn't really take a strong position on crunch. And in the interview he does seem to have put a lot of thought into people working at companies.

The stretch was the idea that you are robbed of your passion. Not that there isn't rough jobs out there. You can always have your passion.

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#18 Posted by Walreese55 (585 posts) -

Modern science is sophisticated enough to not make this a debate anymore- the human body responds far better to rest and moderation than overwork and overuse. Crunch is a symptom of bad management, it's not a virtue

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#19 Posted by SethMode (2098 posts) -

@walreese55: Just wanted to say that this post is great.

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#20 Posted by FinalDasa (3241 posts) -

I think the best comparison you can make is to weight cutting in combat sports.

What?

You can't re-hydrate grueling work weeks that last months at a time. A fighter chooses their own fights, the time period, their pay, and their own weight gain/loss strategies. Developers often don't.

These crunch periods are often forced through overly early release dates, companies unwilling to give devs more time to work, and cultures created to pressure employees to work longer and harder hours.

And these top athletes are making large amounts of money. Developers usually don't.

John Carmack is worth around $40 million. Not exactly the man I want to hear complain about worker's concerns. Developers need to value their workforce instead of treating them like a renewable resource.

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#21 Edited by wollywoo (324 posts) -

I enjoyed this interview quite a bit but I thought his views on this was very out-of-touch. Carmack is someone who has been in charge of his own schedule for many decades and rarely, or maybe never, had a boss to report to. I think he has no idea of the pressure felt by employees from their managers and peers to work far longer hours than they have the desire or mental fortitude for. It's tiring hearing higher-ups reiterating over and over that the extra hours are voluntary - a result of passion and interest - with no idea of what it's like to have someone else, with power over your livelihood, express disappointment at your performance. At that point it doesn't matter that there is some employee handbook, long tossed in the rubbish bin after your first-day orientation, telling you that you ought to work 9-5 hours - you know as well as they do that more is expected, and therefore mandatory. Carmack is someone who can withstand 13 hours of intense mental concentration - I don't have that capability, and it's not reasonable to expect that many will. I admire those that can attain this level of performance, but to measure others by those standards - whether or not that productivity is mandated according to HR - is irresponsible. Mental health should come first. Here's hoping unionization in gaming makes some progress in coming years.

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#22 Posted by niko_of_death (278 posts) -

@finaldasa: Do you really think weight cutting is that easy/recoverable? Obviously it's not a 1:1 comparison, but saying "oh they rehydrate so its ok" is like saying "oh they got 12 hours of sleep on saturday they're fine". The body is not meant for either. And while the stars to get big paychecks, the prelim guys and girls, who weightcut just as much as the superstars do, often get less than the average household income (source). And again, outside of superstars, most fighters have to take whatever fight they can get, whenever/wherever they can get it, or risk either not earning enough to put food on the table or being cut. I'm not saying either practice is ok - they're both extremely dangerous and need to be changed - my point is they're both well known realities of their fields that started out of individual drive but are now a necessity to succeed.

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#23 Posted by frytup (1364 posts) -

Carmack isn't "out of touch" or too rich, he's just not a normal human. He'd be the hyperproductive obsessive genius in whatever work environment you dumped him.

Nothing wrong with that, but you don't put people like him in charge of other people. And you definitely don't allow them to set company policy.

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#24 Edited by wardcleaver (345 posts) -

@frytup said:

Carmack isn't "out of touch" or too rich, he's just not a normal human. He'd be the hyperproductive obsessive genius in whatever work environment you dumped him.

Nothing wrong with that, but you don't put people like him in charge of other people. And you definitely don't allow them to set company policy.

Yes, this is always the impression I get from listening to/reading about Carmack. I have worked with these types of people before.

As to your second paragraph, I get the impression this is the reason the industry as a whole went down the crunch hole. The people running the studios were the people like Carmack, passionate and obsessive about what they did , working 12 hour days without thinking about it.