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The Detrimental Effects of Crunch Culture in CEE Game Development Startups

Europe’s gaming technology business is thriving. Gaming raised $1.8 billion in capital in 2022 (after raising $2.6 billion in 2021). Poland is an excellent example of this market’s potential. With over 440 game production companies spread around the country, it has particularly contributed to the video game sector. Whether we categorize this business as entertainment or IT, it can only function with software development teams. As many programmers admire game development and desire to work in it, one major roadblock separates many brilliant software engineers. The reason for this is an unusual work culture that is extremely demanding and even harmful regarding work-life balance. 

Because the CEE game development industry is expanding, it is critical to highlight the omnipresent issue of crunch culture in this sector. The rising prevalence of crunch culture threatens employees’ well-being and the long-term profitability of companies. The nature of crunch culture has a negative impact and need for reform, regardless of whether the company is well recognized or an indie game dev startup.

Crunch culture has emerged as a work environment in which employees are exposed to excessive and protracted working hours, frequently with little consideration for work-life balance or employee well-being. Crunch culture has grown distressingly mainstream in the game development business, fueled by the stresses of fulfilling stringent deadlines, industry demands, and the desire for financial success. While short bursts of intensive effort are occasionally required in the creative industries, a continual overwork cycle harms both individuals and organizations.

The IT sector, particularly in IT services such as customized software development, normalizes work cycles focused on delivery. Software engineers are tasked with developing code that enables applications to run smoothly, regardless of how complicated and frequently unexpected the development process is. Each project scope necessitates specific feature delivery that must be completed on time. No matter what, businesses expect software developers to produce functioning code. Working more than eight hours a day is standard, with little rest and a distorted work-life balance. However, what is more or less an exception for software developers in the so-called IT sector is the standard in game development.

Startup founders and even software engineers operate with a strong sense of purpose and conviction. They are working on things exceptionally innovative; they create and aim to revolutionize some areas. It may cause individuals to overwork, lose equilibrium, and become engrossed in initiatives that prioritize their jobs. But game dev is considerably more time-consuming. It is tied to the immense pressure of venture money, but it also emanates directly from the objectives and personal motives of the makers. Many software engineers spent their childhoods fascinated by video games, admiring people who produce them, and fantasizing about having their own stake in the virtual world.

There are many reasons why crunch culture exists in game dev. One of the main triggers is the pressure that game creators are under. Developers may feel squeezed to finish it on time because a game’s release date is generally determined months in advance. Another cause for the bottleneck is the industry’s competitiveness. With so many game creators fighting for players’ attention, there is a lot of expectation to make the most significant game possible. It can foster a culture of overworking and forsaking personal time to complete tasks.

Employees’ physical and emotional well-being suffer due to the crunch culture. Extensive work hours, continuous periods of extreme stress, and little time for relaxation and recovery all contribute to burnout, anxiety, and depression. Long-term repercussions include chronic exhaustion, aggravating physical health, and decreasing mental resilience. Such circumstances affect people’s personal life and limit their capacity to contribute successfully at work.

The industry’s reputation for cultivating a deadline-driven culture hinders its ability to attract and keep top talents, limiting its potential for development and innovation. Tired employees are more likely to make mistakes, neglect essential elements, and jeopardize the video game’s creative vision. The constant pressure to achieve deadlines at whatever cost leads to rash development, resulting in bugs, problems, and a generally poor user experience. Customer unhappiness hurts individual game sales and damages one’s perception of game developers and the industry as a whole. Even though developing code is usually associated with fixing bugs since it is never flawless, in the game dev business, delivering a decent product on a launch date is always essential. 

It appears that creating video games is a highly creative undertaking. Crunch culture, on the other hand, stifles innovation and imaginative thinking. Constantly working under stressful situations gives little space for exploration, experiments, and the formation of new ideas. Individuals who may add varied viewpoints and experiences to the creation process are unintentionally excluded by the efforts of extended hours and continuous availability. It limits the teams’ creative potential, but the industry’s lack of diversity makes such a culture even more unattractive. 

The poisonous nature of the game development culture annihilates its charm. However, it may also represent an exciting opportunity to make a difference for game development startups. It requires leaders who, although coming from this industry and having poor behaviors characteristic of the commerce sector, would refuse to accept them and encourage change. Advocating for a good work-life balance, promoting open communication, providing enough resources and assistance, and cultivating a mindset of respect and empathy may all be beneficial. However, my personal experience tells that the founders who emerged from this industry are more likely to supply software developers with energy drinks and snacks that, in their opinion, compensate for ugly crunch culture.


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