The last portion of beta testing has come to be called crunch time. During these weeks, people have been known to stay in the office for days at a time, sleep under their desks, eat nothing but carryout, ingest massive amounts of caffeine, and become strangers to their families. All in all, it is a weird twilight world where the only important thing is finishing the game.
When this goes well, you end up with a dedicated team who believe that they’re working on something special, and who are willing to make sacrifices in other areas of their lives to see this creation come out right. The people work hard because they want to, because it is important to them, and because it is fun. Their motivation comes from an internal desire rather than an external mandate. If you’ve ever worked hard with a group of people to achieve a cherished goal, you know how exhilarating and rewarding it can be.
On the other hand, when it goes poorly, you have people who feel pressured to put in long hours so that they won’t lose their jobs, who don’t care what’s in the game as long as it gets done, and who feel bitter and exploited. If you’ve ever had to grind away at a pointless task that was doomed to failure anyway, you know how mind-numbing and soul-deadening that can be.
When it goes really poorly, crunch time turns into a death march, which is any period of extraordinary effort that lasts more than one month. You should avoid this at all costs. The benefits of overtime are lost in mistakes caused by exhaustion. Apathy sets in. The team breaks down. You’re very likely to deliver the game later than if you just kept plugging along in the first place. If you ever find yourself saying, “We can make the deadline if everyone works two months of mandatory overtime,” take a deep breath, step back, and reevaluate.
Crunch time is inevitable on any project, and when it arrives, be prepared to walk on eggshells. As time runs out, emotions run high and tempers can flare. One of the hardest parts of making a game is the last-minute agonizing over how important any given bug is, and these decisions are likely to be made in a supercharged atmosphere with too little time and not enough sleep. In these final days, try to keep your sense of proportion, understand that there is rarely a “right” decision. And remember that even if you disagree with what’s happening, you still need to work for the good of the game.Game Design Bob Bates (2004)