Let’s take a step back and consider some context to your question. If there is too much work to do before a deadline, we either have to push the deadline or increase the amount of work done during the time remaining. Let’s assume that the deadline is immutable - it’s an E3 demo or a hard launch date. If that’s the case, we need to increase the amount of work done over time. One way to do that is by crunching. Crunching tends to be more cost-effective than hiring additional workers because it bypasses the usual ramp-up time that new workers need to acclimate and become productive, though it is possible to do both simultaneously.
If you look at crunch as a means to patch a shortfall in total work done, then you should start seeing where and how crunch would affect people. If the environment art team falls significantly behind the combat team, the quest team, the itemization team, and the server team, then the environment art team may be pressured to (or even choose to) crunch to catch up. If a specific feature is behind schedule, the sub-team working on that feature might need to crunch. If the entire game is behind schedule for cert submission, the entire team may have to crunch to hit their ship date.
There is a special time frame in the final stage before certification on console though - when moving toward cert, it is normal that there are certain lockouts that occur in order to maintain stability. Artists and designers are the first to be barred from making any changes that are not explicitly approved by production in order to minimize the chances of something new jeopardizing a cert candidate. This period is called “content freeze” (or “content lock”) - no content may be modified or added past that point unless it fixes a cert bug and the producers explicitly ask for it. After “content freeze” comes “code freeze”, where even engineers are not allowed to make any changes unless explicitly asked for by production and vetted by the tech leadership. Because of this gap between content and code freeze, engineering (and production) tends to crunch a little longer than everybody else.
[Join us on Discord] and/or [Support us on Patreon]
Got a burning question you want answered?
- Short questions: Ask a Game Dev on Twitter
- Long questions: Ask a Game Dev on Tumblr
- Frequent Questions: The FAQ