How Atomhawk Defined its No-Crunch Culture

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Across the industry, “crunch culture” has become the buzzword in every discussion about the ethics of game development, and the mental health of artists and developers. Atomhawk is a studio that established a no-crunch culture at its inception 12 years ago.

Find out how they did it:

Crunch Time

Crunch culture can turn a dream job into a nightmare. We live in an era when (over) work is deified, and productivity is valued over human contentment. Down time is wasted time, and morally dubious. We should be strivers, not skivers, always chasing the next goal. This means ever-longer hours, more pressure and, ultimately, creative and professional burnout. An Atomhawk artist who has experienced crunch at past jobs said:

“Working late can feel exciting at first. You feel part of something that’s busy, but over time it just grinds you down. You become less productive and lose focus, which makes you miss small details that are crucial as a concept artist.”

Artwork by Damian Audino.

How Atomhawk Avoids Crunch

Crunch is a bi-product of our 24-hour, ‘always available’ culture. Knowing this, and understanding how overtime can quickly become standard time, meant Atomhawk could design its working practice to counter the problem. A healthy realism about the scope, time and budget required to create great work was applied. Making high quality work can take longer than people expect. Unmanaged client demands can lead to over-promising and under delivering, leaving a harassed team crunching to finish the job. Allowing generous contingency time for unexpected issues helps external art studios, like Atomhawk, which aren’t often afforded a full overview of client timescales and stakeholder influences, to stay in control.

Atomhawk embedded its no-crunch culture across the business:

  • Scoping – The art leadership team knows how long each artist takes to complete a piece of work. They are key to ensuring resource isn’t over-promised. They will push back when necessary, taking care of the artists and protecting the work’s integrity.
  • Production –Atomhawk’s production team creates day-to-day order, setting people up to succeed, and letting the artists focus on creating excellent work within a well-planned structure.
  • Top-Down – Anti-crunch must be baked into studio culture. Atomhawk was founded by four artists who had experienced crunch first-hand and wanted a better work/life balance. Thought and investment went into initial processes and people-management, and anti-crunch culture remains a cornerstone of the company.

Time to Disconnect

Disconnecting is vital to creative thinking. Away from the screen, away from the workplace, fresh ideas have a chance to unfurl and new ways of problem-solving emerge. It may not seem intuitive but pushing yourself less lets you achieve more. Really learning how to switch off is a skill, and a valuable one. It means you’ve developed the confidence to let inspiration come to you, relax your mind and truly recharge. The Atomhawk team knows this. Their work benefits and their working environment is a good place to be.

Artwork by Thomas Stoop.

Beyond the Canvas

The Atomhawk philosophy says life is more important than work, a fact that’s surprisingly easy to forget. Life outside work should be a rich source of influences and experiences that feed personal fulfilment and professional creativity. When Atomhawk artists aren’t behind their tablets, most of their activities fit into three broad categories, enriching their work:

  • Personal relationships – Spending quality time away from a screen with friends, family, partners and pets!
  • Body moving – Outdoor activities like tennis, swimming, riding a bike, gardening, exploring new places, and even partying.
  • Non-digital arts – All Atomhawk artists seem to have a few non-digital art hobbies. Sketching, en plein air, painting miniatures, photography, reading, toy-making, and even reupholstery are all in the mix.

Crunch culture is like having a belt around your chest and trying to run a marathon. It makes people sick and suffocates the creative instinct, but it’s hard to resist because it’s ingrained in our wider culture. However, by taking inspiration from brands like Atomhawk that have consciously rejected the status quo and defined their own way of working, it’s possible to form a virtuous circle of happier people / more creativity / better work / stronger business.

The Atomhawk Team. Photo taken pre-COVID.

You can connect with Atomhawk on ArtStation! Follow their page here, and make sure to check out their blog for more updates.

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