Game development crunch: How new matchmaking service SupplyDrop will tackle this pernicious trend

Founder Andrew Hance aims to connect workers with work in a notoriously unstable industry.

Crunch is an historic problem in the video game industry. The prospect of forcing workers to put in long hours is common practice, and the discussion has been thrust back into the spotlight in recent months thanks to companies like Naughty Dog, id, CD Projekt Red, NetherRealm, Rockstar, and a lot more. There have been some big efforts to combat crunch, though, such as the implementation of the DevOps best practices guidelines, and some studios claim to have eliminated it all together.

Today, a new tool has been announced that seeks to further alleviate crunch in the development industry. It also aims to help studios save money by allowing them to rent and loan out idle talent. SupplyDrop is a platform that connects developers with studios in need of their particular skills.

“There are two sides to the platform and studios are welcome to use either or both,” SupplyDrop founder Andrew Hance told GameDaily. “One is adding in your team members, selecting the skills they have, and marking a time range when they are available for co-dev work. The other is the ability to search for a group of people, with the skills you need, for a given time range. We show the best fitting teams, you pick one, and then you can message them directly.”

At that point, SupplyDrop’s job is done -- it’s connected workers with work, and hopefully all parties are satisfied. The team has plans to make the connection process easier in the future, but it’s still early days, and streamlining requires iteration.

Based out of Vienna, Austria, SupplyDrop has origins in indie game development. Hance worked for a time in the IT department at Sproing before the company closed and was reopened as the mobile arm of indie publisher Purple Lamp Studios, which Hance helped found in 2018.

“The idea for SupplyDrop came out of the needs that I have running an independent studio,” Hance explained. “Like many industries, at a very high level there are two problems to solve: having enough work to do, and having the right people to do the work. SupplyDrop is aimed at the second one.”

As a work-for-hire studio, Purple Lamp is constantly beginning work on a new project, with games often overlapping production schedules. The number of workers is not consistent from project to project, Hance said, which can result in a surplus workforce whose skill sets are not necessarily needed at the onset of a project.

“It's especially frustrating when you know that you need the same people, but not for a couple months. Traditionally, there have only been two options and neither are good. One, eat the cost of unpaid people, if you can afford to do it, or two, fire people, disrupt your team, and start hiring for their replacement since you actually need them, just not right now.”

Andrew Hance, SupplyDrop
Andrew Hance, SupplyDrop

Purple Lamp has often had the need for freelancers and co-development partners when the studio has not been on track for a milestone. In cases like this, workers brought on would only be temporary, just on board long enough for the project to hit a milestone. In most cases, they’re only needed for a couple of months.

“What I saw is that the two problems are complementary,” Hance said. “There are studios out there desperately trying to find a short-term project for some team members, and other studios who are looking for the exact same people. What they can't do is find each other; the length of your reach is limited by your time and your network.”

Thus, SupplyDrop. The idea started out as a sort of “phone tree,” Hance explained.

“I have four companies I can call, and if they couldn't help, they'd have four they would call on my behalf. And then I thought, why don't we automate that process? Make a place where you can say ‘I have these people, with these skills, available for this time’ and for other studios to be able to look for them. Nothing spectacular. So basic, in fact, that I thought it must exist. So when I couldn't find it, I got frustrated, and decided to do it myself.”

Hance said that SupplyDrop can combat industry crunch by addressing one of its main causes. The inability to get support quickly, and only for as long as it’s needed, can help spread the workload across more people, which decreases the pressure on the rest of the team.

“At Purple Lamp, we treat crunch as a worst-case-scenario tool, to only be done when there is no possible alternative,” Hance explained. “The destructiveness of crunch on developers, both mentally and physically is so well known that I don't think I could say anything that hasn't already been said. It's also a failure in planning and action at the highest level, by which I mean me. If the team needs to crunch, it's because they weren't given the time or resources that they needed early enough.”

As SupplyDrop ramps up for launch, the International Game Developers Association sees potential in such a service.

“The IGDA has been speaking with SupplyDrop about their development resource sharing platform, and we are thrilled about how it can help increase stability of careers and companies within the game industry,” IGDA executive director Renee Gittins told GameDaily. 

The IGDA has been on the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights in the game development industry for years now, and the organization's endorsement of SupplyDrop is encouraging. Gittins said that the platform could help add some stability to a notoriously unstable field.

“Development at most studios is very cyclical and requires ramping up and down of certain departments, such as audio and quality assurance,” Gittins explained. “Hiring and terminating employees and contractors is not only taxing overhead, but also damages team morale and company culture. Of course, instability in general causes developers to leave our industry, and any tools that can increase the stability and consistency of work are of a huge value to game developers everywhere.”

SupplyDrop, Gittins said, has the potential to address some of the underlying issues that foster an environment of crunch and worker burnout.

Of course, this is all conjecture right now, and the true test for SupplyDrop will come when the service goes live. That doesn’t lessen the underlying sentiment, though. Hance’s ambitions with the platform are both noble and efficient, born of a genuine industry need.

“The problems that we're trying to solve with SupplyDrop are ones that many, if not every studio, has experienced, and the more studios who are involved, the better it will work,” Hance said. “Come check us out, and maybe together we can make building games a little bit easier.”

It will be interesting to see how many studios and workers utilize SupplyDrop in the coming months. For now, though, Hance’s enthusiasm is palpable.

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Editor-in-Chief

Sam, the Editor-in-Chief of GameDaily.biz, is a former freelance game reporter. He's been seen at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, Unwinnable, and many more. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at sam.desatoff@gamedaily.biz or follow him on Twitter.