U.K. developer Free Radical Design is challenging traditional payment practices at independent studios by offering its employees overtime pay for work outside normal hours.

“Traditionally, people are asked to do a variable-unpredictable amount of work in a fixed amount of time,” said Free Radical Co-Founder Steve Ellis. “This inevitably results in people crunching – particularly at the end of a project. Pay is usually fixed, with the vague promise of some sort of bonus at the end of it all.”

“But the days of bonuses that pay off your mortgage are long gone,” he continued. “So we’ve decided to start paying people for the work that they do – even when that work is outside their normal hours.”

Ellis said the company decided on the change not only to improve the situation at their own studio, but hopefully to spur changes throughout the industry. “The point is that it’s the way the whole games industry needs to go,” he said, “and probably will do sooner or later. We just chose sooner.”

“Crunch time” typically occurs near the end of a project, as the development team pushes to meet final deadlines. Employees are expected to work extra hours, typically 60-80 hours per week and often for weeks at a time without any real breaks. Development studios in most of the U.S. do not pay overtime for the extra work, as employees are usually salaried and therefore exempt; in California, however, software developers are protected by a law mandating a minimum hourly wage for every hour worked.

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