By ADITYA TYAGI
Have you ever seen one of those videos detailing the process behind making a McNugget from McDonalds? For a moment, you think, “Wow, that’s absolutely disgusting!”. Then, you take another bite.
Much like your chicken nuggets, video games often have atrocious paths to their completion, yet we digest them without knowing. So, in an effort to bring the stories of how your McVideoGames are brought to your couch or your desk, I have taken a look into the industry’s practices.
First, “crunch” is the practice of fitting extraneous work hours within a short period of time, otherwise known as simply overworking employees. Why is it so common in the games industry? Well, developers tend to be very passionate about their work, meaning developers are willing to engage in overtime with no additional pay. Game development’s long and difficult process inevitably includes crunch time. Because of the struggle to meet deadlines, new studios commonly fail to keep their promise of minimizing crunch time. Finally, there is social pressure to work extra hours if all your coworkers are doing so, and you would rather not be quickly replaced.
So who are some studios guilty of this? First, let’s start off with the famous Epic Games.
For those unaware, Epic Games is the developer behind the 2017 hit, Fortnite, a “live-service” game that continues to receive regular updates well after launch and finds some way to monetize them. In Fortnite’s case, there are both weekly and seasonal updates including events, content, and balancing. In this way, many could say Fortnite has achieved a near-perfect attempt at the live-service model.
But updating the game so rapidly comes at an egregious cost. According to a report by video game news outlet Polygon about Fortnite’s success, “…current and former employees say they regularly worked in excess of 70-hour weeks, with some reporting 100-hour weeks”. Clearly, the game’s high demand for content has resulted in an equally high demand for workers over at Epic Games.
In addition to Epic Games, Rockstar Games, the minds behind Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption are also guilty of atrocious crunch times. Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most popular games of 2018, had quite a long development, starting in May 2010 and ending in October of 2018. Unfortunately, the company’s Vice President, Dan Houser, bragged that developers worked 100 hours a week on the game. So let’s do some math.
There are 3083 days between the release of each game, or approximately 440 weeks. When you multiply that by the number of people at the studio, 3023, by the 100-hour-work-week number, you get roughly 133,141,557 total hours worked on the game, or about 44043 hours per developer. Enduring these conditions for 8 and a half years is a recipe for stress, depression, and numerous other issues.
Finally, beloved game company CD Projekt Red, who created The Witcher series as well as the extremely anticipated Cyberpunk 2077, is another example of the “crunch” time plight. Despite their famous consumer-friendly practices, they cannot safely call themselves developer-friendly. For a long time, they have been notorious for their massive periods of crunch, lasting up to a year in the case of The Witcher 3.
Last week, they announced that Cyberpunk 2077 would be delayed to September 2020 from its original release date of April 2020. Contrary to the initial relief of the industry, studios have revealed that they will more strictly reinforce crunch time. CD Projekt Red claims, “We want Cyberpunk 2077 to be our crowning achievement for this generation and postponing launch will give us the precious months we need to make the game perfect.” While the desire to make a game as perfect as possible is admirable, the workers come into question. If CD Projekt Red has spent the past 5 years working on Cyberpunk 2077, why not spend extra time to lower the work hours of employees?
Now that you know about the factory-like production behind some of the most popular games, I encourage you to try something. Look up your favorite game or studio online, and read through the process. Did they encourage healthy practices for their developers? Or did they exploit the passion of their workers?