It’s an all-too-common scenario in the world of video game development: for months on end, developers will put in massive amounts of hours, culminating in the last few months before release-or, the “crunch”-wherein it’s not an uncommon sight to find a weary developer sleeping in their office for the third night in a row. This isn’t a problem that plagues only smaller developers, Justin Williams Laser tells us, in fact, it’s mostly well-known developers of AAA titles that have made the concept of crunch time so prolific.
The Proliferation of Crunch Time
“Crunch time is a concept that has taken root in the culture of game development,” Justin Williams Laser tells us, “that seems to not be going anywhere, despite the recent public outcry surrounding it.” Indeed, as Justin Williams Laser attests, crunch time is receiving more public attention than in previous years: there have been multiple exposés surrounding high-profile game companies, such as Rockstar, developer of the popular Grand Theft Auto series of video games.
The article, posted by Kotaku in 2018, describes the “crunch” culture of Rockstar, including mandatory overtime and up to 80 hour work weeks during peak crunch. It wasn’t always this way: as described in the article, mandatory overtime wasn’t instated until 2017, and the length of the workweeks is usually directly proportional to how close to launch the game is. “This is the dangerous aspect behind the concept of crunch culture”, Justin Williams Laser explains, “it seems justified at the time, but once a company sees that it can squeeze more out of its employees, a lot of times it’s hard for them to go back.”
How We Can Stop Crunch Time
Of course, Rockstar isn’t the only company accused of taking advantage of crunch. The problem is industry-wide, with big names such as EA, Epic Games, and even Nintendo being called out on harsh working conditions. These sorts of accusations are nothing new, Justin Williams Laser points out: as far back as 2011, you can find articles detailing video game crunch time and postulating how companies can treat their employees better while retaining the quality of their product.
However, with the recent wave of companies being called out on their working conditions, it seems development teams are taking note. More games are being delayed by developers for the benefit of the mental and physical health of their employees, and it seems as though the public is more than understanding. Justin Williams Laser points out one specific recent instance of Nintendo delaying the release of a new game in the Animal Crossing series in order to preserve their employee’s work/life balance and avoid crunch time.
In Justin Williams Laser’s opinion, this is a step in the right direction, but the industry still has a long way to go. Historically, development teams have been notoriously un-unionized. A recent poll of game developers, published in January 2019, revealed more than half of them were in favor of unionization. Unionizing would undoubtedly help combat poor working conditions, but at the end of the day, says Justin Williams Laser, it’s up to the management of these high-profile companies to ensure the health and well-being of their employees.