Let’s Address the Issue of Crunch

I didn’t think that I needed to discuss the concept of crunch. I thought that for years that we all stood on the same side of the line, if lives were affected in any way, that it is a bad thing. No matter what circumstances forced the hands to sign off on crunch time, and whether it is paid or unpaid, we at one point decided that it was bad. As we have recently learned, CD Projekt Red will have to endure crunch after being told that it will not happen. The reactions that I have seen around the internet have proven that the idea didn’t actually stick to us. No matter how many stories we hear about this topic, recent ones included; we are still always welcoming the next big blockbuster. 

Rockstar Games had stories about 100 hour work weeks, and experiences shared from Naughty Dog were met with wide disdain; but both Red Dead Redemption 2 and The Last of Us 2 exceeded expectations for fans and critics. If we go further back we can recognize Grand Theft Auto 5 having an amazing amount of detail while also subjecting their staff to crunch time. Most of these titles launch to acclaim such as various “game of the year” awards, and become major staples of people’s gaming libraries. It is easy to dismiss or stay ignorant of the details that went into these titles, but there is a huge catch-22: would these games be able to provide the same level of detail without crunch?

Some Members of Ubisoft’s Staff

Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a humanitarian at heart, but sometimes I like to play devil’s advocate in these scenarios. I try to think of both sides of the coin here, because it is really the only thing I can do. I am not a programmer or a game developer, but I have also had my fair share of working overtime in less desirable positions which were under-compensated. I have worked Black Friday in retail for countless years, and the madness I experienced then is not something I would wish on any of you. At the same time, I don’t openly wear the holiday season as a badge of honor to show off to others. I use it as an example and to provide a sense of connection, despite the fact that it is not directly related to the overarching circumstances. Trust me, I stand in solidarity with those who are unable to manage a work/life balance while succumbing to the many mental afflictions that this can dole out.

The one side of the coin is pretty simple, crunch is bad. It has been known to wreak havoc on the lives of those developing games. Work becomes the main focus and sometimes it is hard to even enjoy a day off because you know you are going back in a matter of hours. It is even harder for those who have families. I don’t think I really need to discuss this as it has been debated over and over again, ad nauseum. I’m sure you could read one of the many articles out there to get a better idea of what life is like working for a major publisher.  Recent stories about Anthem’s development certainty stand out as some of the most vile anecdotes.  

Some of Bioware’s Staff

No one ever really discusses the other side of the matter, as I have mentioned previously. I know it’s the ugly side of the coin, the one riddled with the bleak truth of the industry. Crunch is an unfortunate part of the job, and there is no real way of circumventing that ideology. At least that is what we have been told. Programming is not a simple concept either, as many people out there could tell you how one change can easily modify another aspect of the program somehow. I am not a programmer, so I can only speak of the various interviews I have read, and what has been told to me in passing by those who do this for a living. No matter who it comes from though, it is easy to understand that sometimes an unexpected threat could arise, causing a paradigm shift. But I digress.

In many cases, we understand when things need to be moved. When the news of a delay hits the air, you bet that someone will be waiting to post the famous Miyamoto quote as my eyes roll to the back of my head. I’m not saying it’s a bad quote, but I am sick of it being the calling card to every delayed game out there. Trust me, not every delayed game is a good one, but that is an entirely different article.

Some of Bethesda’s Staff

The problem I personally have is the separation we have experienced within this topic. I have seen people post “well, it’s their job” more now than ever before. To a point, yes, it is their job, but that totally seems to dismiss the human element of this entire ideology. Yes, crunch exists in other forms in other jobs. It is not easy to deal with, but we are also not discussing your job right now. Every job is filled with difficulties, but that doesn’t give us the right to dismiss a position that is infamously known to be taken advantage of. The amount of “what about the field I work in” complaints start to wonder in, and I am left shaking my head. I understand your anger and frustrations as well, and your complaints do not fall upon deaf ears. The problem is no one is going to care as much because it doesn’t directly effect them. Not having a game effects them more than you not being able to take a break; another sad truth.

People size up making video games to their own professional lives may be the most vile of hot takes. “What about emergency service?” one user on Twitter says. “There is a difference between my grandmother’s lungs filling up with liquid and you needing Cyberpunk on day 1,” another responds. It’s incredibly hard to go against that one, unless you are a particularly heartless person.  Once again, I understand where people are coming from, but is this the attitude that we want to associate ourselves with?

Some of The Coalition’s Staff

In most scenarios, whether the position is game developer or something else, people cannot just pick up and leave for something else. Life is incredibly complicated, which is an obvious take. For a developer, leaving in the middle of crunch can be seen as a black mark in an industry that relies on the flexibility as much as it does on skill. Many people are scared to leave their positions, because of the fear of the uncertain future; in a way the devil they know is better than the one they don’t. In a global economy that has people living paycheck to paycheck, many folks cannot afford to jump ship right away, they can only endure, especially with hiring processes that could take months if not weeks to get you on-board.  Take note, this is not exclusive to the gaming industry.

We have seemed to lose this idea of crunch being a bad thing because we have officially become so close to Cyberpunk’s release more than we ever have before. It’s right there, we can taste it, and I don’t think many people could take another delay. I know it sounds silly, but I would like you to go back and revisit every single death threat Hello Games received upon announcing delays of No Man’s Sky. This is that level of disconnect I see that cuts right down to the bone for me, and I can’t help but feel sorry for the team for enduring this hate. More recently, I side with Insomniac for receiving threats and hate for changing Peter Parker’s face for the Spider-Man remaster.

Some of Hello Game’s Staff

We want great games, and I want them too, but there is a middle ground that we can come to. Does it mean we wait a little bit longer than usual for these games? Absolutely. This is more than getting a game we have been waiting close to eight years for. This is a human concept, one that requires you to have more compassion for others. CD Projeckt Red staff will be appropriately compensated for their work as deemed necessary by Polish law, and that makes the crew incredibly lucky as many others do not have that luxury. After all, if these wonderful people have been making amazing games that you absolutely adore, wouldn’t you want them to experience every facet of life that they have been denied? You want to play in their virtual world, the least you can do is allow them to step outside, and into the real one without burdens.

By Steve Esposito

Steve Esposito is a dedicated content creator with a focus on his love for technology, video games, and the very industry that oversees it all. He also takes part in organizing the Long Island Retro and Tabletop Gaming Expo as well as a Dungeons and Dragons podcast: Copper Piece. You can find him on twitter @AgitatedStove

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