After a couple of weeks of silence, we’re finally hearing from people who worked at Crytek, the game development studio where more than 11,500 dinners were proudly served to “crunching” developers. Two people on the game are saying that Crytek is a pretty good place to work, despite a recent controversial Tweet about those dinners sent out to hype their Xbox One launch game Ryse.
“The initial tweet phrasing was really boneheaded,” said PJ Esteves, a design director on Ryse who works at the game studio Crytek during a recent showcase for the game in San Francisco.
He’s talking about this tweet…
But, he added, “We’ve worked really hard because we love the game, not because has told us ‘you have to work hard to finish this’.” He called the game “a labour of love.”
The Ryse Tweet made the rounds of the gaming Internet last month and was mocked online by game developers and members of the media for seeming to be proud that the game’s creators had to “crunch” — that is, had to work extra-long hours in a manner that some in the industry say is needed to make great games but that many others say is harmful to people’s lives and is unprofessional. Despite debate around whether or not developers should spend long hours making the games we know and love, Crytek and Microsoft remained mum about the Tweet at the time.
Last week, however, Kotaku got a chance to chat with Esteves from Crytek as well as J. Epps, design director on Ryse from Microsoft. Despite the controversy around crunch and how it can diminish a developer’s quality of life — long hours spent at the studio can sometimes mean sacrificing relationships and jeopardizing mental health — both men seemed adamant about how their crunch time was a labour of love for the Roman action game.
“It was unfortunate [how the tweet] came out,” Esteves lamented. “But at the same time, at Crytek we make awesome games, we have passionate people. Does that mean crunch sometimes? Oh, of course, but we’re also well-compensated…People have this idea of the games industry where, you know, we’re chained to our desks. But I mean, we work really hard, the dinners were a nice gesture, we get massages as well.”
Studios will often offer perks, such as gyms, dinners and massages for developers to help keep them happy. While enjoyable, these perks also help make it easier for developers to spend more time working than they normally would.
“It’s unfortunate that some companies operate that way, that they make their employees feel like slaves,” Esteves said. “It’s not a big deal at Crytek by any means. You don’t get to this quality level without having passion first. Because no matter what anyone says, if you tell someone they have to work 60 hours, they don’t give crap about the game. And, guess what? The game is gonna stink.”
Epps, who works for Microsoft, was on the same page as Esteves. “I think that’s the biggest thing for me, just moving away from the idea that these are people who were beaten and chained to their desks,” Epps said. “And I think that’s kind of how people took it, and that’s certainly not the case. I spent the majority of my time in Germany in Crytek offices, and I’m Microsoft, I can tell you what matters most to me is that, as an artist…you know some kid is gonna interact with your game, so it pains you to see stuff that’s annoying. So you wanna stay and fix it,” Epps added.
As an example of the kind of work that led the developers to crunch, they mentioned how people at the studio noticed that plumes on the helmets of in-game soldiers were initially static objects. They made the extra effort to sure that the plume had physics. Now plumes sway and move depending on what the soldier is doing at the time.
“I guess the takeaway is that at Crytek, we hire passionate people that really give a crap about the things they’re doing,” Esteves said. When we feel they need to work overtime, Crytek takes care of us. And it’s really that simple. [The tweet] kind of got blown out a little bit, as is the case on the internet these days.”
“PJ and I joke about it all the time….’will work for food!’ At some point we started joking about it, because to us, it’s pretty simple, right? Make the game better. Period,” Epps concluded.
Ryse comes out on November 22 for the Xbox One.