Crunch is one of the gaming industry's biggest issues. Devs work countless extra hours to get games out the door, wringing themselves dry of blood, sweat and tears for weeks or months at a time. It destroys people. Development studio Neocore was reminded of this when it announced earlier this week what it planned to do now that its game Warhammer 40k: Inquisitor - Martyr had been delayed.
Illustration: Sam Woolley (Gizmodo Media)
In an update posted to the game's Steam page on April 19, Neocore producer Zoltán Pozsonyi said that the early access action RPG's final release was being delayed from May 11 to June 5. To make up for it, he said, the developers would work overtime polishing it up.
"Again, sorry for this as we kindly ask for your further patience and hopefully it won't be a deal breaker for any of you," Pozsonyi wrote. "In return, we promise we'll push this extra three weeks in 90+ hours per week so it will be very-very useful for Martyr."
Three weeks at 90 hours a week would make for some positively egregious crunch. In a world that is growing more aware of the issues that crunch causes, Pozsonyi's comment quickly led to widespread backlash from fans and games industry members alike.
"Please delay Inquisitor much further so that your employees can work normal human working hours and turn out a good product," said one fan on Twitter, echoing a sentiment that spread across Twitter and Steam. "Crunch is awful, will result in a poor product, and harms people."
"90 hour work weeks are truly unproductive and dumb," wrote Pillars of Eternity and Fallout: New Vegas director Josh Sawyer. "The WH40K Inquisitor team should not be subjected to them."
Shortly after that initial burst of backlash, Neocore's PR manager told Kotaku that Pozsonyi was just kidding. "The line about starting to put 90+ hours per week to finish the game was a joke, that was sadly misunderstood and blown out of proportion," Neocore's Gergo Vas (a former Kotaku employee) said via DM. "We agree that 90/7 is nonsense and we had no idea this unfortunate ironic letter will be taken serious."
Neocore's head of publishing, Linda Bozoradi, talked about the message in a tweet on April 20. "What we meant was that we do our max in the given extra 3 weeks to make Inquisitor better," she wrote. "We don't force ppl to work 90/7."
In the aftermath of the incident, however, people are still viewing Neocore warily. The International Game Developers' Association made a statement on Twitter, saying that even if the statement were a joke, it was one in poor taste. "90 hour work weeks aren't funny," said the IDGA. "They're abuse. And they have no place in game development. Not as a plan. Not as a last resort. Not as a threat. Not as a joke."
Meanwhile, GamesIndustry.biz noted that Neocore has made similar statements about its game's development in the recent past, which also don't really sound like jokes.
After missing a November 2017 update, Pozsonyi said on Steam that "we'll release this patch even if the whole company has to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in the office". In March, Pozsonyi delivered another update saying that "we still have tons of work to do, and many of us are already pulling 80+ hour weeks, as it usually goes during crunch time".
A real comedian, that guy. Always with the jokes!
Vas said that total overtime at Neocore in March for 60 people was 750 hours, which comes out to about 12.5 additional hours per month per person. April, he added, will be "similar". "Compensation for this is overtime pay, vacation time for other periods, or less work hours on other days (people can choose)," he said, adding that overtime is not "forced" upon employees.
At this point, Neocore is worried that the "joke" went too far, and now it will leave a permanent black mark on the company's reputation.
"We are afraid that this line, taken out of context, affects the game we are working on for several years in a very bad way, and it also ruins the reputation of our company," Vas said. "This is an indie dev company with passionate developers and folks working on the game, most of them working here for 5-12 years, which we love."