Game Studio's 'Joke' About 90-Hour Work Weeks Did Not Go Over Well

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, 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."


    overtime is not "forced" upon employees.

    No I'm sure its just Strongly suggested.

      “You want to be a team player don’t you? It sure would be a shame if you didn’t fit in with our workplace culture.”

    I like the Tweet from the IGDA, or more the responses people are leaving to said Tweet about unions and the organisations links to corporate supporters who actually benefit from the very practices they are supposedly decrying.

    Years ago I worked for a tiny stage and set-building company (the boss, a co-worker and me). At the start of December our boss dropped the bomb of "If I don't take my family on holidays my wife is divorcing me" (because he was never home). So he booked up the next 3 weeks for us and buggered off the next day! The 1st 2 weeks were about 60ish hours each (meh, but do-able) the 3rd, the week before Christmas he had double booked us A LOT and underestimated how long some of the builds would take. The 2 of us -I shit you not- pulled a 110 hour week. It felt like the worst comedown ever and we were snarling at each other, totally burnt out. Obviously I quit shortly after. At least the overtime pay was massive. Never, ever again tho.

    Crunch is one of the gaming industry's biggest issues.

    It's broadly a problem across software development.

    You see software development is really hard and time consuming, which is terribly inconvenient. It's also difficult to explain why this is the case or why one thing is easy and another thing is hard.

    When the expectations of planning/funding and the realities of delivery don't match, the difference is covered by generally unpaid overtime. It comes out of the lives of developers. I've had countless hours of my life used up to make sure someone hit their budget estimates.

    Coding runs on focus. We hammer our bodies with sugar and caffeine to try to maintain it. The increasing overtime hours are of decreasing utility. So not only are the developers having their time taken, it is worth less and less the more hours worked. We give up an hour of our free time to give them less than a rested hours worth of work. In the middle of a massive crunch you might be lucky to be at 50% effectiveness.

    Last edited 21/04/18 5:18 pm

      Yeah... At least half of our developers don't clock the hours they do at home, after getting an idea in the shower, at 3am, after midnight reset, or the stuff that just fucking needed to get done when there weren't enough hours in the day and missing the deadline was just NOT an option. And sometimes, because the time you have at home is literally the only time in a day that you can get a single hour to work without endless fucking interruptions.

      The 'creative' problem-solving element of, "It took me four hours to figure out what was going on," is seen as harder to justify - it's as if time that was 'wasted' because it wasn't spent solidly coding or configuring. "How long will it take anyone to push these buttons and type these things," is easier to answer than, "Why did it take you hours to think of this, when we estimated that it would take less?" Thinking is one of the most valuable parts of the job, but the assumption is that it needs to be quick, and is sometimes impossible to estimate accurately.

      It's hard to find a way around it. Cultural change is incredibly fucking difficult.

    12hrs a day, 6 days a week- 72hrs - is a normal week at my work.
    Then there are the occasional Shit-Hit-The-Fan days where you need to do an all-nighter to get something finished... resulting in working 5am till 5pm the next day

    During Xmas Season it becomes 14hrs a day, 6 days a week - and it is literally called Forced Overtime.

    Shit hours, but fantastic money
    Fully Paid off my house in 4 years - pros and cons to everything

    Translation: "we didn't expect our customers to empathise with our employees"

    Make me appreciates more that I work for myself getting to pick my own hours

    "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... We agree that 90/7 is nonsense and we had no idea this unfortunate ironic letter will be taken serious."

    Whenever a company or rep tries to play something off as a joke after a negative reaction, I am always reminded of Krusty:

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