This year, game players have learned many uncomfortable truths about video game crunch. If what happened on the Warframe subreddit in the runup to the increasingly MMO-ish co-op shooter’s latest expansion is any indication, we’re starting to see players push developers to take better care of themselves, even if that means slower game releases.
Warframe fans have been eagerly awaiting the Fortuna expansion, which released today, since it was announced in July. Yesterday, on the eve of its release, a Reddit user Spacesheepie posted a Warframe-themed anti-crunch graphic resembling a workplace safety poster as a “gentle reminder” that the devs should prioritise their health over cranking out new content, even during the mad dash to get Fortuna out.
“Tenno Against Crunch,” read the poster, referencing the game’s player-controlled Tenno faction. “Crunch is bad for well being. Stress can lead to many health concerns including heart disease, depression, and premature death.” It also included a URL for the UK-based International Stress Management Association.
The post got over 5,000 upvotes, making it one of the subreddit’s top posts of the past month. Additional messages of support quickly poured in.
“I guess what prompted me to do it is the recent stories of crunch from Red Dead Redemption 2, Telltale Games, Rockstar, etc,” Spacesheepie, who calls Digital Extremes their favourite developer, wrote in a DM.
“I’m not sure if Digital Extremes has crunched before; one of the devs did mention they had crunched, but I don’t think it’s in the same way as other companies do, and it may be more optional. That being said, I do worry about them, whether they are working late for extended periods, and so on. Even if it’s out of love and passion of what you’re doing, you can still lose track and forget to self-care. I just wanted to let them know, whether it’s optional or not, that I and many others don’t want them to be in pain for a video game, ever.”
Other fans’ responses to the post - which Spacesheepie said they were not expecting, but are grateful for - paint a hopeful picture of changing attitudes toward crunch. While crunch was once a quietly accepted part of game development, greater awareness born of stories published this year has led to increased demand for video games created under humane conditions.
Since our deep dive into the culture of crunch underpinning Red Dead Redemption 2, and how ingratiated it is throughout the industry, developers have been a little more open about the human cost of making games. At Blizzcon this year, I took the opportunity to ask multiple Blizzard developers on how their attitude towards crunch, and how they manage it within their own teams.
It’s by no means a unified movement just yet, and plenty of video game fans still seem to be just fine with the idea of bellowing demands into whatever digital megaphone they can find, heedless of the pressure those demands might put on already hard-working development teams (see, for example, the recent Diablo controversy).
Warframe’s community, too, exemplifies this duality. For the past few months, there’s been no end of complaints about a “content drought,” some accompanied by the nagging implication that the developers should be working harder.
One fan in the anti-crunch Reddit thread who said they were a game developer themselves chimed in:
“I cannot hate a content drought if any new content would need to be introduced by crunching employees, so - to whoever reads my comments - please, please be supportive in times of content deficiency. In the end you want polished content that you genuinely enjoy, and that can only be done with a good amount of time, by people who are well rested and at their best.”
This is, at the very least, a baby step in a better direction. Spacesheepie would like to see things improve even more, and they think that starts close to home.
“I know DE isn’t special and that many people around the globe in all kinds of industries experience things like crunch, and I’m not elevating DE’s needs above those either, but I do have a soft spot for ‘em, considering how involved they are with their community,” they said.
“They’re my favourite game makers, it’s one of my favourite games. How can I not think of them?”