Report: Fortnite Developers Describe Severe Ongoing Crunch

Report: Fortnite Developers Describe Severe Ongoing Crunch

Crunch is a widespread disease in the gaming industry, sometimes forcing developers to pull 16-hour workdays or six-day work weeks to finish a game on an over-ambitious timeline.

Today, a new report from Polygon detailed how the developers of Fortnite, a game that technically is never finished, can suffer through crunch to keep the blockbuster battle royale game’s constant flow of content going.

“We’re always in crunch,” a source told Polygon. “Crunch never ends in a live service game like that. You’re always building more content and more stuff.”

Speaking with 12 current and former Epic employees, Polygon reports that they “regularly worked in excess of 70-hour weeks, with some reporting 100-hour weeks,” the article reads.

“Contract staff in Epic’s quality assurance and customer service departments spoke of a stressful and hostile working environment in which working overtime—while officially voluntary – was an expected service to the company.”

One source said they worked seven days a week for 12 hours each day throughout several months. Others detailed to Polygon the impact that such long hours were having on their lives.

Fortnite’s success is partly built on the game’s constantly rotating modes, weapons, items and skins. Every week or two, Fortnite adds new content—anything from a Food Fight mode to a rift-to-go item that transports players into the sky. That’s a blistering pace for a game with so many items to balance and, of course, 250 million registered players.

The amount of content the game pushes out is impressive compared to other games of its type, even considering that Epic occasionally rolls back new content post-release citing bugs and balance issues. Fortnite has pulled smoke grenades, fly explosives, the Zapotron, ceiling traps, the Wall Dynamo, jump pads, revolvers, machine guns and well over a dozen other items over the course of its two-year life, often before adjusting and re-implementing them.

According to Polygon, some of the people behind Fortnite’s development, quality assurance and customer service departments are working 70-hour weeks to keep the game fresh and relevant with that content.

Yet with those high expectations from executives and players, one source told Polygon, “Everything has to be done immediately. We’re not allowed to spend time on anything. If something breaks – a weapon, say – then we can’t just turn it off and fix it with the next patch. It has to be fixed immediately, and all the while, we’re still working on next week’s patch. It’s brutal.”

An Epic spokesperson admitted to Polygon that some workers have pulled 100-hour weeks, but described those situations as “incredibly rare, and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence.” Although Epic tried to hire more people to address, for example, customer service tickets, sources told Polygon it was far from enough.

Kotaku has reported how employees at AAA studios like Rockstar and BioWare foster a crunch culture that takes a heavy toll on their home lives, mental health and relationships. Sometimes, these trying periods simply result in layoffs after the game is released.

Other times they lead to talent burnout, prompting developers to leave for less stressful industries. As the gaming industry tends more aggressively toward designing games as a service – adding content on an ongoing basis instead of releasing in full – the risk of studios overworking their developers to keep up is not to be ignored.


    • This so much. Until then, studios are going to keep pulling the “this is how the industry is, sorry, you should have known it was going to be this way when you decided to enter it” card.

  • schedule mismanagement and bad work culture

    planning unrealistic deadlines and making the team work so much overtime to meet it is bad planning.

  • CEO’s are only interested in their multi-million $$ salaries that they could live on for a millennia.

  • I was about to comment and say “why do these games journalists overestimate how much we care about crunch constantly” but based on these comments maybe i’m the one who’s deluded.

    I think it’s telling that the complaints often come from contract staff — these are positions specifically created to manage overflow of work. It’s up to Epic to be clear about what that entails, but it’s also a key feature of a fixed-term contract position that there’s too much work and not enough people to do it, that’s the whole reason why you’re there.

    Fortnite has had an extreme responsiveness to player feedback and bugs that’s been impressive and part of the reason I left Destiny 2 for an entire year. It Fortnite it felt like there could be some brand new addition every time I logged on, with Destiny 2, bugs that existed months ago would still plague the game (all while playing through a content drought as well) and there’d be no indication of when they’d be gone. The difference between them was night and day. So i’m not surprised it was due to this kind of thing.

    Ultimately it does come down to this, despite people handwaving it away like it doesn’t matter — There’s a direct connection between the very best things in games and technology (and everything else) and self-sacrifice. If you want to make something remarkable, you have to go above and beyond to do it. Actors break bones, developers ruin marriages, artists go mad. And what we’re left with is a great sacrifice that pushes us forward as a society.

    This isn’t saying you HAVE to do this, you can make a games company that promises no crunch and an innovative approach that unlocks a brand new way to do things that is better than anything else out there. Or you’re welcome to make average things that make you some money, please some people, and leave you with a small sense of accomplishment when you’re done. Again, that is OK.

    But there are people who see OK as failure. They want to overachieve. They want a paradigm shift. They should be allowed to do so. Our modern world is built on the backs of these people. Would a union allow them to do so or would it get in the way of that? I don’t know enough about unions and their power to know, it’s not a rhetorical question.

    • The most high-functioning, high-quality, high-output teams don’t do crunch.
      Teams that work very hard for long hours produce poor quality work that need yet more hours to correct. Soon you’re crunching 100+ hour weeks just to achieve what you used to do in 40.
      The notion that developers are somehow ennobled by their suffering is a harmful lie used to exploit workers.
      There is no correlation between greatness and self-sacrifice in game development.
      The correlation lies in well supported devs who are healthy and operating at their peak performance.

      • The most high-functioning, high-quality, high-output teams don’t do crunch.

        And yet almost all groundbreaking games we enjoy have well-publicised crunch periods. Half Life 2, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fortnite and pretty much every game that has been critically acclaimed included. We have the articles and retrospectives to prove it.

        Do you have examples of critically acclaimed triple A games that didn’t have crunch (and that specifically went with a no-crunch policy)? I’ve not heard of any. Not a rhetorical question, send me some links.

        There is no correlation between greatness and self-sacrifice in game development.

        There is at the very least a correlation. I’m willing to debate on whether or not there’s a direct connection between sacrifice and greatness, but to say there’s no correlation is deliberately ignoring the headlines.

        To reiterate, to be a developer, you don’t need to crunch. You can try another method, make an indie game, be wealthy enough that you can extend deadlines and take your time, etc. Not all games that crunch are good, but all good games seem to have crunched.

  • I want to add another comment that is somewhat unrelated to my first one.

    People need to remember the journey of Fortnite. The PVE mode was floundering, so the PVP Battle Royale mode was made in light of the success of PUBG. I was there when this first released on PS4, it was extremely barebones, but extremely promising. Epic already has a large staff and massive overheads, they needed this game (which had been in development for close to a decade) to succeed. They wisely understood the Battle Royale genre was the hot new thing and that every developer and his dog would be jumping on the bandwagon as soon as they could.

    Epic needed to scale fast and scale well to beat the competition once they understood the gold mine they were sitting on. The next Battle Royale game came out within a year and if Epic hadn’t rapidly accelerated Fortnite Battle Royale from the prototype it was to the cultural phenomenon it is, it would have been left behind.

    I’m sure we all know the saying “strike while the iron’s hot”. There’s a reason why it’s still used today despite the fact that blacksmithing hasn’t been part of our daily lives for hundreds of years – You only have a brief amount of time to shape something before you miss your opportunity.

  • “Crunch never ends in a live service game like that.”

    What a load of codswallop. On a live service game, crunch should never start.

  • Crunch is reported on as if it’s a new plague destined to destroy the industry.

    The fact is that working in gaming is a coveted field in a creative industry.

    Much like my industry (Film & TV) there are more people than jobs, and the reality is that working 14-16 hour days in the cold and wet while taking abuse and having ridiculous deadlines is normal and has been for 50+ years.

    The same can be said of musicians, dancers, actors, painters, sculptors, etc

    Working in a creative field is harsh, but we have more professional fulfilment then non creative’s.

    Remember, it is always optional, but it is also an option for the employer to hire someone better who is willing to work hard and not be a little bitch as well.

    Burn out is good, it filters the weak from the industry leaving the strong to make better content for the audience.

    Because if you think the work is hard, try having to deal with a critical audience.

    • I agree, as a designer, I actually don’t even like taking holidays. It takes me away from the work I love to do. There are periods where I need to work harder and longer but most of the time I do it for fun anyway.

      When people rail against crunch, I imagine someone in a job they hate imagining what it would be like to never get a break from it. But when I think about crunch, I think of creative breakthroughs and meeting goals and finally shipping the thing I worked so hard on.

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