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.