With studios around the world struggling to find ways to manage crunch, the founder and part-owner of Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games has gone public about the studio's approach to responding to feedback, and why working longer hours isn't an answer for them.
The open letter was a response to recent frustration from the Path of Exile community, particularly over the state of the current Synthesis league which launched in early March. Chris Wilson, the founder and part-owner of the New Zealand-based developer, explained that the gameplay prototype for Synthesis took more development than expected, which affected the amount of time for testing and balancing that could be done before launch.
Under most circumstances, developers would either delay the launch of the league or try to fix all the issues by crunching. Wilson acknowledged this, saying developers often felt pressure from the Path of Exile community to work overtime when seeing the response to patch notes and development updates.
"A big topic in the gaming industry recently is development crunch," Wilson wrote. "Some studios make their teams work 14 hour days to pack every patch full of the most fixes and improvements possible. Sometimes when we read our own Patch Notes threads and community feedback, we feel that we are being asked to do the same."
"I will not run this company that way. While there's inevitably a bit of optional paid overtime near league releases, the vast majority of a Path of Exile development cycle has great work/life balance. This is necessary to keep our developers happy and healthy for the long-term, but it does mean that some game improvements will take a while to be made."
Wilson didn't go into detail about the length or amount of optional paid overtime, although the company is due to answer replies from a public Q&A soon.
He did, however, outline some of the difficulties that the Kiwi developer faces when community feedback comes in. The developer has two main difficulties. If they opt to directly respond to the community with a proposed solution, the result of corralling a team together to work out that solution often derails other important projects.
Alternatively, Grinding Gears could opt to consider the feedback but opt to handle it down the road. The problem there is that it leaves the community feeling like their concerns haven't been heard - predominately given because the Path of Exile devs are particularly active, posting daily and weekly updates - and results in more rancour.
"We feel that our internal emphasis on longer term improvements to Path of Exile has caused some damage to that relationship [with the community] in the short term," Wilson said.
But one solution they won't be adopting, at least while Wilson is at the helm, is mandated crunch. That doesn't mean a studio doesn't end up crunching anyway, with employees at other studios talking about cultures where optional overtime wasn't really optional. But at least openly, Grinding Gear Games is taking a stand.