Game Delays Cause More Crunch

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Game Delays Cause More Crunch

These days, most video game fans are sympathetic to delays. They recognise that more time makes for better games, and that game development is too complicated for anyone to accurately predict release dates very far in advance. So after a string of high-profile delays this week, including the role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 and an action game based on The Avengers, a whole bunch of fans were happy to declare that they’d rather wait a few extra months than see developers work overtime to hit their deadlines. If only!

Crunch—the colloquial term for extended periods of overtime that can last for weeks or months on end—is an epidemic in the video game industry. Sometimes it’s just a few extra hours a week; other times it’s mandatory Saturdays at the office. Companies might ask their employees to crunch to make an E3 demo, to hit a development goal for their publisher, or to squash bugs before a game’s release. Often, game developers willingly put in extra hours to help ensure the game is polished or prevent their favourite features from getting axed. Crunch happens all the time, but it peaks in the months just before launch, when the contrite emails start going out. “Hey everyone, thanks so much for all your hard work. We’re just going to have to push a little bit harder to get this game in the best shape possible!”

Imagine, then, having a single release date in mind—knowing that you’ll just have to work nights and weekends until then—only for that date to slip back five more months. Maybe at that point, the emails will start getting even more contrite. “Hey everyone, thanks so much for all of your hard work. The good news is that we just got some more time, which means we’ll be able to get in all those kick-arse features we wanted. The bad news is that we’re just going to have to keep pushing a little bit harder.”

Yesterday, Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red announced that it was delaying the much-anticipated role-playing game from April 16 to September 17. During a Q&A with investors last night in Poland, where the company is based, co-CEO Adam Kiciński took a question about overtime in the wake of this delay. Here’s how that went:

P6: And is the development team required to put in crunch hours?

AK: To some degree, yes – to be honest. We try to limit crunch as much as possible, but it is the final stage. We try to be reasonable in this regard, but yes. Unfortunately.

This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, even after the studio’s promises to Kotaku last year that it would do its best to mitigate overtime. Ambitious video games like Cyberpunk 2077—with a massive open world and hundreds of branching storylines—don’t get made without extra hours. At least CD Projekt Red pays for overtime (thanks to Polish labour laws), which distinguishes it from most of its North American counterparts. If you’re on an annual salary instead of getting paid hourly, all you can hope for is some extra time off after the game ships and maybe, if you’re lucky enough to work on Fortnite, a generous bonus.

With very few exceptions, video game delays lead to more crunch, not less. When Naughty Dog bumped The Last of Us II from February to May, that’s meant three more months of developer overtime at a studio that’s well-known for workaholism, according to those I’ve asked about it. Earlier this week, when The Avengers was delayed from May to September, the developers at Crystal Dynamics may have been relieved—The Avengers did not show well at E3 2019 and will undoubtedly benefit from the extra time—but the crunch will continue, even if, as at many studios, it’s still called “optional.” (Crystal Dynamics, also infamous for crunch, has a raffle system in which developers can acquire tickets and win prizes in exchange for their overtime hours, according to two people familiar with goings-on at the studio.)

It’s natural for human beings to work hardest when a deadline is imminent. In video game development, where progress is non-linear and the pieces might not all come together until the very end of production, the crunch tends to be hardest at the last minute. That’s why delays in the final year can be so difficult on developers’ lives. All that extra polish has to come from somewhere.

Crunch in the video game industry wouldn’t be quite as harmful if it weren’t coupled with so many other issues—high stress, low pay, inadequately trained managers, sexism, extreme volatility, and so on—but delays can sometimes exacerbate them all. Delays might be good for games, but they’re not always good for game workers.

Comments

  • The amount of people both here and elsewhere on the net defending CDPR over crunchtime is fucking insane, not just defending but justifying it as well as “oh well it’s just the industry” like it’s a thing that should be expected and even worse accepted.

    • 100% agree. There’s no good justification and it’s actually inhumane. Doesn’t matter what industry it is or the reasons for it. It just shouldn’t happen.

    • I honestly think that the reason they’re treating CDPR like they are is because they’ve preemptively decided that CDPR is a ‘good company’ (probably both because of the games they make and because GOG makes them seem ‘consumer friendly’). Therefore, all of their decisions must be what a good company does, and so they justify it from that perspective rather than accepting that, perhaps, this company in an industry with endemic problems may also be just as complicit in those endemic problems.

      You see it about CDPR in other ways, too. You try to claim CDPR is transphobic (based on pretty solid evidence), the arguments come not from any sort of counter-evidence, but just absolute (and often vitriolic) certainty that they can’t be. Because they’ve already decided that CDPR is good and friendly.

    • No defense of it, but the question is, is it the same ‘crunch’ as before, or due to the negative media, as the type of ‘crunch’ that will occur changed? Will they be monitoring the hours closer, letting staff opt out, paying them properly for overtime etc? There’s definitely questions they should answer openly. There’s absolutely reasons people shouldn’t be happy about hearing this, but, credit to them for saying it openly rather than hiding it. But I think those questions should be asked of them.

  • What would you rather: Companies using overtime to get a job done properly or the job to be incomplete and pushed out to the market unfinished?

    On some projects, overtime or crunch is used to make sure things are done right to ensure the best product is presented when released. I spent many overtime and weekends during the last census opening and scanning paper census forms because of the online system failure. We did that because we needed to make sure the data presented was as perfect as it could be. Was it hard work? Yes. Was it a loss of time to us? Yes. But the end result was what was required for the project.

    Look at how many games have been released in recent years because they were rushed to meet publishing deadlines. Having a game delayed and using overtime to get the best quality product isn’t a bad thing. People are still being paid for their time at the proper rates. They aren’t doing it for free.

    • What would you rather: Companies using overtime to get a job done properly or the job to be incomplete and pushed out to the market unfinished?

      Or how about we have publishers set realistic deadlines

      I spent many overtime and weekends during the last census opening and scanning paper census forms because of the online system failure. Were you paid for this overtime? did you put in weeks of 6 day work weeks of 18+ hour days? The thing with video game crunchtime, at lot (especially US studios) OT is unpaid and its not optional not matter how much publishers put PR spin that it is.

      Stop fucking justifying crunchtime.

        • True, i think in Polish labor laws that all OT has to be paid but it doesn’t make crunch right.

          Some of the main instigators of toxic crunchtime cultures are Rockstar and Naughty Dog, both studios who do actually create high quality games.

          • As stated above, it depends on what the terms of their ‘crunch’ are. Rotational shifts, paid overtime, able to opt out without consequence? There’s potential for a realistic, workable ‘crunch period’ to be put in which somewhat benefits employees, where extra effort put in is rewarded rather than abused, but jesus it’d have to be so strictly monitored it’s ridiculous.

      • Or how about we have publishers set realistic deadlines

        What is a “realistic deadline” according to you? How do you quantify it? You can’t have quality without putting in the time to make it right.

        Were you paid for this overtime? did you put in weeks of 6 day work weeks of 18+ hour days? The thing with video game crunchtime, at lot (especially US studios) OT is unpaid and its not optional not matter how much publishers put PR spin that it is.

        Yes I was paid overtime. I did put in 6, sometimes 7 days a week with 14+ hour days. As for your “US companies don’t pay overtime”… Source? Most companies pay overtime when you do extra hours, or they do this thing called “billable hours” which involves invoicing the client for hours worked.

        Stop fucking justifying crunchtime.

        Learn how business works.

    • What would you rather: Companies using overtime to get a job done properly or the job to be incomplete and pushed out to the market unfinished?Why are these the only choices? How about the novel idea that you get the job done properly in a reasonable timeframe that doesn’t require crunching? Look at how many games have been released in recent years because they were rushed to meet publishing deadlines.Look at how many games have been released in recent years that had large day one patches, were bug ridden or just not great games because they were rushed to meet publishing deadlines. Crunch is not only physically and emotionally draining, it’s also bad for morale if it extends too long and as a result people begin to produce less than quality work.

      You may think that productivity is up because everyone’s staying late and being productive but really for most people their peak productivity period ends after 8 or so hours and anything more is more prone to mistakes and problems. As a result it means more work to fix them. It’s a self-defeating and unsustainable cycle that may look like it gets things done but really it’s overall less productive and leads to higher risk.

      Your Census example actually contradicts your statement. If the care had been put in to make a perfect product, there wouldn’t have been a failure of the online system and you would never have had to crunch to make up for it. The system was rushed to meet a deadline and as a result the system failed, catastrophically, and we’re talking about critical systems that deal with people’s data and privacy, not a video game so there should have been even more care put in to ensure the system worked before it was deployed.

      • The 8 hour productivity limit is usual spin thrown out in these arguments. It’s assumed mistakes occurred because people worked over these limits although no proof exists of such. There is also no proof that removing these deadlines would somehow produces flawless work. All projects have deadlines, that’s a simple unavoidable reality. Why? Because projects cost money and those footing the bill like to know how much money they need to invest in labor, materials etc plus dates are purposely selected for marketing advantage.

      • Why are these the only choices? How about the novel idea that you get the job done properly in a reasonable timeframe that doesn’t require crunching?

        You give me what a “reasonable timeframe” should be for an industry with millions of coding variables that can have anything go wrong at a moments notice? How do you work out a timeframe for programming, testing, more programming, more testing, marketing and all the other factors. It’s impossible. Thus why things like crunch, patches, etc exist.

        You want perfection as soon as possible, which is not possible in the industry. Sometimes things need to be done outside of “standard” hours or timeframes in order to keep things from turning to trash.

        Your Census example actually contradicts your statement. If the care had been put in to make a perfect product, there wouldn’t have been a failure of the online system and you would never have had to crunch to make up for it. The system was rushed to meet a deadline and as a result the system failed, catastrophically, and we’re talking about critical systems that deal with people’s data and privacy, not a video game so there should have been even more care put in to ensure the system worked before it was deployed.

        Don’t believe the media BS pushed out at the time. The system was fine and working as tested. As usual, same with things like Cyber Monday Sales, Black Friday Sales, any Blizzard or online game release; it was a lack of server capacity that caused issues. Also, video games transmit a lot of personal data, even the consoles do. Learn to read terms and conditions.

  • A problem with this debate is people thinking they know what crunch time is, because they worked overtime for a few weeks doing something menial and it wasn’t so bad.

    Crunch time is:
    * Wake up, shower and change
    * Grab coffee on the way to work, skip breakfast
    * Work till lunch, lunch is desk ramen
    * work till dinner, a quick take out dinner at your desk if you’re lucky enough to have someone do a food run (otherwise desk ramen)
    * Work till 10pm
    * Go home and sleep for 6 hours if you have a short commute (it comes out of sleep time)
    * Repeat until you wish for death

    And by work I don’t mean processing forms or paperwork: I mean being at 110% the entire time you’re at your desk or in meetings or doing standups, being aware at all times of 10s of thousands of lines of code, or gigs of assets, for months on end.

    And just when your 6 months of crunch time is up? They extend the deadline with another 6 months.

    That’s a living nightmare and it’s burning out industry talent.

    The worker bees aren’t setting these unreasonable deadlines, the worker bees arent overscoping these projects.

    The industry is full of kids chasing a reasonably realistic dream, and the industry is chewing them up knowing they’re a renewable resource: new dreamers finish school every year.

    • This is not at all confined to the video game industry. It’s also something many people go into with eyes wide open. Some even enjoy it. Otherwise i agree with your post from my own personal perspective, I just think it’s up to the individual to avoid these situations if it isnt for them.

      • That’s where the problem lies: projects don’t start on crunch, and they don’t plan for it.

        Crunch is a result of inadequate project management, avoiding it means avoiding the industry because there is no incentive for managers to avoid crunch: the project still gets delivered and it’s not like they had to do the work.

        Personally, I thrive in the high pressure crunch environment, but in 20 years I’ve lost plenty of good co workers to other companies, other industries, to suicide – because of crunch.

  • I think crunching is dumb because of the opportunity cost; I place a very high value on the time I spend with my wife and kids, and almost no amount of money on earth is going to prevent me from doing so.

    Having said that, crunch is not in anyway some sort of oddity of the video game industry – many, many professions rely on people giving much more than the standard 40 hour week to produce results. Everyone from Doctors/nurses, truck drivers, bankers, logistics workers, to barristers like me put in insane hours either some of the time or most of the time. Sometimes people are properly compensated, other times they arent.

    At the end of the day I consider a decision to participate in that environment to be a personal choice; some consider it enjoyable because the work is rewarding, it’s their calling… others do it because they are getting paid shitloads… others because it will be a stepping stone to something better.

    At the end of the day nobody is forcing you to do it. If you don’t want to, then make a personal choice not to. I did. I make less than my colleagues/peers. I get less high profile work than them. But I’m a hell of a lot happier than those who don’t consider it part of their identity (i.e. those who welcome insane workloads or chase big money)…

  • I’m a roadie. I set up live events like concerts and festivals. I split my year making as much money as possible when bands tour, festivals do the circuit, expos and public holiday, government/council events like Australia Day, Vivid, Sydney Festival, etc. 12 to 18 hr days of seriously hard physical labour are not just common, but expected, particularly when i used to tour with Festival shows like Big Day Out (fuck i miss them!). I also have to remain mentally alert and do voltage/wattage formulas, do the PR spiel with clients, safe workplace assessments, teaching new guys how to do things (and not die, it can be super dangerous) and no set roster or regular work hours- I’m as used to working at 2am as 2pm. Then for part of the year there is absolutely NOTHING to work on and have to keep my family alive (usually by working and touring even harder when it is there). We dont have a crunch period. The whole job is the crunch. There are no delays, ever. Because the show MUST go on. So while i tnink devs get a raw deal, just like my job, its a choice to do it and they are by no means alone in their situation.

  • what this really means is that developers need to stop giving definitive release dates so early, or wait until most major mechanical hurdles have been explored before anouncing the games in the first place. might lower the pressure to get the games out as soon as possible if only a little.

    unions wouldn’t work. there are always young new talented people willing to crunch to get a foot in the door. either legislation must change or new companies to institute internal policy that rejects crunch in the first place.

  • Great things take hard work, there isn’t a shortcut. Saying they shouldn’t do crunch or provide no release dates are not viable solutions and are simply lip service. There is no doubt employees are made aware of the task ahead when taking on such a project, let’s hope they a reimbursed in kind for their efforts.

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