Former Cyberpunk 2077 Dev Talks About Their Experience With Crunch

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Former Cyberpunk 2077 Dev Talks About Their Experience With Crunch
Image: Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is five weeks away from release and, with employees putting in overtime behind the scenes, a former CD Projekt Red employee has spoken about their experience of crunch within the studio.

Back in May 2019, CD Projekt Red employees were promised by management that there would not be mandatory crunch hours for Cyberpunk 2077. This promise from CDPR backflipped last month when a crunch order was emailed to employees stating they would be expected to work their ordinary number of hours a week, plus a day on the weekend.

Studio head, Adam Badowski, released a statement saying that he was personally taking this backlash upon himself and all CDPR employees would be fairly compensated for their overtime. Further sources seemed to reveal that many CDPR employees were agreeable to the crunch order, but new insight from Jason Schreier revealed that’s not exactly the case. Schreier asked CDPR employees whether they wanted to crunch in order to avoid further delays for Cyberpunk 2077, to which they told him that these conversations never even took place.

A response on Reddit from a former CDPR dev is where things get really interesting. The employee claims that the crunch order is just the start in a list of toxic behaviour from CDPR upper management towards developers. Apparently, devs were told that there was “no plan B” if Cyberpunk 2077’s original deadline couldn’t be met. This then changed in later months as Cyberpunk 2077 was pushed back twice, but the source claims that the devs were not told about the release delays:

“First a 2 month delay and then another 6 months of delay, and – to give a picture of how low the level of communication between the management and developers is – we found out both times ON TWITTER and other social that the game was being delayed, with a mail from Adam following few hours later.”

The full post can be seen below:

Image: Reddit
Image: Reddit

The employee also claimed the studio had been crunching since June 2019, with staff working 16 hour days on average. The note explains that there was a huge disparity between CDPR management and the individual Cyberpunk 2077 developers, saying there was little care for work-life balance:

At the end of the day it feels like CDP management is completely detached from the reality of us developers.

Schreier said on Twitter that he verified the employee was a former CDPR staffer and had “just got off the phone with them” early Thursday morning Australian time.

Crunch culture has been a huge problem for CDPR and similar game studios, with a game’s launch often prioritised over the well-being of workers. Unfortunately, this has become standard practice in the gaming industry, which is why things were looking up when CDPR promised to end crunch culture in its workplace. But this has definitely not been the case. So far, CDPR is yet to respond to these latest allegations.

Cyberpunk 2077 launches on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on November 19, with the game playable day one on Xbox Series S/X and the PlayStation 5. A PS5/Xbox Series X optimised version of the game won’t be released until 2021, but CDPR has confirmed it will be made available for free to all players.

Comments

    • Here’s the thing that Press Sneak Fuck and others conveniently ignore: the developers generally have employment contracts which state that they will can be made to work reasonable overtime. In fact, many professionals in other fields have similar contracts. This is the reason overtime compensation exists – generally days of in lieu or overtime pay. I know it sucks for people to have to work 6-day weeks, but there are clear alternatives: unionise and get collective bargaining agreements which address the overtime issue, or simply find somewhere else to work. Last I checked, no-one is forced to sign an employment contract. And before anyone complains that it is the same everywhere – it isn’t. There are plenty of small studios which avoid this dreaded ‘toxic culture’ that people love to complain about these days. Unfortunately, larger studios have larger financial pressure to get things out by certain deadlines. This is a reason why I don’t work for a large company. I’d rather have fewer dollars and lower KPIs, meaning I can have that work/life balance that eludes many people.

      • Absolutely true. It’s sad to be forced off a project you’re clearly passionate about, but if things go to shit at the company and you begin to feel exploited… you need to leave or unionise.

        Those are really the only two practical options available. No amount of screaming from the public is going to make much of a dint, because in the end, people care more about their personal gratification than the wellbeing of employees. I mean, hands up who’s going to boycott the game over this…

      • That and you’d have to be dangerously naieve if you’re not aware that game developers have been crunching since the Atari 2600 at least. The claim in the article that its anything recent or new is laughable.

        The timing of the post, that its a former Dev (with no information about the nature of their departure) and not a current one (like they claimed in the reddit post), and that this is the first we’d heard of it despite them claiming to have been crunching since May last year, despite all the statements to the contrary raises the ’employee disgruntled about their termination from a company decides to take it down’ possibility.

        Of course, if it is true, then it is bad form for CDPR to be claiming to not do mandated overtime for a period of time if they actually were. Optional OT is a completely different matter.

        • The article never says crunching is new, or that it’s only a recent phenomenon.

          I’m reminded of some of the reaction when the conditions at Rockstar came out ahead of Red Dead Redemption 2. What do you do if you genuinely want to support the developers and help improve their conditions?

          • Its specifically the line:

            “Unfortunately, this has become standard practice in the gaming industry, which is why things were looking up when CDPR promised to end crunch culture in its workplace.”

            Its been in the DNA of the industry since the start. I linked a site on another article on crunch that had a look into the crunch culture of Origin back in the 90s as part of an Ultima retrospective. On the Atari you had people that were given ridiculously short time frames to create games for release that had to work, since they only had the one shot.

            Honestly, if a developer doesn’t have the stomach for mandatory OT, I’d suggest they either get out of development, or go independent, and not be beholden to shareholders, boards, and hopefully not the general population that expects things to be released with some reasonable delays allowed.

            Just don’t go Star Citizen.

          • Realistically, there is only a single thing customers can do to support these developers in a stance against crunch and that is to boycott the product.

            That’s simply not going to happen.

            People buy phones made of materials mined in horrific conditions.

            Wear clothes made in sweatshops to save a few bucks.

            People are self interested. If the developers want to make a stand against crunch, they have to deny their skill and labor to the companies that engage in the behaviour. It’s really the only bargaining chip they have.

      • reasonable overtime” hahahahahaha! no

        “overtime compensation exists – generally days of in lieu or overtime pay” hahahahahaha! no

        Seriously, what planet do you live on?

      • @zambayoshi

        Yep, it’s why I don’t work in corporate law, and currently don’t take trial work; I made a conscious decision to achieve a better work-life balance for myself and my family. It means the work I do is less glamorous, less professionally fulfilling and more poorly remunerated, but means I get to play with my kids every single day. I get to spend time with my wife.

        The reality is no Court is going to make a trial take twice as long just so I can be done working at 5pm every day to go home and be a family man. The videogame and many, many other big businesses are exactly the same. Backers are not going to invest literally hundreds of millions of dollars, just for you to push a release date back five times because the project changed in some unexpected way (whether it’s scope creep, a system that doesn’t work, an idea that was poorly received by the gaming community, or mismanagement) and the workers don’t want to work on Saturday. The consumers aren’t going to accept it either; reactions to stories on game delays make that incredibly obvious.

        So you can either reeeee into the wind or be a fucking big boy or girl and show some agency in your own decisions; unionise and force the hand of these big developers and their investors, or go find work elsewhere.

    • Not here to defend CDPR so much as to simply point out I’m pretty sure Jason Schreier, Kotaku, etc, are blatantly ignoring and not even mentioning the claims that the devs working on 2077 overwhelming opted to work the 6 day weeks up to release, instead of delay it again. And that it wasn’t blindly forced upon them.

      Or the claims that some of them were afraid to even celebrate the game going gold out of fear for backlash on social media, etc.

      I mean those claims have just as much proof to them as most of Jason ‘Crunch’ Schreier’s reporting on this that is being used as ‘proof’ of anything.

      He has become a zealot anytime the word is even mentioned at this point, and the so-called proof of FAR too much of his reporting is starting to boil down to ‘my sources’ and conveniently nothing people can ever actually verify.

      A number of his arguments in response to such things I’ve seen recently have essentially been, “The proof that I have is basically all of the totally real conversations I’ve had with people that I cannot in any way prove happened because I gotta protect muh sources… So Just trust me.”

      • Similarly though, a lot of the recent backlash against Schreier has come as a result of the GI podcast talking about their own sources within CD Projekt Red that had a different experience.

        Something lost in the middle is that it’s highly likely both sources for GI and Jason could both be accurate. Put another way, I think what’s happened is that both reporters have retold things as accurately as possible, but their sources are within different teams (and because neither handled the messaging too well, it’s left an expectation that their sources are speaking for the entirety of CDPR, when they’re probably just speaking to their own environment, their own team and what they see around them).

        One thing that sticks out to me is a chat with a CDPR dev around PAX time where they spoke about the Cracow studio (CDPR also have a third branch in Wrocław). I would not be surprised if the situation at all three studios was radically different. My gut feeling says Jason’s sources here probably mostly lie within the original Warsaw studio — since staff there went on record for his book and prior interviews, and a quick scrub of LinkedIn says the ones still with the studio haven’t moved. (Not to mention anyone who since left, of course.)

        But that’s just speculation on my part, don’t read anything into that.

        Anyway, CD Projekt’s crunch isn’t something that’s new. They were supremely open about the situation for Jason’s book, in interviews before TW3 were released, after, and throughout Cyberpunk’s development. I think CDPR genuinely wanted to do better, but got stuck in a situation (COVID not helping) where they couldn’t see how to do things any other way.

        Stuff about devs being afraid to celebrate the game going gold — for one, we don’t know precisely how many felt this way, what proportion of the studio it was and so on. I think that’s probably a genuine worry, so not dismissing it. But it’s a very different thing if we’re talking a majority of employees vs a few or what have you.

        Also, I think that’s a separate conversation too around how the overtime/mandatory crunch has been managed.

        Cycling back a bit, I think the big question here is unpacking what that culture/environment of 6-way work weeks was actually like. There are often corporate situations and decisions given where the staff and business doesn’t really feel like there is any other decision. (Also, CDPR’s culture and the weight of expectation is undoubtedly a factor too; I don’t know that another delay would have been better for morale.)

        We’re going to hear a lot more accounts from 2021 onwards, I think, about what life was like. Some good, some pretty bad, some that waver between the middle, but the story’s gonna get a lot more complicated.

        /ramblings

        • My issue is largely with Jason’s claims where his ‘proof’ is nothing but “my sources said”, again conveniently something people CAN NOT verify, yet when claims from other sources contradict him… They don’t even get a MENTION here or elsewhere.

          Sites, including Kotaku, are distributing Jason’s reporting as this infallible proof, while ignoring any and all other claims that very much contradict him.

          As for COVID not helping… Absolutely true. But try telling your journalist counterparts elsewhere that a GLOBAL PANDEMIC might cause a company to have to go back on an initial promise when productivity gets hit with fuckin’ sledgehammer.

          It’s INSANE to expect delay after delay after delay, no industry on the planet would be functional and viable if they could just delay indefinitely without their company going under.

          • Totally.

            The biggest problem amongst all of this, honestly, is that it’s just so much harder to have a good conversation about how all of this unfolds without people losing their minds. That’s kind of where the world is at right now.

            Also, as another point, I think it’s also fair to wonder: why were people all to happy to accept Jason’s reporting on Bungie, or Bioware, and CD Projekt Red previously, but now its as if the record is completely called into question.

            A lot of this would be easier for everyone to independently verify — touching on your initial point — if the gaming industry didn’t globally operate on a model that treated staff with the disposability of a Happy Meal. And that’s part of why this conversation and process is necessary, because how else are we going to get to a place where we can have healthier debate about these kinds of things?

          • @alexwalker
            Personally, i think some people might be a little more skeptical here (or at least i am) because of the conflicting reports.
            Especially when the reddit post claims one thing (is a current worker), Jason then claims another about the post (is a former worker), then another website claims another about it all.
            When you have someone saying “its legit, trust me” when it semi conflicts the original post, something seems off about it.
            Then again, YOU also made a VERY valid point that the three diff CDPR studios may have VERY different levels of communication going on which has led to some problems.

  • This is disappointing and demonstrates a difficult truth developers have been dodging for a long time now.

    The relationship between labor and business owners has once again become unbalanced.

    The only way to resolve this is a unionised workforce. That comes with it’s own issues, but there’s nothing else to be done. Collectively all walk off the project until your demands are met.

  • When I hear about crunch culture at studios like CDPR and others, I feel as much noise needs to be made as possible about this. This is the current normal, but it shouldn’t be.

    For me, hearing that games that I love – like Telltale’s Walking Dead and the Witcher 3 – were made via the exploitation of workers casts a shade over these marvelous products.

    It’s like hearing about Ubisoft’s culture of sexual harassment and abuse. Every time I go to play Assassins Creed Odyssey, I’ll think about what went into it. And it makes me hesitate putting in that disk, or buying the next one. Do I really want to be complicit as a consumer?

    It also hits me not just as a gamer, but as someone studying game development. Originally, I wanted to seek a career change in Australia’s (barely existent) gaming industry. Who wants to be treated like crap while being told they should feel privileged to be there? Your time is a non-renewable resource.

    Thankfully, I have a long career and employment in another field. But for those who have dedicated themselves to that industry and are employed there, I can imagine the feeling of having little options for alternative employment- especially during Covid, but even without it – would be suffocating.

    Keep writing stories like this one.

  • I was joking about continuing to defend them. I should’ve realised the Kotaku comments section will never fail to blame victims of they get to Stan a corporation that makes a game they like.

        • Get a grip on reality pal. Your attempts to insult me and others are failing pretty hard. Try making an actual point worth discussing.

        • You should actually look at labour laws in regards to CDPR. Because this might come as a shock, but Poland are in fact not quite as relaxed about mistreating employees as the USA clearly is.

          And if you also want to go on about profits you should also look into the compensation they were offered in regards to the additional day per week for six weeks, aka: the ‘broken promise’, leading up to launch.

          Or you could keep ‘fighting the good fight’ without any facts.

  • Reddit post. Im a developer at CDPR lays out all this info about current workings.
    Jason. Hes a former dev at CDPR ive just got off the phone from him.

    Well. Which one is it?

    • Jason did both he has to confirm his sources, and also refers to multiple sources. So the phone source may of verified the reddit source.

  • Awfully convenient that this post comes out right after the game informer interviews calling Jason’s article into question.

    Why are these opinions more valid than the ones in the game informer interviews?

    • My guess? So they can milk this bullshit for every click possible until the end of time.

      But yeah, blatantly ignoring claims that contradict what you’re distributing as fact is not journalism… At that point you’re no better than a blogger picking and choosing what you want to believe despite evidence to the contrary.

    • Reputation. Jason is an investigative journalist who has years of experience and reputable pieces who facts checks. He wrote most of the exposes on crunch and development hell in the last 5 years.

      Jason not only interviewed a dozen CDPR devs, he had internal emails from senior management apologising for excessive overtime in June 2020, but the overtime issue still persisted according to his interviews.

      Game Informers comments, were in a podcast and were conjectured and opinions only.

      Game Informer is a games media outlet and relies on having good will with developers for content and advertising… they also have been posting “exclusives” for Cyberpunk 2077, so I think they are more in the forgiving fanboi section of the crowd. Most of their “articles” on crunch, are just press releases of studios saying they will do better.

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