Amy Hennig – AAA development an unwinnable arms race

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Crunch time

I have a lot of respect for Amy Hennig. She’s worked at Crystal Dynamics, Naughty Dog and now EA. She has 20 years of AAA console game development experience, most of it at a very high level, and her games have generally been beloved experiences. She really knows what she’s doing, or so it seems. But you know when developers talk about “crunch” and how bad it is as part of an industry? It’s way way worse than I ever imagined.

I’ve worked in some crazy deadline-oriented jobs. We would hit crunch time that might involve pulling an all-nighter or two, or perhaps working 12-15 hour days for a week or so. But to hear her describe it, it’s not just a crunch period, but a way of life.

The whole time I was at Naughty Dog – ten-and-a-half years – I probably, on average, I don’t know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week. There were exceptions where it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take a couple of days off,’ but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.

I love the incredible games that Naughty Dog can create, but wow, that’s insane. No one should work like that – this sounds like Industrial Revolution factory labor situations. And sure, contracts are different and people could probably choose not to work like that, but can they really? If you don’t crunch with everyone else, why would they keep you on projects, why would they value you? Unfortunately, it can have dire consequences.

There’s people who never go home and see their families. They have children who are growing up without seeing them,” she said. “I didn’t have my own kids. I chose my career in lots of ways, and I could be single-minded like that. When I was making sacrifices, did it affect my family? Yes, but it was primarily affecting me and I could make that choice. But when I look at other people… I mean, my health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad. And there were people who, y’know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That’s not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that.

We have to get our act figured out as an industry, and the problem is that the ante keeps getting upped… It’s an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people.

Personally, I blame all of us. I’ve always loved marathon games, but they were usually JRPGs. I could play Final Fantasy for 100+ hours to enjoy the full experience. But you know what, I could also enjoy shorter games, playing them over and over again because they were so well crafted, such fully formed experiences – it’s like reading a book again. Sure, you might know the story, but you read it again to find something new in it for yourself. Now, it’s all about extra game modes, longer stories, larger worlds, even if the game doesn’t necessarily suit it.

When you go to pitch a game like this, it’s like, ‘Well it better have this many hours, and you’d better have this mode, and you’d better do this.’ Or we could go, ‘You know what, we’re gonna make the best fucking six hour game you’ve ever seen. And that’s all it is. And could you please make that $40?’

We’re definitely at the point where something’s gotta give…

[…] I mean, Uncharted 1; a ten-hour game, no other modes… you can’t make a game like that any more.

That’s sad, actually. I am all for studios offering amazing experiences, but if it’s at the cost of families, the cost of developers’ health? If we are cutting down the possibility of having some incredible albeit shorter experiences because they aren’t going to be commercially viable if they aren’t padded with extra length or modes? There’s obviously a big problem in the industry, and it’s only a matter of time before it all comes to a head.

Last Updated: October 7, 2016

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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