Home Gaming Devolver Digital weighs in on the video game culture of crunch and how it affects indie studios

Devolver Digital weighs in on the video game culture of crunch and how it affects indie studios

3 min read
12

Red Dead Crunch (2)

Crunch isn’t just the name of the best slab of chocolate that you can find on a supermarket shelf (FIGHT ME, CADBURY FANBOYS!). It’s also a term given to that period in the development of any game when all hands are required to be on deck and work weeks transform into work months. It’s not unusual for any industry to have to buckle up and burn the midnight oil, but on the other hand such instances are usually a sign of very poor management.

In the gaming industry, crunch seems to be especially brutal. There are dozens and dozens of horror stories from developers, who detail long nights of work on a game, how unpaid overtime was expected of them and of how they eventually got shafted in the end by a studio which viewed their workers as more of a disposable resource than an actual human being.

There’s a culture of crunch in the industry, that is not healthy at all, something that Rockstar Games found out the hard way after they were rightfully lambasted for boasting about putting their employees through excruciatingly long months of development for Red Dead Redemption 2. A problem that seems typical of the AAA game development space, only it really isn’t.

Even smaller game studios go through times of crunch, something which has indie giant Devolver Digital pondering the future of how games under their label and how developers need to prevent themselves from falling into a workaholic habit. “My view personally is that if you’re a company that owns a studio you’ve got to figure out better ways of working with your own employees and take better care of them,” Devolver Digital co-founder Graeme Struthers said at PAX Australia via PC Gamer.

Red Dead Crunch (1)

In the same way when you work like we do, independent studios, you’ve got to take care of people because they can basically throw themselves into unhealthy work practices. It’s very easy to do that. I’m not joking, sometimes one of us or two of us have jumped on a plane to go to another country to effectively take people out to eat and have a night off. We’re not pressuring [developers to crunch] at all, in fact we’re trying to push them in the other direction—which is have a normal balanced life.

I told my dad this, and he said to me ‘You were a nightmare at school, you’d wait two days before an exam and then cram.’ So I’m not sure how you solve that one, but you have to pay attention to it and you have to try to help people make good decisions about their mental health.

I look at a game like Red Dead Redemption 2, and I can easily see the results of the tireless hours spent on it. Every facet of the western sandbox sequel just oozes quality and polish…and I feel bad because of it. I feel guilty for enjoying a game that I know has had a negative effect on the life and health of some of the people making it. I can still enjoy this masterpiece for what it is, but knowing just how many thankless hours went into making it, makes me feel like I’m feeding that culture and endorsing it.

I’d have happily waited several more months for Red Dead Redemption 2 if it meant that Rockstar could have given their staff more reasonable working hours. If anything, Rockstar is emerging as another example of how not to emphasise a culture of overworking, for other studios.

Last Updated: October 31, 2018

12 Comments

  1. As a software developer (not in gaming), I know first hand how crunch works. It is almost always due to bad management, bad planning, bad or complete lack of documentation, “scope creep”, over promising by executives that have no clue how long some things can take. Like showing a demo of a feature hacked together for internal purposes to a client, then saying “we can launch in 2 weeks”, when we actually said “this is a proof of concept for what could be done in 3 months”.

    I can only imagine it is worst for these poor people, where the delivery could literally make or break a year for them. And where they have less protection than workers here and can get discarded so easily 🙁

    Reply

    • For the Emperor!

      October 31, 2018 at 12:50

      Something to add: When you start seeing Dilbert as a documentary comic on TRUTH rather than just a joke…I knew then that I needed to change companies!

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ec7254e9902db346b5ab403e9dc6a313556bacce6e41ac6ce04611e1bbef1e45.gif

      Reply

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        October 31, 2018 at 13:13

        What do you mean Dilbert cartoons are a joke?

        Reply

        • For the Emperor!

          October 31, 2018 at 13:23

          I was so naive back in the day when I thought that! Now I see it is nothing but truth!

          Reply

          • Pariah

            October 31, 2018 at 13:34

            All the best comedy is based on fact. Sadly, some of it is a lot more grim than we realise in our untainted youth.

          • For the Emperor!

            October 31, 2018 at 16:00

            I started relating to almost EVERY Dilbert cartoon at some point. When it was once or twice a month it was fine, then it became 1 or twice a week, and eventually it became a daily occurrence 🙁

          • For the Emperor!

            October 31, 2018 at 16:00

            I started relating to almost EVERY Dilbert cartoon at some point. When it was once or twice a month it was fine, then it became 1 or twice a week, and eventually it became a daily occurrence 🙁

  2. Pieter Kruger

    October 31, 2018 at 12:28

    Yes because working hard is such a terrible thing these days…Wait till you work for yourself or comission only in a target driven industry…..those long hours, early mornings and late nights happen by themself! You need to put in more than the 8 – 5 expected of you, if not, you’ll just work to pay off debt for the rest of your life.

    Reply

    • Pariah

      October 31, 2018 at 12:39

      Working hard is good. Being overworked is another matter entirely. Learn the difference and then come back, please.

      Reply

      • Pieter Kruger

        October 31, 2018 at 12:50

        I’m overworked every month basically! LOL! Haven’t even taken leave in over a year. Just thankful I have a decent job. We need to realise that we all need to put in 150% in todays’ struggling global economy to get somewhere. If not, there’s always someone willing to do just that who will gladly step into your shoes….

        Reply

        • Pariah

          October 31, 2018 at 13:02

          Yes. But that’s exactly the kind of environment that’s wrong. That’s quite literally what Devolver Digital are against. It’s exploitative and unhealthy. And there have bee numerous tests globally that prove lowering the amount of hours worked in a week doesn’t actually lower output or productivity, but it does increase overall happiness and lower the number of “sick days” being taken.

          Being complicit is the same as being guilty of it. And you’re actively expecting people to buy into it. Which is fine if you don’t care about your own wellbeing, but please don’t mistake being overworked for working hard. I work bloody hard, but I don’t get overworked.

          Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 31, 2018 at 13:02

      I don’t agree to this and my wife calls me a workaholic. It’s better to work smart not hard.

      If you are working over 40 hours a week every week you are doing something wrong and you could increase your lifestyle immeasurably by fixing the root cause

      Reply

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