Home Gaming Former Apex Legends devs launch anti-crunch studio Gravity Well

Former Apex Legends devs launch anti-crunch studio Gravity Well

3 min read

I could see myself developing games for a living. If I had the talent, vision and several years worth of educational experience with the latest software that allows for video games to be rendered one glorious pixel at a time. Also, I really wish I could maths good because that would also be helpful. The catch here, is that developing video games isn’t exactly easy, and the working culture around that process more often than not finds itself under a microscope for forcing employees to endure horrible conditions.

I’m not painting every studio with the same brush (Indeed, there are tales of WONDERFUL places to work at within the industry), but it’s all too common to hear of bigger brands implementing crunch protocols to get a game out in time. The video game industry can and should strive to treat their staff better without having to wait until a video game site exposes them, and that’s where the latest studio on the block comes into the picture.

Say hello, to Gravity Well.

Billed as a new AAA game studio, Gravity Well is being helmed by industry veterans Drew McCoy (who left Respawn Entertainment last year after) and former Apex Legends lead software engineer Jon Shiring. Gravity Well’s primary goal is to not only make games, but to do so in a manner that changes how they’re made. “We want time to iterate on everything and get ideas and feedback from the whole team,” McCoy wrote on the Gravity Well website.

We’re building this studio to last for decades, and that doesn’t happen without putting the team first. We take team health as an absolute top priority. That means we are anti-crunch. That means good compensation. That means everyone at Gravity Well has creative freedom, because when someone else makes all of the decisions, work isn’t fun and the end product isn’t as good.

We prefer to cut and focus down so we only ship what we love.

“Ask around, and you’ll get the same answer from devs – once your team size crosses 100 people, everything changes,” Shiring added.

It’s nobody’s fault – big organizations just move slowly. You need meetings just to make decisions. Choices get siloed and brilliant creatives become less creative. So let’s just not do that. We’re going to build a team that is 80-85 people at peak. We aren’t satisfied with the low level of creative risk that gets project funding these days. We want to explore bold new ideas exclusively for next-gen hardware and PCs.

You can see the genesis of this better working environment theme in McCoy’s stint at Respawn Entertainment and through Apex Legends. While Epic Games got lambasted for the neverending crunch that Fortnite: Battle Royale developers were saddled with thanks to a brutally aggressive update schedule, Apex Legends focused on smaller updates instead with occasional big events. “We don’t want to overwork the team, and drop the quality of the assets we’re putting out. We want to try and raise that,” Respawn big cheese and CEO Vince Zampella said to PC Gamer in 2019.

You’ve got to draw a line between work and life when it comes to video games. This is a career of creativity, one that thrives on motivated people bringing their A-game to the table and running their engines at optimal blast before they take an eventual pit stop. Burnout is all too real at many a studio thanks to a wide variety of factors, but it’s nice to see one studio isn’t just talking about the problem and are instead tackling it as part of their manifesto.

Last Updated: May 12, 2020


  1. It’s a noble idea to say we want to build a studio where making games are fun without any crunch. But that is not how the real world works, even outside of gaming. If you have a deadline for anything there will always be a crunch time for the last month or so. If I have a lot of work to do, I can work some days from 06:00 till 20:00 and repeat that for a week, a month or how ever long it takes to get the work done. Jason from Kotaku has made everyone think that only gaming devs have crunch times. It is a thing in every type of business, not just making games… My 2c on this.


    • MechMachine

      May 13, 2020 at 10:35

      You have a valid point. Unfortunately, Where the Video Game Industry differs is these crunch periods last for months. I’ve had many periods in my career where I’ve worked ungodly hours. But they normally don’t last longer than a week at most. There were heavier periods when I was a junior. Working until 4 am etc etc.

      I feel that this culture is being normalized. Imagine working 10-11 hour days, 6 days a week for 6 to 8 months and then you don’t get reimbursed. As there have been stories that have popped up where Directors are giving themselves bonuses and not paying the staff properly for these periods.

      One thing I can relate to is a culture of fear and intimidation. It happens in the creative field more often than not. Jason doesn’t work for Kotaku anymore, and he does some good things.


      • Jonah Cash

        May 14, 2020 at 15:25

        Agree with your points. But I have my own company that turned 10 last year, so my crunch periods are in years not months. I opened a new branch 3 years ago in Gauteng and was going to open a Durban one this year. Working crazy hours have given me great success and I have definitely sacrificed more than what anyone else in my field has. But I have a lot to show for it.
        If they are working and not getting the money they deserve then that is very wrong. I pay my staff an extra amount every month if we pass a certain amount invoiced. Last year we only had 1 month where we didn’t get past it. Every got a R5k extra on their bonus as well. I firmly believe that if the company is doing well, everyone in the company should benefit from it. I have happy staff and that makes them more willing to put in a bit extra when needed on their side.


        • MechMachine

          May 14, 2020 at 16:02

          Congrats on your success man. Much respect.


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