After it launched in September 2017, Fortnite’s standalone Battle Royale mode became the biggest video game on the planet. The transformative decision to use the mildly popular base-building co-op shooter as a platform on which to build a Battle Royale game was one that undoubtedly worked out for Epic, turning them into one of the biggest and most profitable gaming companies. A cultural phenomenon, Fortnite earns many millions of dollars every single day, funding an incredible growth at the company.
That success has come at a human cost though. In a report, Polygon has detailed the brutal working conditions at Epic, that see many of the game’s developers working 70-hour and longer weeks as they crunch to keep Fortnite perpetually filled with new content. Sources for the article include full-time staff and contractors working across the game’s development.
“I work an average 70 hours a week,” says one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.
“The biggest problem is that we’re patching all the time. The executives are focused on keeping Fortnite popular for as long as possible, especially with all the new competition that’s coming in.”
Because it’s a live game that’s constantly patched and updated, there’s a perpetual cycle of crunch to keep the game’s momentum.
“If a build went out into the wild and there was a negative reaction,” explained one developer, “then someone at the top would say, ‘We need to change that’, and everyone would be pulled in from what they were doing, and people were told to cancel their plans, because they were going to crunch until this was done. It was never-ending. It’s great for supporting the community and for the public. But that comes at a cost.”
As the game’s popularity increased, so did demands on the people maintaining the game.
“We went from having a month to prepare to sometimes having as little as a day,” says on source. “A lot of it was mandatory staying at work with no notice until the job was done. Marketing had made a promise, and so we were told that it had to be done.”
Perhaps worse is the culture of fear that’s developed.
“I know some people who just refused to work weekends, and then we missed a deadline because their part of the package wasn’t completed, and they were fired,” said another source. “People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to work these hours.”
Said one QA contractor:
“If I got to the end of an eight-hour workday and I turned to my supervisor to ask if I needed to stay on, they’d often look at me as if I was actively stupid. Officially, you don’t have to keep working, but in reality: ‘Sit back down, we’ll be here for a while.’ If you did not do overtime, that was a mark against your character.”
It’s a sad state of affairs that’s become too common in an industry that’s killing the people who make the games we play.
“It’s killing people. Something has to change. I can’t see how we can go on like this for another year. At first, it was fine, because Fortnite was a big success and that felt good. We were solving problems that were new for Epic: how to run a big, global game as an online service. But now the workload is just endless.”
Last Updated: April 24, 2019