Disclaimer: The opinions represented in this article are solely the Auhtor’s and do not represent the opinions of the rest of the staff at esportsportal.
Game development is hard work. Many-a budding developers enter the industry thinking they’ll finally work on the games they used to play. However, recently the entire gaming world has now been exposed to a shocking and saddening revelation. The rose-tinted glasses are off and the game development industry is a mess of capitalistic workplace horror and resulting human casualties.
The Big Crunch:
Ever since the reports of capitalist workplace horrors started pouring in, the word “crunch” has taken the center stage. Crunch is usually reserved for workplaces that run on a pre-determined schedule. If any single person or a group is behind their timeline, then the extra amount of work, effort and time is referred to as crunch or crunch time. These crunch hours almost always require the devs to spend all of their time at the office and limit their activities to the point of missing food and family as well.
Workplaces can be unpredictable so it’s not a weird scenario for a developer or a team to run into crunch every now and then. But these usually take place before a major launch or a reveal as they involve a lot of moving cogs and gears to get everything properly executed. Yet thanks to multiple reports from Polygon and Kotaku, the veil on such industry secrets have been lifted to a horrifying extent.
And it's important to remember stress usually doesn't only come from crunch. It comes from capricious or cruel management, moving goal posts, sexism, racism… everything we dismiss as "internal politics." https://t.co/OitoGAMUm7
— Jill Murray (@disco_jill) April 3, 2019
Previously we’ve talked how big of a failure Anthem is and how the game functions like a headless chicken destined to hit a wall at every turn. According to an extensive, almost forensic investigative article by Jason Schreier, Anthem is a result of a crunch issue. In his almost hour long read, Schreier elaborates on how BioWare’s top brass struggled to solidify their idea of Anthem. And when the time came to present a game, they had nothing to show. Through intervention by Patrick Soderlund, BioWare finally had an idea of what Anthem was supposed to be, after years of being stuck in developmental hell. But the scope of the game was massive and the release window was closing in on BioWare. Instead of extending their developmental cycle, BioWare’s top brass pushed their developers to their extremes and then some more. Their reasoning for such an action was referred to something ludicrous called “BioWare Magic”.
BioWare magic was the result of Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare’s last stint before Anthem. The development of DA:I was behind schedule as well. As a result, the teams at BioWare put their everything on the line and crafted their game in time. The resulting game was polarizing yet successful. This success and the illusion of comfort gave rise to the BioWare Magic, a fictional concept BioWare’s top brass believed in. That crunch would give rise to a great game, somewhat anecdotal as to how intense pressure creates a diamond.
BioWare Magic is the reason why Anthem failed and will eventually perish. But the cost of humanity is more than just a failed game. Schreier’s report reveals that many developers in BioWare studios have gone through life-changing experiences and not the good kind. Some have parted ways with the company for good. Some are dealing with mental health issues and physical issues as well. And as a result, the morale has never been lower.
While reporting this story, I learned the names of dozens and dozens of people who have left BioWare over the past two years. Those who talked to me said they believe that something desperately needs to change, and that they hope making it public will help. pic.twitter.com/69wz58w9ZJ
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) April 2, 2019
Yet this is not a random, stray event. In 2019, we have seen the death of Telltale Games. Their story isn’t different either. Developers burnt out due to extreme stress and pressure. As a result, the products they develop are sub-par and lacking in any sort of flair or charm. Rockstar Games, a reputed and much-loved developer studio famous for creating Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto series is also a culprit of the crunch culture. When word got out that developers of RDR2 were working 100 hour weeks just to deliver a game, waves of backlash were directed at Rockstar Games who were surprised of said backlash.
A rather ironic addition to this list is Epic Games. In a recent report from Polygon, Epic Games is also accused of promoting and using crunch culture in their developmental spaces. The same Epic Games who pioneered the pro-developer stance regarding the sales cut on their digital storefront, Epic Store. The very same Epic Games has been working their developer teams to their absolute limit to sustain the updates and changes to their million dollar machine, Fortnite Battle Royale.
This crunch culture is an amalgamation of rampant capitalistic tendencies of corporate publishers, zero accountability of division heads and senseless exploitation of working-class people. And this needs to stop now.
The Healing Salve:
Whenever working class people have been wronged, they’ve always fallen back on one thing every capitalist and corporation hates. That’s right. Game developers need unions and they need to unionize now for their own rights they’ve been denied till now.
Unions are important in this day and age of capitalism, more than ever. Only due to labor unions, better wages, health benefits, healthy working environments and most importantly, eight-hour working schedules have been implemented. Labor unions and rights groups are fighting for equal pay for women and preventing child labor. And due to these very reasons, the game development industry needs unions.
Yet, this pivotal step towards a better industry has to start with the players, the consumers. We have the duty to raise our voices against the horrible working conditions of the people who work tirelessly for us. And we are not doing enough. In a recent reddit post, Path of Exile’s lead developer Chris Wilson said that,
A big topic in the gaming industry recently is development crunch. Some studios make their teams work 14 hour days to pack every patch full of the most fixes and improvements possible. Sometimes when we read our own Patch Notes threads and community feedback, we feel that we are being asked to do the same. I will not run this company that way. While there’s inevitably a bit of optional paid overtime near league releases, the vast majority of a Path of Exile development cycle has great work/life balance. This is necessary to keep our developers happy and healthy for the long-term, but it does mean that some game improvements will take a while to be made.”
This sentiment is shared by a section of players as well. During last year’s Fortuna update of Warframe, fans of the game asked their devs to take time to deliver the content and not to overwork themselves. This isn’t new from the Warframe community but this is certainly uncommon in the current gaming world.
The mad dash to ship out updates and unfinished games to compete with rival titles and companies is resulting in a terrible reputation for the entire industry. The bad faith is resulting in disillusioned developers who are searching for new directions and even steering others away from the toxic crunch culture.
The problems are real. The casualties are real. The mental health issues such as depression and anxiety stemming from this industry are real. The physical health risks are real. And it’s clear that the ones sitting on the ivory towers do not care. It is on the players and the developers to look after each other. And it’s high time, we started on that path.