Guild Wars 2 dev explains the real cost of crunch to games and gamers, Rockstar Lincoln clarifies crunch policy

    
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Rockstar’s crunch problem and the ongoing industry discussion around games dev labor abuses don’t appear to be dying down. Ahead of the weekend, Rockstar Lincoln (in the UK) employees told Kotaku that overtime in their branch felt “mandatory” and that data show workload requests neared 60 hours per week in late summer. Studio management admitted that “overtime was requested and scheduled by the bosses but that employees could say no to it,” which might make you squish up your face in confusion because generally that’s not what “volunteering” and “voluntary” means. But in any case, management has now made apparently clear that it will explicitly not be mandatory going forward; what is not clear is how that will be enforced.

“This is huge for us here in Lincoln as many of us haven’t been able to take full weekends without paying for it in a long time and it’s a giant step forward in making crunch less of a hell to deal with,” said one QA employee, who said he or she was also working through (legally mandated) lunch breaks without pay.

Of particular note to MMO players is a thread from Guild Wars 2 developer Josh Foreman: His explanation of how crunch happens for good reasons but bad results is one of the better ones I’ve seen and is worthwhile for folks who seem to think crunch is about “passion” or think that working conditions for game devs don’t matter as long as they deliver games in the end.

“I’ve seen that those who haven’t done crunch fundamentally misunderstand what motivates it,” he writes. “I will first, admit that when I was doing my 100/weeks, passion WAS often a component. BUT… There are other things at play. The more team members choose to sacrifice their health, sanity, and future for a game, the more it becomes mandatory for everyone at that studio, then the whole industry. And now, to compete in the market you have to be a bad father/husband/etc.”

The result, he says, is that devs make far more mistakes, lose big picture perspective on the games, and suck at tuning the project. “I don’t care how passionate you are about your game; being exhausted has huge repercussions to its quality,” he says. Moreover, he points out that crunch-as-de-facto-policy drives older devs out of the business in favor of younger ones, to the detriment of the overall experience of the crew. All in all, crunch hurts not just the humans working on the game but the game’s quality, which really ought to upset gamers who are being asked to pay for said sub-optimum games.

“Pretending that crunch culture has no downstream effects for the business or the artform is incredibly myopic. It’s leaving both money and cultural cachet on the table. We’re needlessly stagnating our commercial and artistic progress by clinging to this outdated norm. None of this is meant as moral opprobrium towards studios (ie: almost all of them) that engage in crunch. Nor is it a denouncement of EVER using crunch. It’s meant to clarify the PRICE that crunch inflicts that is generally swept under the rug.”

Source: Kotaku, Twitter

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zuldar

“overtime was requested and scheduled by the bosses but that employees could say no to it,”

Can they say no without being fired, demoted, or in any other way punished for their decision? I don’t think the game industry knows what optional means, someone get them a dictionary.

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rosieposie

Crunch is 100% the failure of the management. Jim Sterling put it best.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

I’ve seen first hand recently how Devs under the effects of Crunch can cause melt downs among staff and a bad experience for the gamers.

In the 3rd Season of LW Season 4 you can see that the map Domain of Kourna suffers from lack of polish, from the unfinished map Meta, to the empty interior of the the Fortress, you can clearly see corners were cut to make sure it shipped as late as it did with that Beetle Mount.

Lets not forget what happened with Jessica Price and Peter Fries, while neither one of them were coders in the trenches i’m sure there was a lot of tension in that office between players raking them across the coals in the forums/reddit and their Infuencers basically saying ‘you had an opportunity in impress and keep these players from Bless but the lack of polish makes it hard to defend this Episode’

I bet you anything the name Derior at least was known around the office at ANet since they made an NPC out of him in the Fractals of the Mists Lobby so I find it highly unlikely Price didn’t know who she was going to war with.

I’m bring that whole debacle up because I think bad quality, bad will among the employees and players, and heavy hours lead to that confrontation (which was really one sided unless you count their videos as the first swing of the fist).

I’ll edit later in replies with more clarification.

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hardy83

I’m sort of glad they wrongly banned me when they did lol

Like you said, I started to see the quality dip, and while I REALLY liked the game… Honestly… I don’t really miss it anymore. They gambling box creep was already becoming more and more and I dunno… The story was just ehh, along with the new maps.

I wouldn’t be surprised if they are pushing the devs to maximize production while minimizing employee costs. Why hire an extra coder or two when you can just make 1 employee work double time.

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Barry Carpenter

when mmo expansion released there always some ppl willing to powerlevel in few hours, like u know put 24-36-48 non sleep hours to get to max level.
Here same thing there always ppl willing to put anything and everything to achieve goal.
Games work of passion u can’t put that in schedule and stupid 40 hours work week.

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Dragon Whimsy

And yet the upper management isn’t working those hours and are making more money. It’s not about “passion”, it’s about shareholders only looking to the next fiscal quarter and upper management getting bonuses at the end of the year based off the productivity of other people who are fooled into destroying their lives for their “passion”.

“Passion” is working on your own indie project. Employment at a AAA game developer is a job. One is working toward your own goal. The other is working toward someone else’s. There is a difference.

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cursedseishi

What you call “passion”, isn’t passion. Passion doesn’t make you work 60-100hours a week on a SALARIED position out of fear knowing that your contract may be dropped because out of a group of twenty you said “I don’t want to work that, I have family/obligations at home”.
Passion isn’t being spat upon and discarded the moment a project is finished, because the company has no intention of retaining any contract-related employees–or even their own at times.
Passion isn’t being used as essentially Scab workers for a company whose just burnt out and dumped their veteran talent and need some warm bodies to feed the meat grinder with.

You literally can not compare a player maxing out a characters level to a job. It’s apples and Iphones. Sure, they are in the most vaguest of terms related if you squint really hard, but they are clearly not.

But please, go work several months straight of hundred plus hour work weeks and tell us how you feel afterwards. Tell me how you feel after a month where, outside of sleeping, you only have at best maybe ten hours of free time per week to eat, clean up and see your family for the brief time you have. Tell me about the ‘passion’ you’ll feel four-five months into that period where you’ve more than almost guaranteed missed birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, important milestones in the lives of those you care for… Because the second you call in one day to say you can’t work overtime that one day, you’ll be fired.

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Leiloni

The more team members choose to sacrifice their health, sanity, and future for a game, the more it becomes mandatory for everyone at that studio, then the whole industry. And now, to compete in the market you have to be a bad father/husband/etc.

This is a good point and a big part of fixing this is to have management – both your immediate supervisor as well as upper management – heavily supporting normal work schedules, spending time with family, and only working overtime when absolutely necessary – i.e. infrequently. It needs to be something that is enforced as the company culture and supported in various ways.

So the idea is you make sure employees know you want them to live a balanced life and support that, make sure people know they don’t have to work regular overtime. Sure if some choose to, that’s on them and they can do that, but encouraging going home at 5 or 6 makes employees feel better about doing that.

Beyond that, I think it’s important that the hours they do spend at work are more efficient. Things like excessive meetings and some types of admin work can take away from valuable hours spent actually doing the most important work. Restructuring internally can have a big effect on this, moving around job duties and potentially adding new positions, can help make sure people are spending most of their time doing what’s really necessary, so work gets done faster without as much of a need for overtime.

At the end of the day, overtime is usually due to poor planning. If you have a project that popped up unexpectedly at the last minute and has a short timetable, ok do some overtime to make the deadline, that’s what overtime should be for. Or if you have a big patch coming, ok maybe some weekend hours to make sure it goes well. But standard weeks should not require overtime if a business is being run well. It’s one thing if an employee wants to get ahead on work, it’s another if they’re required to work overtime in order to stay on track to begin with.

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Tobasco da Gama

Real, actual science says that working beyond 40 hour weeks — hell, some of it even gives 35 hour weeks as the sweet spot — for extended periods has a deleterious effect on productivity. Even if you’re the kind of amoral monster who doesn’t care about employee health, the fact that crunch is actively counterproductive should convince you that it’s a bad thing.

But then nobody listens to scientists on stuff like global warming, so why should we listen to them on workplace health and productivity either?

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Schmidt.Capela

This is even more true for any kind of work that relies on creativity — like, say, much of the work required to create a brand new game. Tired people tend to be far, far less creative.

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hardy83

Tired people tend to be far less everything. Creative, talkative, functional, productive.
An exhausted human is terrible at everything other than getting sick and forming mental health issues.