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.”