If you are in tune with the culture of video game development, the period of extended or excessive overtime known as “crunch” is nothing new in the video game industry. The concept of “crunch” time has been around for over a decade. The concept has been considered almost natural in the rigorous and “passion project” nature of video game development. At Casual Connect USA last year, Luke Timmins of Bungie detailed how “crunch” during the development of Halo 2 “almost killed the studio. This made Bungie reassess their idea of “crunch” over the years to where it was finally eliminated with Destiny 2. Other developers from world renowned studios such as Naughty Dog, Sony Santa Monica, and Blizzard have touched on their experiences with “crunch” time. These major studios haven’t reached “a balance” on par with Bungie, but can see the toll that “crunch” has on developers’ mental health and starting to see what strides they can make to reduce these negative impacts.
In a piece by Vulture about the making of Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser went into detail behind the seven year making of the upcoming Western epic. Houser, who is also the lead writer of the game, mentions, “We were working 100-hour weeks” at several points during the game’s last year of development. This statement caught the ire of many in the game development community as many developers around the industry took to social media to speak out about the negatives of “crunch” time like this.
This isn’t the first time Rockstar has been criticized for their work conditions. Back in 2010, before the release of the original Red Dead Redemption, the spouses of employees at Rockstar San Diego, lead studio of the franchise, wrote an open letter about the work conditions the employees were under during development of the game. In response to the letter, Rockstar stated,”Unfortunately, this is a case of people taking the opinions of a few anonymous posters on message boards as fact.” Thus, denying the claims of poor work conditions.
This time, however, Rockstar and Dan Houser were quick to clarify Houser’s “100-hour work weeks” statement. In the statement, Houser clarifies that it was “the senior writing team,” including himself and three others, working in these conditions for three weeks to put the finishing touches on the game. He would go on to state that the company doesn’t “expect anyone else to work this way.” Along with, “no one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard.” Houser attributes the 100-hour workload that the writing team endured to “being passionate about their work.”
You can read Houser’s full statement below:
There seems to be some confusion arising from my interview with Harold Goldberg. The point I was trying to make in the article was related to how the narrative and dialogue in the game was crafted, which was mostly what we talked about, not about the different processes of the wider team. After working on the game for seven years, the senior writing team, which consists of four people, Mike Unsworth, Rupert Humphries, Lazlow and myself, had, as we always do, three weeks of intense work when we wrapped everything up. Three weeks, not years. We have all worked together for at least 12 years now, and feel we need this to get everything finished. After so many years of getting things organized and ready on this project, we needed this to check and finalize everything.
More importantly, we obviously don’t expect anyone else to work this way. Across the whole company, we have some senior people who work very hard purely because they’re passionate about a project, or their particular work, and we believe that passion shows in the games we release. But that additional effort is a choice, and we don’t ask or expect anyone to work anything like this. Lots of other senior people work in an entirely different way and are just as productive – I’m just not one of them! No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard. I believe we go to great lengths to run a business that cares about its people, and to make the company a great place for them to work.
There was a time where “crunch” was looked at like a badge of honor for developers. Now, many studios have tried to reduce and eliminate this time period for developers. “Crunch” will continue to be discussed and examined as the industry continues to evolve. Hopefully we won’t have to hear stories like this in the future.