Cyberpunk 2077, Avengers, And Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Developers Talk Crunch Culture
Respawn, CD Projekt Red and Crystal Dynamics talk about the insidious business practice.
Apex Legends developer Respawn's new Star Wars game, Jedi Fallen Order, is upon us now and pretty great. The period just before the release of a major title like this can be when developers push extra hard in what is known as a "crunch" period, which can last for weeks or even months, if not longer. During a crunch period, development team will be subjected to uncomfortable, often unsafe workplace conditions as folks are pushed hard to get the game finished.
The game's director, Stig Asmussen, has now shared his perspective on the practice of crunch and how the Jedi Fallen Order team worked to try to make sure its developers did not burn out while working on the major Star Wars title. His comments came not long after top developers at CD Projekt Red (Cyberpunk 2077) and Crystal Dynamics (The Avengers) also spoke out about crunch, and you can see their thoughts further down the page.
Speaking to Eurogamer, Asmussen said Respawn never enforced crunch periods on Jedi Fallen Order--and that's a change. For some of his past games (Asmussen was the game director for God of War III), he said he was part of teams that were forced to work extra long hours.
"Basically everybody said, 'You've gotta work these hours,' and we realised that wasn't a fair and sustainable approach [for Fallen Order]."
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For Fallen Order, Asmussen said individual developers could decide what hours they wanted to work. "We left it up to the team," he said. "It's like, 'Look, everybody I think carries their own responsibilities and their own tasks, and takes them very seriously, so why treat people like children, and say you have to be here at a certain time?'"
For those who want to work extra hours, "It's your choice," Asmussen said. Those who stay late were given "support," including meals after hours, he added. On top of that, Asmussen said some of the project leads worked extra hours to show their team members that they are acting as a unit.
"We're not going to tell you there are certain hours we're going to be crunching at. You can make your own schedule, and the leads made a commitment to put in extra effort and extra hours as well to show that we're all in it together," Asmussen said.
"We understand your life outside of work is far more important than what you're doing in the office, and we try to respect that." -- Asmussen
Even if Respawn did not enforce crunch or have their employees stick to strict schedules, some developers might feel pressured to work beyond what is normal to finish a project and demonstrate their commitment to colleagues and bosses. Eurogamer asked Asmussen if Respawn keeps a close eye on developers to ensure they are working in a healthy and safe manner, and the director responded emphatically.
"Absolutely," Asmussen replied. "I know there are several times over the course of development where I told people to go home. You get so close to it you lose perspective, and not only that, you risk people burning out. At Respawn it's a really big deal [that] we understand your life outside of work is far more important than what you're doing in the office, and we try to respect that."
Unlike the movie and TV industries, video game industry workers are largely non-unionized. People who work on movie and TV sets can typically only work a set number of hours based on their union contracts, but this kind of setup is considered to be rare in gaming. Over the years, various video game developers have been accused of demanding lengthy crunch periods, and the stories of burnout are prevalent.
Just recently, CD Projekt Red commented on the the vibe at the studio now with Cyberpunk 2077 entering the end of its production period ahead of its April 2020 release date. CD Projekt Red's John Mamais, who heads up the company's Krakow office, said everyone is "working really hard right now" to hit the deadline for Cyberpunk 2077. He said the team is excited by the positive reactions at industry events--like PAX Aus most recently--but that in turn creates pressure, and some developers feel like they are in a "vice."
"You're in a vice, in a way, which takes its toll on the team." -- CDPR Krakow's John Mamais on how developers might feel
"I guess the vibe in the office is there's always a level of excitement there based on results that we get from going to conferences like this [PAX Aus] and seeing people really excited about the game. So that keeps the hype up but it also puts some pressure on, so that's kind of the vibe," he said. "You're in a vice, in a way, which takes its toll on the team but there is ... a healthy, extrinsic kind of pressure to make [the team] really excel."
Mamais added that working at CD Projekt Red is not for everyone--some have come in and found the experience too challenging. CD Projekt Red is trying to put practices in place to "keep the work under control," Mamais said, though he acknowledged "it's not always possible to do that."
"There are a lot of people who come into the industry that are fresh; they don't really understand what it takes to do it," he said. "So we get a lot of new guys coming in, and they go, 'Oh god, this is like too much.' But then we have other guys come in from Rockstar Games, and they're like, 'This is not even crunch!' We're doing the best we can to keep the work under control. But sometimes when you're doing some big-ass game like this, it's not always possible to do that. It takes really hard work to make it really awesome."
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Also at PAX Aus, Crystal Dynamics boss Scot Amos told GameSpot that the studio has a "family first" mentality for the ongoing development of The Avengers. "One of the things that I tell my team all the time: If you have a kid's birthday, then go take care of your kid's birthday, like what, what are you crazy?" he said.
Amos said he is aware of the "horror stories" about crunch in video games, but for Crystal Dynamics, he wants to have his team work in a "smart, balanced way."
"We've actually changed everything from structures of how we do certain workdays with no meetings, go and get stuff done days which are very focused, 'Hey, come in, and get your stuff done, we don't want to interrupt you,' we'll provide meals free, whatever it is," he added.
For more on these stories, check out GameSpot's extended coverage below.
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