Halo's Co-Creator Left Bungie After Enduring Life-Altering Crunch

Marcus Lehto wants a studio where work-life balance is possible.

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One of the reasons that Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto left Bungie was because of the extended periods of crunch that negatively impacted his life and wellbeing. Speaking during a roundtable interview for his new game, Disintegration--which launches into a technical beta tomorrow, January 28--Lehto said his new studio, V1 Interactive, is taking a stance against crunch. By doing so, they hope to do right by its employees for their health and happiness.

"One of the reasons I left Bungie--and I know one of the reasons people from the industry have joined us here at V1--is that many of us have seen the bad side of extended crunch periods that would go on for months and months ... and what kind of human toll that took," Lehto explained. "We don't want to experience that, we don't want to replicate that at all again [at V1]. So at V1, one of our primary goals with the studio is making sure that we create an atmosphere where everybody is intimately involved with what we're working on, so there is a lot of responsibility on everybody's shoulders. And everybody wears several hats."

"We also value, incredibly, the health of everybody here--both physically and mentally. Making sure they have that time outside the office to be with their family," Lehto added. "And we support them to be home when they need to be home, to go to their kids' school concerts and to have the weekends to themselves. That is a very important part to me, and it's one thing we've extended to everyone here at the studio."

"We also value, incredibly, the health of everybody here--both physically and mentally." -- Marcus Lehto

Lehto assured people that he and his team work hard, while he also acknowledged that the team pushes extra hard when milestones come up. However, these periods of extended working hours are limited to around "a week or so."

"It's not like we don't work hard--we work really hard. And at the end of every milestone, we maybe spend a week or so working extra hours," he said.

This kind of intense work schedule, so long as it doesn't lead to burn-out, can actually be a good thing, Lehto said. That's because it brings the team even closer together as they collectively grind on a particular objective. So long as these periods of crunch are few and far between, this can be a positive, Lehto said.

Bungie is known for its periods of crunch. Engineering boss Luke Timmins recalled to GI.biz in 2017 how the 18 months leading up to the release of Halo 2 in 2004 were "brutal" and nearly destroyed Bungie. The developer was crunching for nearly the entire 18 months, he said, and during that time, developers were spending at least 50 hours per week.

"The Halo 2 crunch almost killed Bungie as a company," he said. "It is the most I've ever seen humans work in a year and a half. It was brutal."

Bungie is said to have adopted policies and practices after that to lessen the instances of crunch, but it still happened. For the first Destiny, there was a "department-wide crunch" for the engineering team, Timmins said, though the team never had to crunch on any of the game's numerous expansions. Destiny 2 also had no "full, enforced crunch," he said.

In 2019, following Bungie's split from Activision for the Destiny series, Bungie announced it would delay a Destiny 2 patch so its developers did not have to crunch.

As for Lehto, he left Bungie in 2012 while the original Destiny was just getting started.

Going back to Lehto's new game, Disintegration, the first beta test for the FPS launches on January 28--here's how to sign up. The game, which is made by a team of around 30 people, mixes FPS and strategy elements to create a type of game that Lehto says has never existed before. You fly around the map on a "grav-cycle" while simultaneously commanding soldiers on the ground. Check out the gameplay footage above to see Disintegration in action.

Here are some other things Lehto said about Disintegration:

  • The "incredibly ambitious" campaign will take you around 9-10 hours to complete, though it could stretch into the mid-teens depending on how you play
  • There will be no ranked multiplayer or stat-tracking at launch, though this could be added down the road
  • There will be microtransactions that allow players to customize their grav-cycles
  • It's possible V1 will support the PS5 and Xbox Series X down the road, but nothing is confirmed yet. The same is true for Nintendo Switch

Disintegration is published by Private Division, the independent games label run by Grand Theft Auto parent company Take-Two. Private Division also published Obsidian's The Outer Worlds and Assassin's Creed creator Patrice Desilets' new game, Ancestors.

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DEVILTAZ35

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He had his life altered by a chocolate bar?

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cashx002

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Lawyers work over 60 hours a week. 50 hours? Sign me the f.. up. That's nothing.

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SystemOverload

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Or maybe he got sick of developing shooters?

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DEVILTAZ35

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@systemoverload: Probably got sick at how boring they made Cortana. They had such an amazing character and they just completely ruined it in Halo 4.

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Grey_Eyed_Elf

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50 hours?... Okay, an average full time job is 40 hours. So 2 hours extra a day or you come in on a Saturday?... That's hard for 18 months?

Damn people work for 6 days a week in retail.

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phatty88

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I sympathize with those whose lives were negatively affected by the work hours. However, 50 hours per week doesn’t seem like very much. A lot of professions work a lot more than that, and they don’t call it “crunch”, it’s just part of the job. That being said, game development must be a pretty cushy job when a 50 hour work week is considered rough...

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@phatty88: It's rough to me for these days as i work 37.5 and perfectly happy with that lol. They get well paid anyway it's just people are never happy anymore. I've happily worked weekends for free when i was younger just because i loved the job. I never asked for more money . Even came in at night to finish things to make it easier for the next day again no extra pay. Sometimes you just do that as part of the job without expecting it. These guys get all meals paid for and you can bet they negotiate some sort of overtime rate to begin with anyway. Unless something is in breach of the contract they signed there should be no argument and they should just comply to whatever is needed.

People just have it too good these days. I worked in the entertainment industry for 11 years and it was so common for some to work from 8.00am until 10.30pm each night for no extra pay.

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Keaze_

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As a few people here said, 50 hours a week? So what? How is that horrible working conditions and destroying a studio? Once I did two years of 60-70 hour weeks. It really wasn't that bad. 50 hour weeks is nothing... Maybe if you have kids you can have schedule conflicts but apart from that, the mental toll is negligible.

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rickjamesia

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@Keaze_: I've worked long hours before. I was much more able to handle 60-80 hour weeks when I worked in a production plant than I am able to handle 50-60 hour weeks as a software developer. It may be different for other people, but at least for me mental and physical stress are very different from each other. My ability to keep up with stress at a mostly mental job depends greatly on the degree of predictability in the work, whereas my physical jobs that I've had, it didn't really matter where I was lifting and moving things and often a lack of planning meant I spent more time standing around waiting for a manager to tell me what to do. A lack of planning/management in the work I do now means shifting frames of reference often up to 10 times an hour and having no certainty whether the work you are doing is "right". I also become less efficient very quickly as plans go out the window and hours get long, which is true of my colleagues judging by statistics we keep on productivity.

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BtotheOtotheJtotheF

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@Keaze_: you can't expect everyone to share that sentiment considering jobs come with varying degrees of stress. id imagine working for a prominent studio would be pretty stressful

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mrbojangles25

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@Keaze_: It's a serious problem in the US that people are overworked. We also identify ourselves as our careers/jobs, which is kind of ridiculous as well. There's a reason why suicide rates are higher among working professionals now more than ever, and it's not because people are weak.

Like you, I did 70+ hour weeks for an extended time as a chef. It was physically and mentally demanding and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. In the middle of spring, I'd wake up at 3:30 AM and drive an hour to work, stay inside for 12+ hours, and then drive an hour home. I sometimes didn't see the sun for days, and on my days (days? More like "day" off) off I literally slept all day.

Literally. I don't mean "oh yeah I slept 10 hours and took a nap later, I slept all day" sleep all day...I literally slept from 8 PM to like 6 PM the next day, ate dinner, then went back to sleep.

I wouldn't wish that kind of bullshit on my worst enemy.

An unfortunate lesson the Great Recession taught employers is that you can get the 1.5x people's worth of work from one individual if they are scared to lose their job. A lot of people were let go and the people remaining wanted to keep their job so bad they worked insane hours. Unfortunately, this became the new normal and we have not returned to prior standards.

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faithxvoid

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Crunch seems to suck for them and let them do whatever they want, but really, 10 hour days at desks isn't really like some humanitarian crisis, though. It's not fun, but I did 50 hour weeks on the regular at a dot com in the early 2000s during crunches...Not really that bad. Having to spend almost 60 hours a week slinging 200 lb boats in 100 degree weather to pay rent and college tuition before that was, however, a grind.

People should all have to have a really hard job for at least one year of their lives so they can see what kind of grinds people really put in.

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Edited By niv0070

9 to 10 hours of campaign without added content at launch is "Incredibly ambitious"?

Games like The Witcher 3 that took me personally 150 hours to finish are incredibly ambitious. now don't get me wrong, I don't say it's gonna be bad, Titanfall 2 had a great campaign that was roughly 6 hours, but talking about a 10 hour campaign as ambitious is ridiculous.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@niv0070: I still need to finish Witcher 3, i find the motion of the horse sends me to sleep unfortunately lol. It makes it tough to play it.

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Edited By VikingLord666

I don't give a shit about the woes of lazy game developers. Most adults have to work "crunch" at their jobs. At college they tell these game developers about the cruch they're going to have to go through, how do I know you ask? Because my brother goes to college at Full Sail University for video game development. These devs know WELL in advanced about the crunch they're going to have to go through and they accepted it. I'm sick and tired of hearing liberals whine about working.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@vikinglord666: The fact that crunch is an inherent part of game development doesn't mean that working 50 hour weeks for months on end is something people should put up with if there's a better way. This guy is trying to find a better way, and that's good, and prioritizing your health and family over the career that's damaging both is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

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bgrosz

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@mogan:

If it's 50 hour weeks, then it's not crunch. That's a little overtime. 70+ is crunch.

50 hours / week may not be for you which is fine. To each his own. 50 isn't going to hurt you though.

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Mogan

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@bgrosz: Apparently it was hurting people at Bungie. Spending more waking hours at work than with your family, for months on end, doesn’t sound healthy in the long term.

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bgrosz

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@mogan:

... as I said, to each his own. If it's not for you then don't do it - but that means not taking a job that clearly requires commitment and instead taking something that will likely pay quite a bit less and may be less fulfilling. Life is about trade-offs. Each person has to find their own set of trade-offs that fit their personality and situation.

I know a lot of people in professional jobs that definitely work 50+ every week but have families and have no problem finding a good mix of work and family time.

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Mogan

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@bgrosz: The entire point of what this guy is doing is to show that it doesn't require backbreaking, long term crunch to make games.

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bgrosz

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@mogan:

I'm aware what his point is, but when I saw the headline of there being a 2 year crunch for Halo 2, what I imagined is very different than 50+ hour weeks.

If that + is significant than I understand. BUT, if that plus IS significant, I wouldn't expect it to be described as 50+.

50 hours and sometimes a little over is not "backbreaking, long term crunch".

For professional well paying jobs, 50+ is normal. Especially in a very competitive industry.

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Mogan

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@bgrosz: The article is quoting a guy, a professional developer with a well paying job, talking about seeing 50+ hours a week for 18 month almost destroy a major studio. Whether that kind of crunch is normal isn't the point; these developers are talking about the health and burnout effects. It's not important if you don't think that's out of the ordinary.

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Star_Classic

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Edited By Star_Classic

@mogan said:

@bgrosz: The article is quoting a guy, a professional developer with a well paying job, talking about seeing 50+ hours a week for 18 month almost destroy a major studio. Whether that kind of crunch is normal isn't the point; these developers are talking about the health and burnout effects. It's not important if you don't think that's out of the ordinary.

Sure what he posted and thinks is important. It's framing expectations. 50 hours a week is NOT unusual. It's not "backbreaking, long term crunch". That is hyperbole.

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Mogan

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Mogan  Moderator

@star_classic: I'm going to take the word of professional game dev who went through it on this one.

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mrbojangles25

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@mogan: Agreed. I don't really enjoy seeing this callous disregard for people that want to improve their lot in life via working conditions and duration. Calling someone who doesn't like the idea of working 50+ hour weeks (note the "+", folks, it wasn't 50 hour weeks, it was more than 50-hour weeks) "lazy" is petty as hell @vikinglord666.

I mean, I get it: if I had to go through hell, and then someone came in and was like "This is no good, we should change it so I don't have to go through with it" my initial reaction would be "The hell you don't. Now get back to work and stop whining".

But really, it's in all our best interests to strive for better working conditions. We are not identified as our jobs, we are more than the sum of the hours we invest/spend/waste at our jobs.

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jenovaschilld

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For the last 18yrs I have worked 50-ish hrs a week. 36hrs at Hospital in the education dept, 12 hr shifts M-Weds and then 2-3 shifts at a print shop i bought into around 2004. I'll admit I lucked into alot of it, as the education dept hours are long but nothing physically hard and mentally alot lower stress then floor work. The print shop is very laid back and alot more fun, as we watch tv during lunch and work on our own projects in between jobs. We also have a full kitchen and beds if we need to take a nap.

The key is, a great support system. Wife that takes care of me and everything else while also managing her own career. Eat healthy, keep it simple. Wear the same simple clothes, and get into a routine and stick with it. Luckily both jobs allow me to come to work do my job and not take any of it home with me. I have WoW on my computers at both jobs and home, gaming consoles at print shop and at home. And I play alot and enjoy things like woodworking and designing.

Some days are hard, but you can either watch TV in bed or go to work and make some money. Is it unhealthy, not so far. And you have to have a mindset for it and living close to your work is a must. 30-min to an hour communicate is brutal on the body and is easily equal to 4 times that in work. But my work is not like sitting at a desk programming day in and day out, the damage on the eyes and spine must be horrendous.

If the place you work sucks, you almost have to leave asap if you can or have the choice. 1yr of sucky crunch work is like 5yrs of crunch work that you enjoy. If you do not have the education or opportunity then take a cut in pay for job you can at least can stand. I mean all jobs suck but not every job sucks all the time. Working and living somewhere reasonably comfortable is so important.

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philip6k

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Game looks pretty decent for a 30 person team.

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Thelostscribe

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This sounds good. Look, every industry has times where you are required to work extra hours. Yes it sucks, yes it's an inconvenience, but it happens. However, the game industry crunch is quite insane in my opinion. Months of working massive overtime or, in some cases, over a year. Too many studio's admit it's a problem.

A few weeks at goal markers is understandable. The game industry needs to have better foresight, better planning and maybe more staff to get the job done.

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santinegrete

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Edited By santinegrete

A worker friendly enviroment? I hope they suceed, and I'm biting since it has some traditional campaign it seems.

BTW, 50 hours? That only can be achieved working full saturdays and part of the sunday! That's brutal.

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bgrosz

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@santinegrete:

That's two hours extra per week day. We come from completely different worlds if that's your definition of brutal.

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santinegrete

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Edited By santinegrete

@bgrosz: the working day here it's composed of 8 hours (9 if you count lunch time). 5 days (mon to fri) turns out to be 40 hours per week. To achieve the rest you may have to work saturdays and part of sundays if we follow that math of meeting 50 hours. Working hard is good ethic, but family time suffering from it and fatigue aren't work ethics in any stretch.

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philip6k

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@santinegrete: I usually work four 10's, so if I have to work 50 its just an extra day so it's not bad.

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Thelostscribe

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@santinegrete: Well, they could be working 12 hour days without working weekends. Still, long term, that's ridiculous.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@thelostscribe: It's not really long term it would be 2 months tops . Anyone should really be able to cope with a mere 8 weeks per year extra surely. Especially when despite their claims they are very well paid for what they do otherwise why did they sign the contract? .

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Thelostscribe

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@deviltaz35: There are plenty of developers where it isn't 'just' 8 weeks, it's months on end. Have you ever worked 60 hour weeks back to back? I'm going to assume not.

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natedawg3654

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Nothing encourages me to buy a game like a good virtue signal.

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sethfrost

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Crunch in the video game industry is NOT an unsolvable problem. We are now in the 5th decade of wide spread commercial video game development. There is this absurd goldrush, early years "crunch culture" mentality, still instilled in most gamedev workplaces, long after the "EA spouses" cried 'foul'.

There ARE a few, good studios out there, which can pride themselves on being A) against crunch and B) maternity-leave friendly - for many years now. There need to be more.

You can be 'passioned' about your work and STILL go home at night, to see your family and play with your kids. Michelangelo and Da Vinci did. Rembrandt had his own shop (with employees!) too. Why are game developers held hostage? Because the companies can exploit them. Do not let them?!

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mrbojangles25

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@sethfrost: Yeah, plus it's not like there is a shortage of video games. I feel developers need to start taking their time.

Maybe publishers need to own/establish smaller studios but more of them. I don't know.

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Thelostscribe

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@sethfrost: The way Lehto talks about it, where some over time will be needed around development markers is understandable, every industry has overtime that is needed during certain points. The crunch for months on end is the major issue and some of the greatest developers are the ones who do it the worst, Rockstar being one.

There are people who want to work that amount of time, some are super passionate or workaholics and most people on creative projects are willing to put in extra time to get things done. However, months of working 50 and 60 hours a week without reprieve is crazy. You can be a great employee and only want to work 40 hours a week on average.

I think what Lehto and Respawn are doing is great, leading the way to show it can be done. Giving people options to work for a company who isn't going to be in a state of constant crunch. If developers start losing talented people to studio's because those studio's have a better work environment, it will lead to other developers having to figure out how to be better at planning and time management.

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kabloe

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@sethfrost: It's like in every entertainement media you have deadlines to respect and sometime the work not goes the way you want it to be and by coming closer to the deadline you always rush to get your work finished on time and it cause stress and all heath issue, their is no one that can't stand this forever. Human needs breaks, XMEN and Other Super Heroes can continue the works!!! ;)

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Deedubau

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Sadly the reality of making great games involves crunching and working hard to continue making the best games you possibly can, and you can't always have it both ways with a 40 hour work week and making outstanding games. I still remember an article in EGM where a developer at a studio that made a dukes of hazzard game that talked about how the place isn't about family or work crunching, it was about going to work as a job and leaving on time everyday. That studio I think went on making nothing but horrible games probably because there was no passion with anyone who work there.

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jenovaschilld

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@Deedubau: That is not how the majority of games are made, many yes but not all. Publishers takes investments and give money to developers/studios to make their games, and platforms (consoles) take a cut through licensing fees. If you are a small studio - say 10 people - where a developer hired you all for part of game that will keep that team working non-stop for several months to meet a deadline .... there will always be a problem there and most of it with management.

If you are leading a studio or developer and contract an IP from a publisher with either a tight deadline or just enough money to pay your employees for a short period of time, then you as a manager made a decision for crunch and much of it is on you. Pay people less, and allow more time, or ask for money.

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Thelostscribe

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@Deedubau: I don't believe that. If you have people coming to work everyday, you shouldn't have to crunch for months on end. I could understand near the wrap up of a project or when needing to meet development markers, but 6, 8, 12 months of enforced constant crunch, that is pretty unacceptable. It's coming out more and more that this is the state of video game development and it should get better.

Companies leading the charge to make their studio's better is the right thing to do.

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@thelostscribe: months? Try years for some games lol. I don't make games and glad I don't The god of war developer said in the documentary said that he almost never see's his kid and hopes that it was worth it. Well the game is great imo but he's still a terrible father and sad that he can't have it both ways. Nobody in that documentary looked happy with their job making the game and I feel like this is a very common thing with AAA game development with a lot of studios.

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Thelostscribe

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@Deedubau: That's terribly unfortunate. I remember watching the Gears of War development documentary. There was definitely a division between people with families and young and/or single people and how they viewed their work. They did seem to have a good time, but there was certainly a tense feeling you could see.

Biggest thing is that the gaming world needs to change by itself, otherwise, as more and more of these stories come out, it becomes more and more possible legislation will be introduced to curb it. I don't think they want that.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@thelostscribe: They should just hire people without the family commitments so the game becomes the premiere focus. Family should be secondary to game development. We are paying good money for these products and the last thing we should need to know about is babysitting duty got in the way of the latest blockbuster arriving on time. What a bloody woke world we now live in.

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Thelostscribe

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Edited By Thelostscribe

@deviltaz35: What does woke have to do with people who have families? Also, if you just hired people who didn't have families, you'd probably have pretty terrible games. People with family are usually older and by that extension more experienced, meaning they are usually more efficient and also are in management rolls. They also want to keep their job more because they are working for their families benefit.

Sounds like you're probably 15 and if not, I don't think you'll be running your own company any time soon. If you are, you have very talented people below you keeping it afloat.

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x_Hedon

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@deviltaz35 said:

@thelostscribe: They should just hire people without the family commitments so the game becomes the premiere focus. Family should be secondary to game development. We are paying good money for these products and the last thing we should need to know about is babysitting duty got in the way of the latest blockbuster arriving on time. What a bloody woke world we now live in.

^one of the worst posts I have ever seen.

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