Aug 30, 2021 - Technology

Video game developers struggle to fix "crunch culture"

Naughty Dog co-presidents Neil Druckmann (left) and Evan Wells.

Naughty Dog co-presidents Neil Druckmann (left) and Evan Wells. Photo: Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Game developers aired diverging views this weekend about whether encouraging developers to work "passionately" on a game is cover for inducing them to work too much.

Why it matters: Crunch has been accepted as a real, impactful issue within the game industry, but there still isn't a simple fix applicable to the entire sector.

  • Asked about his experience with crunch, Naughty Dog co-president Evan Wells told Game Informer that he's "definitely personally worked very hard over the years. I think some of that has helped me get to where I am in my career. "
  • "We find that there is no one solution that fits everybody," co-president Neil Druckmann said, pointing to a combination of hours worked, stress levels and what's going on in people's personal lives. "Everybody has a unique situation we might need to address."

What they're saying:

  • A thread from Obsidian Entertainment game director and senior designer Carrie Patel examines how "'passionate' [developers] 'choosing' to crunch" can make work for other departments by establishing "a martyr mentality that can be toxic to team collaboration and communication."
  • "The OTHER thing about devs who 'choose' to crunch? Many of them aren’t 'passionate,' they’re scared," Patel added. "They need the game to ship on time and to quality, and they worry that if it doesn’t, their job may be on the line."

An environmental artist at Naughty Dog responded to the studio criticism, calling effort put in by leadership and employees to find solutions "dramatic."

  • "Finding the balance of letting devs push for things they are passionate about while not causing themselves or others to crunch is difficult and takes time," Anthony Vaccaro tweeted. "The one sized approach has always failed and Leads recognize that, so the whole team is working hard for multiple solutions."

The big picture: Naughty Dog, like many other studios, has grappled with crunch issues.

  • Asked about unionization, which advocates see as a way for workers to reclaim agency, Wells said, "I don’t know if that would be a solution for crunch. "
  • "If we had some sort of restriction where when the clock strikes 40 hours the servers shut down and you can’t work anymore, that would frustrate people to no end. There are people who really want to put in that extra polish on their own volition, and they would feel handcuffed."
  • Developers are adopting more techniques often used by unions — for example, employees at Activision Blizzard recently held a walkout to protest toxic work conditions at the studio.
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