An unhealthy working environment in Video game development harms The gaming community.
By Jahi Seifert
While playing video games can be entertaining. Video game development can be extremely stressful due to poor management, which results in an unhealthy working environment that causes mental and physical health issues that affect the employees and the gaming community.
Imagine your significant other is a game developer. You love how passionate they are about their work; however, you start seeing them less and less. They begin to complain about headaches and stomach pain but must continue their project before the deadline reach. That sadly is the reality of video game development, and it affects many employees but not only just employees gamers as well.
Culture crunch has been around for ages when deadlines are near, and you need to turn in a project, so you start rushing and pulling out overtime to meet the deadline. In most work and even the school environment of some crunch, what is so harmful about crunch culture is that many people work on video games reporting abuse and poor management while working on a game. To quote Ben Gilbert from Business insider, “The issues with game development have come to a head in the past six months, with repeated reports of workplace issues, ranging from 100-hour workweeks to stress-induced leave.”
The first publishing known recording of this crunch culture in the video game industry was in 2004 when a wife of an electronic arts employee, also known as EA, sent a letter talking about her concerns about the company treating their employee. She says in an anonymous letter, “No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy, supportive smile is running out.” Eventually, more letters started coming to EA about their horrible managing skills to the point it was leaked out to The gaming community, which led to multiple lawsuits filed against Electronic Arts and paying out 15.6 million in settlements, according to an article from GameSpot
But even though that happened almost 15 years ago, nothing much has changed because companies like a naughty dog, Epic Games, Rockstar Games, and of course Electronic Arts.
One of the most recent accusations of crunch culture comes from many current and ex-employees of a naughty dog talking about your experience working at naughty dog and talking about how their work environment is horrible. Naughty Dog is an award-winning developer with huge franchises like the uncharted series and The last of Us series that always deliver high-quality games. Still, it can be very disorganized and poorly handled when it comes to developing their games. Many employees work 12 or even more, hours sacrifice whole weekends when the studio goes into crunch mode to meet the deadline as one employee puts it in Jason Schreier’s article “They do try to take care of you, providing food, encouragement to go take breaks,” said one former developer. “But for the most part, the implication is: ‘Get the job done at all costs.” And the effects of that is very catastrophic because after the development of uncharted 4 around 14 out of 20 non-lead of the development team left naughty dog which is pretty much 70% of the team because of their Miss handling of management, which led to their latest game last of Us part two to being short-handed which required put a lot of Rush moments in development.
“Sometimes crunch might be necessary to meet an upcoming deadline, and in the industry like gaming/design, sometimes it’s unavoidable, but when it becomes a part of the culture and something that’s expected, it shows just how badly managed a project is.” by James Dallas,
Also, what also is a contributing factor to poor management, poor leadership, and not a solid idea of where things are heading because halfway through the development of uncharted 4, Amy Hennig, the writer, and director of the uncharted series, left the studio and left last of Us leads Neil Druckmann. Bruce Straley had to take over as directors, which led to a reboot of the project, and they had to go through a complete Rush job. To reach the deadline, as the article puts it, “Druckmann and Straley found themselves rewriting the script and making rapid decisions just to “feed the beast”—to keep all of those people working—and they had less than two years to finish the game.” this is also can be considered a contributive factor on why a lot of naughty dog employees leave since there was no real sense of direction when it came on to that game.
Ultimately one studio that suffered a huge consequence of not changing its bad management was telltale games. In September of 2018, CEO Pete Hawley announced that they would be closing their door due to poor management. According to Kotaku, many of the employees didn’t even know they would be let go because they were so busy rushing to finish their latest project at the time, Minecraft: Story Mode. To quote a developer “working until 3 AM the night before with no inkling that the studio was about to let them and over 200 other employees go,” it’s unfortunate to see them go since they are of award-winning company one of their big hits was The Walking Dead and won many awards including the game of the year in 2012. But one of the many aspects of why they’ve had crunch culture is because they were understaffed. Emily Grace Buck, a lead designer on several Telltale games, talks about her experience working on multiple titles and states, “It’s true we usually worked 50 plus hour weeks. Sometimes 70-80. Weekends were often expected,” she continues. “We were constantly ‘understaffed.’ Deadlines were ludicrously tight. Our schedules were so close we went from one crunch directly into another.”
There were many fans of telltale games. One of them is James Dallas, who lives in Brooklyn, and I wanted to get his viewpoint on crunch culture and how it generally affected him and what he said was pretty interesting.
Q: How do you feel about crunch culture?
A: CC, to me, is the problem that feels like it’s becoming more of an issue every year. It’s already disappointing that devs can be so burnt out and abused by the industry that leaves.
Q: Do you feel like crunch is necessary
A: Sometimes crunch might be necessary to meet an upcoming deadline, and in the industry like gaming/design, sometimes it’s unavoidable, but when it becomes apart of the culture and something that’s expected, it shows just how badly managed a project is.
Q: Is there any game you were looking forward to that you feel got hurt because of crunch
A: cyberpunk 2077, Even though those devs were put under crunch conditions, the game still out janky, and then afterward, they were put under crunch again to fix bugs
Q: What is another reason you feel crunch happens
A: I feel like crunch is also a symptom of hype in gaming, Trying to make promises you really can’t keep
Q: Since you’re a fan of telltale games, what do you think led to their ultimate downfall
A: I’m trying to apathetic to their closing down because they seemed to put their eggs into so many baskets, and their gameplay didn’t really evolve beyond the writing also; they had bad graphical and bugs.
Even BioWare a company that has been loved by millions has its fans up in the air of the future of the company after the events of anthems cancellation due to poor management and now the fan base trying to figure out what is the future of BioWare. One of Bioware loyal fans from subreddits was able to answer a few questions by the name of belvetinerabbit
Q. After the bad press, you think led to all the bad press they received over crunch culture?
A. The problem is EA. It is so focused on profit that it defines “quality games” as “ones that make a lot of money consistently” (aka safe bets). That’s why creativity and rich storytelling is put on the back burner (even for an RPG-focused co. like Bioware). They are forced to add in multiplayer or pay-for-play/in-game transaction BS, even though it really doesn’t fit their model.
Q. What do you think is the best course of action going forward or BioWare?
A. The key would be to get them out from under the EA umbrella…but yeah…that’s not happening. Gotta love a bunch of bro dudes who don’t play games (or only play looter shooters) dictating a major part of the RPG creative process, basically telling devs what they can and can’t do. So long new ideas and creative…
This much more that needs to be examined and explored but for the most part culture seems like it’s not getting any better and due to a lot of the consensus from not only developers but everyday gamer that the community has to do better but how to do better is still up in the air.