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Is crunch required?

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Given the confusion about whether or not Rockstar employees were forced to work overtime (paid or unpaid) and ethics of either persuading staff to work extra or forcing creatives to down tools I thought it might be wise to break out this thread for talk about this and previous instances (EA Spouse 2004, RDR Spouse  2010, Telltale 2018.)

 

I was going to put together a megapost but this is moving so fast it's probably best to start talking about it here.

 

Have at it!

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First of all the RDR issue.

 

There's an updated article here

 

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-10-18-rockstar-allows-employees-to-speak-out-on-100-hour-week-controversy

 



Rockstar Games is continuing its efforts to assure that it does not enforce 100-hour weeks on its workers by encouraging its current staff to weigh in on the issue.

The controversy arose from an interview with studio co-founder Dan Houser, claiming people were working 100-hour weeks at various times in 2018. He later issued a statement clarifying that his comments had referred to a small team of senior employees, including himself, and that anyone working this extensively did so voluntarily.

Nevertheless, it has sparked a debate across the industry as to whether such intense working conditions are necessary to create a title as ambitious in scope as Red Dead Redemption 2, with developers earlier this week sharing their own crunch experiences.

Now Rockstar has allows its staff to offer their own thoughts on the matter, giving their perspective on the company's treatment of its staff.

 

Vivianne Langdon, a tools programmer from Rockstar San Diego with three and a half years at the studio, seems to have been the first to speaking out, saying in a Twitter thread: "Rockstar has granted permission for us to speak frankly about this issue on social media. I want to stress that this is is my uncurated personal opinion, I am not being compensated for this post in any way and am making it voluntarily. I'm only going to speak to my personal experience.

"I have never worked more than maybe 50 hours a week (and that's a rare occurrence), but I generally work about 2-6 hours of paid overtime per week. I'm 'non exempt' so my overtime pay starts at 1.5x salary and scales to 2x after 8 hours of OT in a week or 12 hours in a single day, in accordance with California law. Also, I have only been asked to work on weekends once or twice in my entire time at Rockstar on the Tools team."

Langdon notes that the few occasions where she has worked late are "generally because I'm in the 'zone' and don't want to stop until I finish some tricky problem", stressing it is "not the result of anyone forcing me to stay later or giving me impossible deadlines."

She adds that Rockstar has been "incredibly kind and supportive", and that she as "always felt listened to, valued and respected by the team and this was not changed by my transition."

Finally she reiterated that this Twitter thread was solely to share her personal experience and she doesn't want to "diminish any others' stories should they arise" or "imply that this industry is perfect."

 

I suspect some of the issues that have raised this have been with Dan Houser failing to read the room with earlier comments.

 

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-10-15-rockstar-has-been-working-100-hour-weeks-on-red-dead-redemption-2

 



A broad outline was completed the following summer, with rough scripts for the game's story and missions ready by autumn 2012. But it seems the workload has ramped up significantly this year as Red Dead Redemption 2 finally approaches release.

Dan Houser said that the team has been "working 100-hour weeks" several times in 2018, later adding that compared to previous Rockstar projects, "This was the hardest."

His brother Sam told the site earlier this year: "We've poured everything we have into [Red Dead Redemption 2]. We have really pushed ourselves as hard as we can."

The result is a game that Dan claims is 65 hours long (although five hours of content have actually been cut) and boast 300,000 animations, 500,000 lines of dialogue recorded by 700 voice actors, and even more lines of code.

 

He later clarified https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-10-15-dan-houser-we-have-some-senior-people-who-work-very-hard-purely-because-theyre-passionate



Here is Houser's statement in full as shared with Kotaku:

"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."

 

 

 

 

 

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MASSIVE DISCLAIMER: I have no fucking idea how AAA game development works, this is just idle speculation.

 

I have a feeling that to keep making "bigger" games ( in terms of the environment, the amount of hand crafted content, vocal and motion capture performances etc.) at higher fidelity we're starting to run up against human limits over hardware limits.

 

There's the Ubisoft method of just throwing more and more people at each game, having multiple studios working internationally on the same game. This must raise huge organisational problems, and I think you can see the hiccup in them adopting this approach with the botched release of Assasin's Creed Unity. I don't hear about crunch when it comes to games like Assasin's Creed Origins and Odyssey, but that could just be good PR on Ubisofts part.

 

The Rockstar approach seems to be more angled to make the people you've got work harder, therefore crunch. Although I've got to assume they're increasing the size of their teams too.

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Maybe the industry has started to learn from previous workplace cases such as EASpouse

 

Original blog post here from 2004 https://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html

 

Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.



Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week.

 

Nine years later

 

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-03-28-ea-doesnt-get-enough-credit-says-ea-spouse

 



"To me they've learned one of the biggest quality of life lessons in the industry, but nobody really focuses on it," Hoffman said.

A pair of EA employees attested to that during the post-talk Q&A session. In particular, an EA Tiburon employee said he just wanted Hoffman to know her speaking up had an effect. The team produces two games a year (NCAA and Madden NFL), but it doesn't work weekends anymore. And even when the work does ramp up, they get by doing 50 hour work weeks.

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There's a myth that crunch time is a thing that MUST HAPPEN! Apparently not though as some dev's have attested to. These might not be AAA titles but loads of them are fun. So if you are thinking of voting with your dollar take a look here.

 

https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2018/10/16/rockstar-crunch/

 

Quote

“If you made a game without crunch, feel free to reply to this thread!” Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer said yesterday on Twitter. “Everybody else: get your hands on some crunch-free games…”



In came replies from developers behind games including Minit, Loot Rascals, Guacamelee!, Wandersong, Cultist Simulator, Sunless Sea, Lieve Oma, Regency Solitaire… good stuff. That’s just a handful I know well enough to highlight and recommend, so do go see JW’s Twitter thread for more. It’s not a comprehensive list, of course, but it is good.

 

And that tweet link

 

 

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I worked in the games industry for around 10 years, in games testing, tools testing, level design and design.

 

Worked over 100 hours for several weeks during my first big game development role. At the time, I wasn't forced to but I was a contractor so was paid for hours worked, was young so had no idea about working practises (Had to be told by a producer once to go home) and felt unbelievably lucky to join my favourite developer so was more than happy to.

 

As time went on, I was fortunate enough to move into tools testing and was spared any long hours as the main game team took that brunt.

 

As I moved into design, I was excited and wanted to prove a name for myself so worked weekends to get levels made and write design concepts. Then it went back to 100 hour weeks.

 

All my overtime wasn't forced but a mixture of wanting to make the best game and a creative atmosphere combined to want to make the studio your life. However, after I stopped contract gigs and went full time, I was never reimbursed for my time, we signed a contract saying that wouldn't be necessary at the places I worked at. I stopped in the industry about 6 years ago and glad I did. Looking back, it triggered all my anxiety, made me fat and in some ways, I do feel I was taken advantage of. I'm proud I helped make some great games and look back fondly but the need to make great games requires dedication and sacrifice.

 

In some ways, I bet that every single great Video game or Film required real sacrifices by the team to get made. Maybe that atmosphere encourages some real great work, but there's no question it's unhealthy looking back or from the outside.

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6 minutes ago, CrispinFoetus said:

I was under the impression crunch was rewarded with a lengthy break and bonus upon completion, but with DLC now this seems not the case, which sucks.

 

Either working on DLC or getting laid off is the impression I got.

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If you are making an epic monster or a yearly iterative game with a hard deadline, probably.

 

It's kind of telling that the only replies so far from game devs self-identifying that they've worked on non-crunch games were indie developers doing smaller titles. If anybody working on Jonathan Blow's last epic chime in on that Twitter thread, I will be surprised.

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1 hour ago, barkbat said:

Over at Valve, the Half Life 3 team do 10 minute weeks. One time it was a full hour but that was because of a Windows update.

 

Oh that's good, that may inspire a molydeux tweet.

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1 hour ago, Fallows said:

This is a problem associated with all desk jobs.

 

This is a problem associated with shitty management that allow people to work silly hours or work crazy hours themselves and then get upset that the rest of the team isn't pulling their weight.  Nothing to do with desk jobs. 

 

Work normal hours.   Set deadlines based on normal work ours plus some buffer (because shit WILL happen and delay you).  Make sure you have people in key positions that enforce this. 

Don't be scared to go back and ask for one or more of more time/money/cut down on features.    Although if you'd planned it correctly it in the first place you're highly unlikely to need to do this,.  Lastly, tell the creative types that want to experiment with features midway through the project to get on with the actual shit you all agreed to do or give them a fixed amount of time to try something and then make a decision .  Anything else is a wish list item that you can do if you have time.     Too many heroes in the industry that revel in saving the project etc.  They're a risk to you and the project for when they eventually break themselves. 

 

Do the above on enough projects and they pretty much just run themselves as your organisation/clients/publishers get your way of working. 

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I worked in games from 1993 to 2004. Crunch time was a normal feature at every place I worked from a hardware manufacturer (Sony, in fact, there's no point being coy) where we'd work long shifts to get first party stuff tested to small developers where trying to hit deadlines would mean virtually never leaving the office for weeks on end. At least at Sony we got paid overtime. The rest of the places, it was just expected and we'd get food bought for us, at most. At one developer, I was moaned at by the producer because I fell asleep at my desk at 3am, having been in work since 8am the previous day.

 

The most profitable was Eidos - at one point we were testing 8pm to 8am so the developers could work 8am to 8pm to get us something to test. Each shift was 11 hours of time and a half (anything after 9pm was overtime, even if you hadn't done a full day prior to that) and weekends were all double time.

 

I could only do all this when I was single, I couldn't do it now. A lot of it was caused by incompetent management - not least because hardly anyone was vaguely professional, it was virtually treated as a hobby for a lot of people I worked with. And, looking back, none of it was worth it - I never really worked on anything of note. I feel it's worth pointing out that, of the ten companies I worked for or with in my time, only one still exists...

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2 minutes ago, ScouserInExile said:

I worked in games from 1993 to 2004. Crunch time was a normal feature at every place I worked from a hardware manufacturer (Sony, in fact, there's no point being coy) where we'd work long shifts to get first party stuff tested to small developers where trying to hit deadlines would mean virtually never leaving the office for weeks on end. At least at Sony we got paid overtime. The rest of the places, it was just expected and we'd get food bought for us, at most. At one developer, I was moaned at by the producer because I fell asleep at my desk at 3am, having been in work since 8am the previous day.

 

The most profitable was Eidos - at one point we were testing 8pm to 8am so the developers could work 8am to 8pm to get us something to test. Each shift was 11 hours of time and a half (anything after 9pm was overtime, even if you hadn't done a full day prior to that) and weekends were all double time.

 

I could only do all this when I was single, I couldn't do it now. A lot of it was caused by incompetent management - not least because hardly anyone was vaguely professional, it was virtually treated as a hobby for a lot of people I worked with. And, looking back, none of it was worth it - I never really worked on anything of note. I feel it's worth pointing out that, of the ten companies I worked for or with in my time, only one still exists...

That does sound like extremely poor management, you could have just tested the stuff the developers had worked on the day before during the next day, that would cut down on overtime or the need to for anyone to work unsociable hours. Would also have made it easier to communicate directly with the development team. 

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4 minutes ago, Hitcher said:

You can't be forced to work overtime (paid or unpaid) unless you're a pussy.

Easy to say until you find yourself in a position where it's become custom and practice and you feel bullied.

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