Seeming to wear it as a badge of honour, Rockstar’s Dan Houser caused quite the stir when he said “We were working 100 hour weeks” on several occasions during 2018 to push and complete Red Dead Redemption 2.
That didn’t go down terribly well amongst the games press, highlighting how endemic so-called “crunch” is in getting games finished. UK law has it that you cannot work more than 48 hours on average over a 17 week period, while many full time office jobs come in at 37.5 hours, and pushing for 100 hours a week is excessive. To put it into context, that’s five full 20 hour days, six ~16.5 hour days, or a full seven ~14 hour days. In any job that’s excessive, and yet it’s seen as practically normal within the games industry.
Rockstar have tried to clarify the statement to Kotaku, narrowing its focus from being company-wide to being more about the writing staff:
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.
However, while this statement tries to wave the issue away, crunch is very, very real and part of the culture at game studios, including celebrated developers like Naughty Dog, CD Projekt Red and many, many more. Rockstar can say that it’s a choice and you have to opt in, but the key word you have to look at is “passion”, and as projects come to a close it can easily be that a lack of “passion” for a project sees a performance review deem that you’re not a good fit for the developer.
It’s issues like this, as well as the fallout when video game companies go under leaving employees stranded without severance or medical cover, that are driving a growing call for unionisation amongst game developers.