April 20, 2023
Late nights staring at a screen, cramming content to meet deadlines, forsaking time with others to finish the workload. Does this sound a little too familiar? College students are no strangers to grinding out projects and assignments, usually just trying to get something submitted before midnight, or even working late into the night to try and catch up. The honest truth is that these stress-saturated work sessions are often due to procrastination, mismanagement of time, or even just simple forgetfulness (talking from experience on this one). We’re encouraged by our professors and advisors to delegate our work and studies, starting well in advance and remaining organized in order to avoid what I’ve heard one student refer to as the “stress and press” cycle. But what if you had to produce this kind of work ethic just to keep your job? And what if the reason you’re forced to do it, is not because of negligence or mismanaged time, but it’s what your boss expects of you, for weeks or even months at a time?
This hypothetical situation is unfortunately all too real in the game development industry, and it’s one that’s been going for far longer than is comfortable to admit. “Crunch Culture”, as it’s been aptly dubbed, has recently been making headlines in the video game industry with countless reports of game developers forced to work in wildly unhealthy job conditions. Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most critically-acclaimed video games of all time, was developed by Rockstar Games who have found themselves in the limelight for unwanted reasons. The company’s co-founder, Dan Houser, claimed that employees of the Manhattan-based gaming giant were working “100-hour weeks” during preparation for the game’s release in 2018. This story isn’t a unique one either. Over at Epic Games (creators of Fortnite), one employee admitted to working consecutive 70-hour weeks when the game’s success really took off in 2019, with dozens of others working up to 100 hours.
So let’s talk about what’s going on here. In 2004, an open letter was published online by “EA Spouse”, an anonymous spouse of an EA (Electronic Arts) employee, who described in great detail the physical, mental, and emotional limits that their SO was pushed to in order to keep up with the hefty demands of his job. In this lengthy post, the author writes, “No one works in the gaming industry unless they love what they do.” So are these just huge gaming fanatics who take up insanely strenuous hours in order to produce the best product possible? Not quite. On the other hand, are these gaming companies simply forcing their employees to work 60, 70, or even 100 hours a week? Again, not exactly. Most company executives claim that developers do not have to work beyond their standard 40-hour weeks, but it rarely works out that way within the reality of their offices. Additionally, some do enact mandatory overtime. And, legally speaking, many gaming companies can get away with not having to pay their developers overtime for their extra hours due to labor laws. For the companies that don’t explicitly tell developers and producers to continue beyond their regularly scheduled hours, it’s still an expectation across the board. Referring back to the Epic Games crunch situation, one worker described this process. “If I got to the end of an eight-hour workday and I turned to my supervisor to ask if I needed to stay on, they’d often look at me as if I was actively stupid. Officially, you don’t have to keep working, but in reality: ‘Sit back down, we’ll be here for a while.’ If you did not do overtime, that was a mark against your character.” Elsewhere, gaming developers have described a culture of fear within their workplaces, or experiencing immense guilt if they were to take an evening or weekend off because their workload would then be placed onto someone else. In other words, if you had any hope of keeping your job, it came at the expense of your time, along with your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The current climate of video game expectations hasn’t helped the crunch either. For a number of years, games were typically released in their final state, with DLC’s (downloadable content) becoming more of a norm over time. Even then, those add-on’s would be few in number and usually not anticipated for several months after the game’s release. Today, games are expected to update big and fast. New content and patches to fix glitches and bugs are absolutely essential to keep an audience engaged in your game. In turn, developers are tasked with making these changes instantly, creating a crunch that never ceases. And with the gaming industry expected to be worth nearly $385 billion in 2023, the desire for companies to cash-in is only set to grow.
Now, the outlook for game development professionals isn’t all grim. There are still many gaming companies who promote healthy work environments for their employees to create incredible projects without sacrificing well-being. Looking forward, talks of unionization for gaming workers have begun to hopefully enact some very necessary changes. And listen, I’m not here to French revolution the whole industry, but simply to shed some light on some of these issues that do need to be talked about because the video game industry is one worth preserving. It generates billions of dollars and enlists some of the most devoted professionals out there because it truly does produce incredible, heart-racing, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring art. As someone who has been playing video games since he was 6 years old (unashamedly), I have a deep appreciation for the passionate efforts that video game developers have put into their games over the years, efforts worth being celebrated.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in a genuine celebration of fighting, racing, competitive, casual, dancing, guitar-slamming, new, classic, and down-right-good video games, then come on out to our Video Game Night on Friday, April 21 at 8 p.m. in the LaHaye Event Space (I will be there, and I will beat you at any game, and that’s a challenge).
Written by Jordan Hassler
Jordan is a Junior studying Event Planning with a Biblical Studies minor. He enjoys expressing his creativity through words, and sharing his experiences and personality by way of writing. He’s passionate about music, nature, and forming genuine connections with others.