Another week, another tale of a game studio working its employees to the bone. A few weeks ago, it was BioWare in the crosshairs for its handling of the Anthem’s development (and its poor response to that exposé), and now it’s Epic Games that’s coming under fire for its excessive crunch following the rapid ascension of Fortnite: Battle Royale.
Polygon’s Colin Campbell has published an article based on a dozen interviews with current and former Epic employees. They describe work weeks ranging from 70 to 100 hours, “voluntary”-but-yeah-it’s-mandatory evening and weekend work, and management’s lack of care for its people.
Prior to the success of Fortnite: Battle Royale, sources said that the company ran smoothly, with only occasional overtime. Afterwards, however, things got rough, with compressed schedules (“we went from having a month to prepare, to sometimes having as little as a day”), greater workloads (“We went from maybe 20 to 40 tickets a day to about 3,000 tickets a day.”), and a general feeling that overtime wasn’t as voluntary as officially expressed. One employee, who asked during a meeting how the company would deal with the endless crunch, received only a noncommittal answer. He was gone from the company shortly thereafter. (Polygon doesn’t indicate whether he left of his own volition or was laid off.)
To its credit, Epic Games did appear to hire a lot of new staff when Fortnite hit it big, and its employees are well-compensated — “three times their salary in bonuses,” according to one source, who said that “Your time is bought and accounted for; shut up, keep your head down, and do the work.” Some didn’t experience crunch themselves, though they witnessed others, notably producers, “get overworked horrendously.”
Additional employees did little to alleviate the issues. “It was cramped, and the offices felt like they’d hardly been cleaned,” said one QA worker. A shift in update schedules also didn’t help matters much, because if there was an issue, “everyone would be pulled in from what they were doing, and people were told to cancel their plans, because they were going to crunch until this was done. It was never-ending.”
Eventually, something’s going to give. Game developers unionizing is one possibility that gets talked about a lot, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some big studio buckle under the weight of endless crunch. Epic is probably still fine, financially, but we might already be seeing it with BioWare, considering Anthem’s lackluster performance. If you crunch all the time, and it’s known that you do, talented individuals won’t want to work for you, and those who do won’t be able to do their best work. It’s a recipe for disaster that’s still largely simmering, at least for now.