CD Projekt Red is making one of the most anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 games of the year. However, is the game’s anticipated launch justified as the company forced its employees into long grueling hours for weeks to release the game on time? Also, what do we mean by the state of crunch culture in the video game industry?
The problem is that only a small number of games live up to the hype generated they are released. These games often become cultural milestones for video game history. Also, for the past many years, “Cyberpunk 2077” has been growing in popularity, thanks to its action-adventure storyline and a world inhabited by cyborgs (hybrids of humans and robots).
After a lot of anticipation, it is finally set for release in November this year after a lot of delays. However, with crunch culture, the expectation to push oneself quite hard beyond normal limits in meeting deadlines has tarnished the game’s hype.
Why did CD Projekt Red adjust the work schedule?
In order to release the game by the deadline of November 2020, developer CD Projekt Red has allegedly adjusted its work schedule to review the game and to complete last-minute changes, fixes, and bugs. Among the work schedule adjustments were a 6-day work week which led to the game’s release.
This openly contradicted CD Projekt Red’s promise that its workers would not be subject to excessive overtime working hours. This has resulted in calls for the video game industry to abolish crunch culture in favor of realistic working hours to prevent workforce and workplace strain.
What is CD Projekt Red known for?
CD Projekt Red is renowned for making top-notch and high-quality video games that helped define generations of video game consoles. Among them is ‘The Witcher 3’ which received a lot of free additional content packs on top of its massive, open-world story.
Unfortunately, all this came at a cost for the studio’s employees. They were subjected to work long hours for the game to be released on time.
Do long grueling work hours for video game company employees translate to crunch culture in the world of video game development?
Unfortunately, yes; this is what the world of video game crunch culture means and is like in reality. Game developers are forced to work unethically long hours for these projects to be completed. This ends up in a few passionate individuals getting tasked to deliver multi-million dollar blockbuster games on an unrealistic deadline.
Is the crunch culture rooted in just CD Projekt Red?
Unfortunately, No; the video game crunch culture extends beyond CD Projekt Red. The crunch has been a common trend plaguing the video game industry for quite some time. Naughty Dog’s ‘Last of Us II’ and Rockstar’s ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ are among those popular games where employees were reported to work extra long hours resulting in some developers falling ill due to stress or leaving altogether because of the crunch they faced.
If video game development companies require employees to work long hours each day, it is clearly an unsustainable and worrisome trend and a clear violation of employees’ rights. Why is this crunch still happening?
What is the observation of video games developed during crunch periods?
The clearest of all observations made is that video games get bigger, expensive, and often require a lot of years in development. One factor is that major publishing firms like Sony, Rockstar Games, etc. invest a lot of money in these games and may often require studios to create a deadline for these games to justify their monumental investments.
These publishers thus force studios into working using unsustainable crunch practices especially when the game is an exclusive game that can potentially help sell gaming consoles at a good profit.
Another factor for this crunch taking place is poor management and foresight. Unforeseen events (like the COVID-19 pandemic), have caused timelines of the development process to undergo sudden changes.
Still, a lot of studios try their best to stick to the initial plans made and, in the end, find themselves rushing to finish a game, complete or not. An example is BioWare admitting Anthem failed and promised to fix it too.
Does Crunch also exist in the form of societal pressure?
Yes it does exist in that form. When a manager urges their employees to work overtime in completing a given task, this places external pressure on employees to crunch on a game, even when it is not needed.
Refusal to take overtime in such a situation could come at the cost of an employee sacrificing a near or future promotion, getting fired, or potentially being the first to be laid off when job cuts are on the horizon.
Does it hurt sales?
Unfortunately, it does not hurt sales, and this is a sad reality. With Cyberpunk 2077 set to become a bestseller, a lot of consumers hardly know about crunch and worse is that they may not even care. A growing concern is that people are normalizing crunch, especially when the mandatory overtime is paid.
A lot of computer science and tech graduates consider working in the tech industry a dream job. A lot of outsiders also believe long hours cannot be that bad especially if it’s something lovable to do. However, these beliefs are dangerous, false, and can hurt life too.
At the beginning of a new console generation, it is a must to realize that the public has the power to hold studio leads accountable. Change comes when light is shed on this crunch and the whistle is blown. Also, when developers come out to expose this, their bravery helps prevent the normalization of crunch and even helps towards steps in eliminating this phenomenon.
With Crunch making its way into the cultural consciousness, people should learn about it at all costs. They should call for changes and give the industry a wake-up call to treat employees ethically every time a project is underway. The industry should be reminded that they are not above the law and that they can face legal consequences and lawsuits in this regard.
Even up til now, grassroots movements such as Game Workers Unite are looking for solutions to end crunch, address it, and ensure ethical & fair treatment of game developers.
CD Projekt Red is a well-respected firm within the gaming community. However, top-quality games do not justify the unethical treatment of employees and hurting their living standards, which is a cause of concern in the United States. The sad part is that it has been overlooked for quite some time.
Now the time has come for everyone to wake up and ask if such a project is valued when it hurts the lives of those who make it. The time to end the video game crunch is now!