Most everyone was taken aback when Telltale Games announced they would be closing their doors for good. People were even more surprised when it became apparent that it was a toxic work environment and questionable management that led to their downfall. How could such a thing take place in such a large and successful company? As it turns out, neither of those things are uncommon in the video game industry.
“Crunch Time” is a concept credited to Electronic Arts which refers to the period of time just before a video games intended release date, where developers and other staff are expected to work up to 100-hour weeks to ensure the game is fit and finished. On top of being expected to essentially live and work at the studio, crunch time workers seldom receive overtime-pay, instead being asked to work for “perks”, or even no extra incentives.
The practice was first exposed in an anonymous blog post by a user with the screen name “EA_Spouse”. The poster would later be identified as Erin Hoffman, whose husband was a game developer for EA. Soon after being hired, he found himself being stuck with eight-hour days, six days a week; that was later increased to twelve-hour days. The blog brought up California Senate Bill 88, which exempts businesses from having to pay “specialty” employees overtime. However, that bill also does not apply to the entertainment industry, specifically television, motion picture, and theatre companies. It can be argued that video games should be grouped in with those, with only outdated legislation preventing it.
A survey by Venture Beat in 2017 found that 76-percent of game industry professionals had been forced to work weeks periodically exceeding 40 hours a week, with 65-percent indicating their job involved crunch time. 89-percent of those surveyed did not receive paid overtime. Incredibly, those numbers actually represent a decrease since Venture Beat started conducting surveys in 2004.
For example, in the lead-up to the highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar Games opted to add content to their cinematic cutscenes. Despite the game being in development for over eight years, that decision wasn’t made until the weeks before the game was released. Those seemingly simple additions created extra days and weekends of work, and with the studio unwilling to push back the release date, that meant the developers had to add that additional workload into their regular work weeks.
While most like to think of the video game industry as progressive, the truth remains that it is still very much in its infancy and has a long way to go. The developers and staff that are responsible for creating the games still face unethical work environments, and the examples given are from some of the largest companies in the industry that know they will have eyes on their practices; smaller companies are more likely to test the limits.
Once described as “The perfect amount of straight forward”, Alex is a 2nd-year student in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, with hopes of becoming a screenwriter in the future.