“Crunch”: Video Game Development’s Dirty Secret
Video games are big business, with gamers around the world spending an estimated $152 billion on games, according to one 2019 estimate. Yet, as several sources of news about the video gaming industry reported, video game developers, video games are designed within a culture of “crunch,” where workers are expected to work as many as 100 hours a week so that games valued in the millions of dollars are finished on time. Typically, however, the workers’ pay is nowhere near proportional to their efforts.
James Wood reported for Game Revolution that game director Masahiro Sakurai, who created Super Smash Bros Ultimate, went “to work with an IV drip instead of taking a day off.” As Wood noted, Sakurai’s admission “have raised eyebrows, even in an industry where he is known as “notoriously hard-working.”
In another report, for Kotaku, Jason Schreier examined the work culture at the Canadian video game company BioWare. A game developer who worked for the company told Kotaku, “I actually cannot count the amount of ‘stress casualties’ we had on Mass Effect: Andromeda or Anthem.” The developer, whom the article did not identify by name, explained, that a “stress casualties” referred to developers and others working on game design who had mental breakdowns due to the demands made by their work. “Some come back, some don’t,” the developed said.
Coverage of “crunch” culture in the video game industry has been mostly limited to reports on YouTube and by journalists who specifically cover the video game industry. In May 2019 Business Insider ran an article on “crunch” culture. In 2017, the New York Times, ran an opinion piece, titled “Video Games Are Destroying the People Who Make Them,” by Jason Schreier, the author of the Kotaku report. In February 2019, Forbes, Variety, and other corporate news outlets reported on Activision Blizzard laying off eight percent of its staff of 9,600 employees after the video game company’s stocks fell following an announcement that it had fallen three percent short of its forecasted revenue of $7.26 billion for 2018. But this coverage did not treat game developers’ working conditions or compensation as newsworthy.
Jason Schreier, “How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong,” Kotaku, April 2, 2019, https://kotaku.com/how-biowares-anthem-went-wrong-1833731964.
James Wood, “Super Smash Bros Director Worked with an IV Drip during Development,” Game Revolution, March 6, 2019, https://www.gamerevolution.com/news/505583-smash-bros-director-worked-with-iv-drip.
Student Researcher: Skyler Nations (College of Western Idaho)
Faculty Evaluator: Anna Gamboa (College of Western Idaho)
Review Article with Credder