August 5, 2021

And So, Belatedly, Crunch Talk.


I’m getting to this really late. I know. I’m sorry.

Everything that needs to be said about “Crunch” in Games Development (forced/coerced and/or mandatory overtime to finish a product) has been said – it smacks of terrible project management, it’s not healthy for the people involved, most don’t even earn much in the way of overtime (I mean, come on, at least if they were being compensated well for it I’d consider for a second the legitimacy of this) and it’s one of those things we really should talk about more. As staff become disposable, jettisoned from one project to the next, their humanity is lost in the corporate mess and that’s a very bad thing. Unionising isn’t always the answer – but in this case, the actual argument for a proper Developer’s Union is starting to grow exponentially and the games industry and its major players only have themselves to blame.

Wow. That was really easy! I should do this more often…

… except, you know. I always have an angle.

Whilst I am appreciative of the effort that gamers and the press of the last few weeks, as RockStar get caught in their second major Crunch Scandal (the first being Team Bondi’s work on L.A. Noire) I stop from time to time to ask myself – and others – if we really honestly care. I mean, genuinely in our deepest hearts give a Flying Monkey’s. After all, if our disgust and outrage and the flood of negative P.R. that came off the back of the total collapse of Team Bondi actually mattered, would RockStar even be in this position again? Wouldn’t they have… you know… actually done something about it? Wouldn’t we have punched back, instead of letting Grand Theft Auto V become the most profitable video game of all time? No seriously. It has made RockStar Games an outrageous sum of money.

Of course, the problem is not “Crunch” – that is a problem, of course, don’t misunderstand. It’s our transient outrage culture, where we move from one day to the next needing something else to get our blood boiling. What I mean is this – rather than put any actual pressure on the industry to change, we just move quickly onto the next thing.

EA Logo.
Oh come on. You can’t blame me for this cheap shot!

Who remembers the Foxconn stuff? I do, I do! Makers of electronic components for all your glorious technological gadgetry, this company has regularly and repeatedly been in the news over the years – from appalling working conditions, suicide nets to stop their employees actually hurling themselves off factory rooftops for some sort of release, right through to tax scandals and zoning law exploitation. Foxconn is a TERRIBLE COMPANY. It makes any single entity in the Games Industry look like a freakin’ Scooby Doo villain. And not one of the good ones – one of the dumb, obvious, inept ones at that.

The problem? Foxconn make parts for all our major electronics these days. iPhones, Galaxy phones, all your games consoles – yes, ALL OF THEM – and so much more besides. And by the time much of this hits the news and we’ve been outraged a little? Oh look, here comes Donald Trump. Let’s get outraged over his next “accidental” choice of words (seriously, this man is way smarter than people are giving him credit for and that should be what scares you!).

We’re already moving onto the next scandals in the market. Red Dead Redemption 2 is out, making a lorry-load of cash (it’s alright, but it’s rough around the edges in a way Breath of the Wild never was… yes, that yardstick is necessary), and we’re being funnelled towards the next set of things to get worked up over, like the¬†Andrzej Sapkowski stuff (the writer for The Witcher novels feels hard-done by having signed a contract that got him up-front licensing payments, rather than ongoing royalties – with The Witcher 3, he messed up on that one), or the EA spanking with Battlefield V looming. Or that Nintendo is looking into a “New Switch” (frankly, if they weren’t right now, that’d be a real scandal!).

We never settle for long on any one issue. Which is a shame, because Loot Crates.

When we really gun for a thing… we go all-in, and Loot Crates was and still is a noticeably big issue. We hated it, games were getting very exploitative in their drive to rinse us of more money… and eventually, we as a big collective of gamers just snapped. Star Wars: Battlefront II wasn’t even the worst example last year – but it was the straw that broke the proverbial Camel’s back, and now companies are removing loot crates from old games and new releases – not that they’re happy about that, as 2K Games showed recently encouraging users of their games to “contact your politicians”… uhh, 2K Games, isn’t that kind of what got you all into this mess in the first place? Gamers couldn’t fight you so they went to their politicians to check if this stuff was legal – and it turned out in many countries, it wasn’t?

Loot Crates aren’t gone, of course, but they’ve become so tainted, toxic and maligned that no sane developer today would push for that in a big premium game. The negative publicity makes it hard to justify, and the additional expense of having to tailor games specifically region-by-region (particularly online games) just makes this increasingly non-viable. Takes one user to set up an account in another region to cause a snowball effect.

Shadow of War: Middle Earth
Reminder; this game had, and then had removed, Loot Crates.

We can instigate change. But we’re already moving on from this Crunch thing – again, the second major Crunch scandal to hit RockStar Games. They don’t even get the benefit of saying “this was a one-time thing and we messed up”, because it wasn’t a one-time thing.

That said… maybe we should move on. Because the wider world clearly doesn’t care about the developers behind this – I got weird reactions years ago reviewing Tomb Raider (2013) and joking about the credits comment, and it was “You watch the credits?!” – uhh, yeah. At least once. But most don’t – they skip the credits. They don’t sit through the army of names that all worked tirelessly to give you that single video game. Most hit the “Skip” button. Sorry developers, but uhh… that’s a thing. And if you can’t skip them, I’d wager most then go take a dump or get a coffee or something to while the time until the credits roll has finished.

It’s a horrible thing to say… but in the interests of intellectual honesty, we need to say it. Most consumers couldn’t give a toss who made a game, or who directed or produced a game. Celebrity Developers are few and far between these days as the volume of people required to make a game increases exponentially, meaning singling out one person becomes more challenging. They see company names – SEGA, Capcom, Nintendo. Who was the lead producer on Breath of the Wild? Be honest and quick there. Can you name that person? Can you spell their name without looking it up? That’s the crux of the issue – so many just let this stuff slip their minds now. Becoming the next Shinji Mikami or Hideo Kojima is difficult when your names get buried in lists of thousands of names.

Trying to jump on the outrage bandwagon doesn’t work. One of two things happens; either the company lays off the majority of the workforce¬† – which is actually relatively common when development winds down and you only need maintenance staff to fix bugs. Or two, you move on to the next thing to somehow stay “relevant”, because you need to be constantly reacting to keep people looking your way, which probably means you’re not really outraged by anything in particular, it’s more a narcissism thing.

Of course, as I mentioned at the start – there is a likely way through, which is for developers to Unionise. I know some people find that distasteful, but if the industry isn’t respecting the talent that makes their millions and billions of dollars, what other solution is there but to band together? Sure, the industry can go “non-Union”, like Capcom did for the RE2 Remake voice acting – but can you honestly say they can keep that up, and not push more into unionisation? It’d be an unsustainable situation, and yes, the industry would have to change to adapt to this.

RE2 Remake Leon S Kennedy
… it does explain why they look different though….

But therein lies the crux of the issue. This isn’t “our fight” so to speak. If Crunch is bad, and we know it’s bad and I suspect Crunch is responsible for a LOT of the bugs we get in finished products as tired, stressed-out and sometimes sleep-deprived people make elementary mistakes, then it’s up to the victims to stand up to it. And we, the consumers, aren’t the victims. If anything, our insatiable appetite for games and our often childish social media reactions to any hint of a delay are an active catalyst.

I want to stand with the developers. But I’m a hypocrite too. I want to play the games. And I have to accept that that is equally contributing to the problem. So yeah, I can be mildly outraged. But more and more, I just wonder why there is no proper Union yet. It won’t magically fix the problem, but it gives them leverage. And yes, that will probably mean – gasp! – GAME RELEASE DELAYS! *DUN DUN DUNNNNN! pause for dramatic reverb*

But we may have to suck that up. If we really want “Crunch” to stop being a thing… then we’re going to have to get used to the idea of games really never meeting release dates and more going with the Nintendo method of saying “Sometime around this season or this year” and then waiting for them to finalise it maybe weeks from release.

That said, Loot Crates were biting into our wallets and fragmenting our video games. We were being “abused”. And we fought back. We, as gamers and consumers, had a dog in the fight – our hard-earned cash. Oh, and “PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDRENS!”

I don’t think consumers are the right audience for sympathy, when so many stomp their feet and go, “I WANT DIS GAME NAO!”

That sucks. I know.

But I’m right. I know. That sucks.


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