Red Dead Redemption 2 is upon us. While Rockstar’s latest has received rave reviews, the game suffered from some bad press the week before its release.
Some rumors resurfaced about Rockstar’s supposed employee management. The higher-ups allegedly force workers to come in on weekends, work excessive hours, and receive little to no benefits during these times. Though not generally that severe, these practices tend to be common in the games industry. Over time, the phenomenon gained the moniker “crunch-time.”
However, a similarly-sized game to Red Dead, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, was built without such crunch time, according to a posting from Gamasutra.
Hearing The Other Side
The website interviewed Ubisoft’s Marketing Director, Patrick Klaus, who spoke on the matter:
“While we can always do better, I can tell you hand on heart that [Assassin’s Creed Odyssey] hasn’t required a massive crunch, like maybe some of the triple-As from five or ten years ago. We can still always do better, but we have managed pretty well to succeed in delivering a game of huge magnitude which is hitting a good quality [level], while making sure that our teams are not burnt out and disgusted with working in games.”
Although other AAA developers have been moving away from the crunch-time stigma, it’s odd that a company such as Rockstar seems to rely on it so much. Despite the game’s eight-year development, some employees found themselves working 100 hour weeks to polish off the title. While some claims appear ridiculous, there has been a ton dialogue on each side of the story.
Both Red Dead and Odyssey came from multiple studios, with the latter game only needing three years. Like with many creative projects, some employees willingly put in nights of overtime to make the game as best as it could be. However, this decision up to the team, and hard-working employees tend to take it easy after doing so. At least, this is according to Marc-Alexis Côté, one of Klaus’ partners:
“They have a brilliant idea, they want to implement it, so they’ll push for a couple of weeks and then rest a little bit. Before every person transfers to another project, they get the time to rest as well. This is really a studio-level initiative, so that people have some time to cool down.”
Creative works require an emotional investment, and sometimes creators want to put in that extra time.
Healthy Team, Healthy Product
Ubisoft does whatever it can to keep employees in good shape. A proper work-life balance is vital for a healthy life, and encouraging that has kept teams working efficiently.
A previous Assassin’s Creed game, Syndicate, with the first ever title to come out of Ubisoft’s Quebec City studio. The development of Syndicate was where the higher-ups had started to look into such changes. This foundation lead to the healthy conditions Ubisoft employees enjoy today, while also generating quality, Rockstar-sized titles.
Côté shares some insight:
“I think where we have matured is in the way where we manage what we are trying to achieve. It might sound trivial, but [the way] you avoid crunch in the long term is to continually reassess where you are, what you’re trying to achieve, how much work is left to be done, and to become better at measuring that.”
According to Côté, teams judge timing on their own merit. Additionally, creative leads will move between groups every two weeks to check in on progress and health. This is a proper way to ensure everyone is doing okay while also putting out quality, time-consuming projects.
Over a decade ago, Ubisoft failed to treat its employees properly, as did most of the industry. Developers would expect crunch time with most large titles. Nobody knew exactly how to handle long development times. However, as the effects of such development methods began to show themselves, it was obvious something should to change.