Why we need to stop putting developers under ‘crunch’

Cyberpunk 2077 has been removed from the PlayStation Store for being unstable and buggy. It’s a result of industry pressures and crunch time – do things need to change?

CD Projekt Red’s latest title, Cyberpunk 2077, has finally launched for both PC and consoles, after a near eight year wait and four delays.

Intended to be a worthy successor to the studio’s last game, The Witcher 3, the sci-fi RPG title has instead fallen victim to a rushed and buggy launch that has tarnished the game’s reputation and damaged the studio’s goodwill with consumers.

Cyberpunk barely runs on PS4 and Xbox One. Frame rates routinely drop below twenty, NPCs and city density are noticeably lacking, it’s crawling with bugs, and it crashes frequently. It’s been a nightmare for the millions who pre-ordered on these consoles and refunds are now being offered to anyone dissatisfied with their experience.

Sony has removed the title from its PlayStation Store and CD Projekt Red’s stock has fallen by 20% as a result – its co-CEO Adam Kicinski even apologised and called it the ‘wrong approach’. Yikes. We’ve had some funny memes come out of the whole thing though, as always – this N64 graphical parody is a particular highlight.

Outrage has flooded social media and Reddit feeds the past week, as fans argue on who’s to blame, what really happened, and if we as consumers set our expectations too high. This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. Titles have been rushed out the door to meet lofty publisher expectations time and time again at the expense of developers, resulting in dodgy final products that disappoint everybody involved.

No Man’s Sky, Anthem, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Fallout 76 all fell victim to stressful working conditions and messy launches, and it’s high time for an industry shift that pulls us away from overworked employees and bad games that rely on future patches to be in an acceptable state.

What happened with Cyberpunk 2077’s launch?

CD Projekt Red first teased the game in January 2013, nearly eight years ago.

To put that into perspective, GTA V hadn’t even been released yet, neither had the PS4 or Xbox One. I was still in secondary school and the idea of Donald Trump being president was nothing but a passing joke. It’s been a long time, meaning expectations have steadily risen as the years have rolled on. Couple that with four delays and you can see why fans were itching to finally get their hands on the title.

The near unplayable launch has been a huge disappointment considering this long wait. Most expected it to function, at the very least, and media outlets have been particularly critical of CD Projekt Red’s barring of console footage pre-launch.

Deceitful business decisions like this meant console players were buying into a product with no actual footage or proof that it worked, forcing them to go in blind.

Developers at the company also reportedly worked for months in ‘optional crunch time’ that has been called out by Polygon for being destructive and irresponsible.

Other companies have faced similar scrutiny in the past, particularly Rockstar for the development of its latest title Red Dead Redemption 2. Crunch has been a serious concern in the industry for years and Cyberpunk 2077 is, unfortunately, the latest example of a top-end publisher pushing employees to extremes.

What is crunch time and why is it bad?

Crunch time is when a studio pushes employees to work excessive hours, usually crossing over weekends, in order to get a product finished in time for a release date or deadline. Often developers aren’t paid extra for this time and wages tend to be low considering the amount of work required to create something like Cyberpunk 2077.

I probably don’t need to explain why crunch is bad for both morale and mental wellbeing, but just in case you’re not convinced, many game creators have spoken at length on internet forums such as Reddit about how taxing it can really be. Family life has to be put on hold, burnout is extremely common, and employee turnover is quicker as a result. It just sucks all round.

All of this was clearly happening in the months leading up to Cyberpunk 2077’s launch. News has broken out over the last few days that developers have confronted management and leadership teams over the state of the game and the intense work instructions they were obliged to follow. Employee bonuses were also originally tied to the game’s overall critical consensus, though that has now been scrapped – too little, too late, perhaps.

The game’s pulling from the PlayStation Store and overall mixed reception – particularly with console players – may help to push the industry into a healthier and more consistent direction. Nobody wants a launch like Cyberpunk 2077, and it could easily have been avoided with extra delays and sensible working hours that didn’t bring worker morale to a standstill.

What needs to change?

A lot of the industry needs to rethink how it releases games in order for employee standards to change.

For one, announcing titles years before you’ve even begun to develop them probably isn’t the way forward, as it generates hype to an unmanageable degree. It’s good to have buzz over your title, obviously – you want it to sell after all – but building nearly a decade of anticipation creates pressures for studios, developers, managers, and share-holders.

All eyes were on Cyberpunk 2077’s release because of the insanely lengthy time we’ve waited – a surprise announcement when it was far closer to being ready would have been a more sensible route to take.

Large studios should be investing more money into their staff, too. CD Projekt Red has been flagged on Glassdoor for offering low pay and demanding workloads, which needs to stop. Huge companies that earn billions in revenue can afford to pay employees more or, at the very least, hire larger teams to relieve pressure on individual developers during intense periods. Crunch shouldn’t just be an inevitable consequence of the industry, but rather an exception to the rule.

Communities also need to be more open to delays. While Cyberpunk 2077 was pushed back numerous times as a result of unreasonable deadlines from management, the vocal anger from fans online made it difficult to continue to work on the game until it was ready. It’s no secret that gaming fans can be notoriously outspoken and drama is never too far away – perhaps a more relaxed and understanding approach from consumers would help to turn the tide.

Either way, let’s hope this is the last time we see a release as disastrous as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s not fun for anyone.

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