This Week in Business is a collection of stats and quotes from our sister site GamesIndustry.biz that sheds light on console sales, new trends, and more. Check back every Friday for a new entry!
It's almost Halloween so let's focus on something appropriately ghoulish, namely CD Projekt Red's treatment of its developers. Let's take a look at some quotes here to establish some background information.
QUOTE | "We feel we have an amazing game on our hands and are willing to make every decision, even the hardest ones, if it ultimately leads to you getting a video game you'll fall in love with." - CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwi?ski and studio head Adam Badowski announce that they are delaying Cyberpunk 2077 for the third time, pushing its release back to December 10.
QUOTE | "We try to limit crunch as much as possible, but it is the final stage. We try to be reasonable in this regard, but yes. Unfortunately." - CD Projekt joint-CEO Adam Kici?ski, at the time of the game's first delay in January, admits to an investor that the studio had been mandating crunch to finish up Cyberpunk 2077 despite the company's pledge to institute a "non-obligatory crunch policy" the previous year.
QUOTE | "It's not that bad—and never was." - Kici?ski, this week, downplaying the crunch at the studio to investors.
QUOTE | "I had not wanted to comment on crunch, yet I still did, and I did it in a demeaning and harmful way. Truth be told, it's only now, when the stress connected with the delay decision and the call itself is lifting, that I'm fully realising the true extent of my words. I have nothing to say in my defense. What I said was not even unfortunate, it was utterly bad. For that, please accept my most sincere and honest apologies." - Kici?ski, in an update to the same story, in a letter to employees apologizing because presumably "it's not that bad -- and never was" does not match up with their experiences.
So this illustrates one of the most nefarious, indefensible things about companies who accept crunch. When you know you're going to crunch, you plan on it. You schedule around it. You decide what's a reasonable release date to hit based on the knowledge that you will have the team crunch here and there.
But the excuse for crunch in the first place is that game development is unpredictable. Sometimes unexpected things happen. Sometimes things you thought would work don't and need to be redone. Sometimes the game you thought you were making at the start shifts and changes into something very different. And when these unexpected things happen, crunch is a way to make up for all that lost time. So if you're already planning on crunch, and then the unexpected happens, how do you deal with it? You crunch harder, or you delay the game. Or both.
Because no matter how much you expect the unexpected, there's always more unexpected just around the corner waiting to upend your plans. Take this year, for instance. I don't know how many developers factored a global pandemic into their production schedules, but I'm pretty sure CD Projekt wasn't one of them. They were crunching in January because that's just how they finish games.
Take a look back at how things played out around the last game they made, The Witcher 3, starting with this one from March of 2014.
QUOTE | "We recently re-examined what we had achieved thus far, and faced a choice about the game's final release date. The decision we made was difficult, thoroughly considered, and ultimately clear and obvious. We could have released the game towards the end of this year as we had initially planned. Yet we concluded that a few additional months will let us achieve the quality that will satisfy us, the quality gamers expect from us. Consequently, we have set the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for February 2015." - CD Projekt Red explains its reasons for delaying The Witcher 3 the first time.
QUOTE | "This is not our first game; we are not newbies. It's not like 'hey we are delaying and we'll keep on delaying'. If we would think we need more time we would say 'hey we'll release it not in Feb but, I don't know, June'. We made the decision at the moment we were able to judge how much time we needed, and we planned it well and it works well for us. So, no more delays." - A couple months later, Iwi?ski promises no more delays.
QUOTE | "The sheer size and complexity of The Witcher, key features of the title, have had a decisive impact on production. Now, nearing the end of our work, we see many details that need to be corrected... With this in mind, we took another look at current workloads and what they mean for the team. Even though everyone is working at full speed, we concluded that we need another 12 weeks, so we are shifting the release date of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to [May 19, 2015]." - From the studio's statement when it delayed The Witcher 3 a second time.
QUOTE | "Producers are often young and inexperienced as well. This combined together ensures absurd amount of crunch. For some people it was more than TWO years. Of course taking days is near impossible." - A CD Projekt Red Glassdoor employee review from September of 2015. Another reported working 10-12 hour days, six or seven days a week for an entire year. There have been numerous such reviews left by employees over many years. Even a five-star review from just a few months ago recommending the company to job-seekers lists its only downside as "If you're not ready to dedicate all your time making video games."
CD Projekt Red planning on crunch and then being routinely surprised at having to extend crunch because they haven't learned anything is the most generous framing I can muster. The more cynical take that could be applied to CD Projekt Red and studios like them is not just that they plan on crunch, but that they plan on crunching, delaying, and continuing to crunch. Because if people think it's just for a few weeks or a month, they'll put up with some pretty severe conditions. If you tell them they're going to be doing this for the long haul, a year or (in the case of some CD Projekt Red developers) two, they will reject it as intolerable.
This is one of the reasons why crunch is so pernicious and harmful in the industry. It's a temporary Band-Aid solution that has been treated like a long-term cure. It's a spare tire meant to get you to the tire store but is being used for a cross-country trip. It can (if a company is lucky) plaster over a litany of leadership failings to get something out the door. And if it works, it's those same leaders who will benefit the most and be protected from the harm of their own decisions.
CD Projekt Red is known for ambitious projects, and it's shown that it can create critically acclaimed, commercially successful video games. But so can lots of studios. At this point, it would be far more impressive and worthy an ambition to simply make a AAA game without crunch.
QUOTE | "The networked nature of entertainment these days allows for communities to be massively more sticky, and kind-of homogeneous. The concept of stickiness is that once you're stuck it's hard to unstick. That probably gives us an opportunity to retain those people, where in the past maybe they've gone." - PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan believes console gaming has potential to keep growing as people stop "aging out" of playing games.
QUOTE | "PlayStation believes in VR. Sony believes in VR, and we definitely believe at some point in the future, VR will represent a meaningful component of interactive entertainment. Will it be this year? No. Will it be next year? No. But will it come at some stage? We believe that." - Ryan explains that Sony doesn't believe in VR enough to make a new headset for the PS5.
STAT | 1 (or 2 if you're being generous)- The number of next-gen exclusive first-party games available at launch for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, thanks to the delay of Destruction AllStars to February. That one game is PS5 launch title Demon's Souls, with the arguable second being the Astro's Playroom DualSense controller showcase that comes pre-installed on the PS5.
QUOTE | "We felt very strongly about [Microsoft's] view of access; games for everybody that we can bring to anybody regardless of where they are, what devices they're playing on. We're very, very passionate about that, and at the end of the day we're convinced we'll make better products and get them to more people easily by being part of Xbox as opposed to being just a third party." - Bethesda Game Studios director Todd Howard saying some stuff we'll be sure to revisit if/when Elder Scrolls 6 is revealed to be some kind of Xbox exclusive.
QUOTE | "If you're feeling burnt out as a white person talking about race, just imagine how tired we are... It is exhausting. It has been exhausting for you guys to read it for a little bit, but it has been 20 times worse to live through it." - Black producer/presenter and Level Up Link Up founder Shay Thompson puts some of the year's discourse around race into perspective as part of an extended feature about lifting barriers for Black professionals in the industry.
QUOTE | "You can delete a tweet but you cannot delete a screen grab, and nothing is private—not email, not DMs, not members-only forums. So always be careful. If you're gonna make yourself stand out, make yourself stand out in a positive way." - Industry veteran and Empire of Sin lead designer Brenda Romero offers aspiring developers some tips on building their personal brands.
STAT | €10 million - The amount the Netherlands Gambling Authority fined Electronic Arts and its subsidiary Electronic Arts Swiss Sàrl—the maximum amount allowable by law—for FIFA Ultimate Team loot boxes that violated the country's Betting and Gaming Act. The fine was imposed a year ago, but EA took the regulator to court to overturn the fine or at least to prevent it from ever being made public. An appeals court this week denied EA on both counts.
QUOTE | "Deleting your Facebook account will also delete your Oculus information. This includes your app purchases and achievements. You will no longer be able to return any apps and will lose any existing store credits." - The warning Facebook gives to anyone who tries to delete an account that has previously been linked to an Oculus account. Facebook recently said it would require all Oculus users to link to Facebook accounts in order to use the VR headsets.