"Crunch" is the term used for the period of long workdays leading up to a game's final development deadline. "Crunch" also accurately what happens to some developers' souls when they're glued to their computers for hours at a time to get the job done—especially if a crunch period extends past a few weeks (which is often does).
Crunch has always been a heated discussion topic in the industry, but it's been near the forefront of the news since Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser boasted about Red Dead Redemption II developers working 100-hour weeks in an interview last month. Houser walked back on the boast following backlash, but like many triple-A game publishers, Rockstar doesn't have a reputation for offering its employees a sensible work-life balance.
Waypoint's Aron Garst recently asked several game developers in Japan and Europe about their thoughts on crunch culture, and what they do to combat it (if they do at all). The document, published today, has considerable insight from Hokuto Okamoto and Takeshi Uchikawa, the producer and game director respectively for Square-Enix's critically-acclaimed RPG, Dragon Quest XI. The pair acknowledges the harmful effects of crunch, but also says the game's developers, all Dragon Quest fans, understand crunch is inevitable.
Okamoto and Uchikawa say Square Enix encourages its developers to go home and rest during periods when crunch makes it easy to lose track of time. They also say the team used an Unreal engine plugin when making Dragon Quest XI, which cut down on necessary bug-hunting. But Uchikawa admits despite Square Enix's efforts, some developers worked days that stretched beyond 12 hours.
"Most members of the team joined as fans. They love the series, they play it, and they have really strong motivations," Uchikawa tells Garst. "They are also used to making the series, since many of them have done it for years over several iterations. So there is a strong team cohesion to make the game as good as we possibly can in the time provided."
When Garst asks if Okamoto or Uchikawa are worried developers "[p]utting in tons of extra hours that might make their health suffer or even harm the quality of the work they put into the game," Okamoto asks "I don't understand, how could them putting in more work hurt the quality?" Garst clarifies: "I think what I was trying to say was is there anything you do to make sure their passion isn’t manipulated? Even if it’s not intentional?" to which Uchikawa responds, "Square Enix would never do anything like that, although sometimes we will say ‘if you love the game, are you really ok with being this quality?’"
Okamoto and Uchikawa say they're aware long work hours is a big problem in Japanese society, and they believe video game crunch time will likely reduce when AI is robust enough to tackle the tedious job of bug-testing. Dragon Quest XI came to North America in September.