Fortnite is the biggest video game in the world right now, and Epic employees work hard to keep it that way. But a new report gives insight into the human cost of fueling a game as successful as Fortnite, including a crunch and overtime culture that has taken a toll across all levels of Epic Games.
In a new report from Polygon, Epic Games employees under conditions of anonymity shared their experiences working on Fortnite Battle Royale. 12 current and former Epic employees described having "regularly worked in excess of 70-hour weeks, with some reporting 100-hour weeks."
What's more, Epic employees revealed that overtime and crunch were pretty much expected. "I know some people who just refused to work weekends, and then we missed a deadline because their part of the package wasn't completed, and they were fired," said another source.
Even in other departments like customer service, the popularity of Fortnite has forced employees to take on more work as a result. "We went from maybe 20 to 40 tickets a day to about 3,000 tickets a day," said one source who worked in customer service. Epic's response to the exploding workload was to hire more employees. "It happened so quick. Literally one day, we were a small amount of people. The next day it was just, 'Hey, by the way, now you have 50 more people on this shift who have absolutely no training.'"
This solution of getting more people to help manage the development needs of Fortnite is spread across Epic Games. But even with more developers and contractors, the struggle with crunch continues. "One senior guy would say, 'just get more bodies.' That's what the contractors were called: bodies. And then when we're done with them, we can just dispose of them. They can be replaced with fresh people who don't have the toxic nature of being disgruntled."
Fortnite stands out among its battle royale peers for its updates which drop at clockwork. There's new content constantly coming to Fortnite, whether it's new modes, items, and of course small to big environmental changes leading up to a major shake-up of the map and game each season.
The rapid pace of development also meant that these changes needed to be tested to ensure quality. The report states that prior to Fortnite, Epic Games was in the middle of downsizing the QA department in favor of an automated system, but those plans were put on hold once Fortnite hit. "We worked, typically, 50- or 60-hour weeks and upwards of 70-hour weeks on occasion," said one contract QA tester.
Crunch is a widespread practice among large video game companies, but only recently has it started gaining mainstream coverage. We've covered crunch at studios like Telltale Games, which eventually closed its doors for good. Other studios like Rockstar and BioWare have also engaged with intense crunch culture.
While there are efforts to combat crunch in video game development, including efforts to unionize the industry, there are still major obstacles to overcome when it comes to making the video game development workplace more healthy.