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!
Up until early this morning, I had assumed and focus of our column this week would be another musing on Sony departing E3 and what it means for the console maker, the convention, and the ESA. Fortunately, several of my colleagues have tackled that topic already across multiple columns and a podcast because hello, it's January 17, and we've already got a crunch story we need to talk about.
There's a particular version of the crunch discourse that seems to have really taken off sometime around June of last year, when Nintendo delayed Animal Crossing: New Horizons to March 2020, with Doug Bowser specifically saying it was to "make sure that our employees have good work-life balance." Though I'm sure this view existed well before then, it seems that every major game delay since then has sparked a flurry of praise on social media from well-meaning players happy that the developers involved wouldn't have to crunch -- even when avoiding crunch, or improving work-life balance, or anything similar wasn't mentioned or implied anywhere in the delay announcement.
With no exposé on the inner workings of Nintendo, I can't say whether or not Bowser was masking a far more dire situation on Animal Crossing specifically. But the unfortunate reality is that delays don't magically solve crunch. Rather, they frequently make crunch worse, turning six months of ten-to-12-hour-days into six more months, and then maybe three more on top of that. The extra time to cram in all that "additional polish," extra features, or necessary QA is very likely not magically turning 80-hour work weeks of stress and meals eaten at desks into 40-hour work weeks in which developers are happily spending evenings and weekends with their families. Rather, we know from numerous accounts shared over the last decade (especially the last few years) that crunch is a systemic, cultural issue that is often encouraged, if not outright mandated, in many AAA studios—often touted as simply a reality of the games industry rather than a problem one might avoid by treating human beings like, well, human beings.
So imagine my shock and amazement when I woke up today to find out that Cyberpunk 2077's delay to September was not mysteriously solving crunch at CD Projekt Red.
QUOTE | "To some degree, yes - to be honest. 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 Red CEO Adam Kiciński's response to being asked if the development team of Cyberpunk 2077 was being required to crunch on the game, which has been delayed from April this year to September.
QUOTE | "We're known—let me be humble for a moment here—we are known for treating gamers with respect. This is what we've been working hard toward. And I actually would [like] for us to also be known for treating developers with respect." - That's CD Projekt Red's founder Marcin Iwiński in May of last year, telling Kotaku that the company had implemented a "non-obligatory crunch policy".
QUOTE | "Crunches for years. People staying for 10-12h/day and coming in on weekends, just so they can meet the required dates. And that's not during approved crunch.
During "real" crunches some people tend to stay till 2 or 4 am, then show up next morning to do the same. After some time, the project is redesigned and a lot of effort goes into the bin, while new..." - An anonymous CD Projekt Red employee on Glassdoor in 2018, describing the studio's crunch culture. There are numerous other reviews like it going back several years.
QUOTE | "This approach to making games is not for everyone," Iwiński and CD Projekt Red studio head Adam Badowski's joint response to negative Glassdoor reviews that mentioned excessive crunch, issued back in 2017.
QUOTE | "To that end, we will spend this additional development time focusing on fine tuning and polishing the game to the high standards our fans expect and deserve." - Scot Amos and Ron Rosenberg in a joint statement explaining why Crystal Dynamics is delaying Marvel's Avengers to September 4, 2020. Incidentally, Kotaku reported today that the studio apparently has a raffle system that lets developers win prizes for working overtime.
QUOTE | "We are making this tough decision in order to give ourselves a few extra weeks to apply final polish to the game and to deliver you with the best possible experience." - The same day as the Avengers delay, Final Fantasy VII remake was also delayed to April 10, 2020. No word yet on how bad the crunch is for that one.
While the industry's awareness and capacity to fight systemic issues like crunch has been growing exponentially in recent years thanks to organizations like Game Workers Unite, the fact that the problem is so common and obvious remains an embarrassment to gaming at a time when many other key elements of the business are changing rapidly.
On the cusp of a new console generation, we're not just looking at new technology. We're looking at new business models, new sustainable practices, new kinds of games, and new approaches to selling them. And while there are plenty of people excited about the idea of prioritizing the people making all that possible, it will take ongoing efforts to convince those at the top that treating human beings like human beings is infinitely more valuable than perfecting the minutest details of your dystopian cyberpunk adventure in time for the next investor meeting.
QUOTE | "We have great respect for the ESA as an organization, but we do not feel the vision of E3 2020 is the right venue for what we are focused on this year. We will build upon our global events strategy in 2020 by participating in hundreds of consumer events across the globe." - A Sony Interactive Entertainment spokesperson confirmed to GamesIndustry.biz this week that Sony will skip E3 for the second year in a row—in a year when it is launching a brand new console.
QUOTE | "E3 2020 will be an exciting, high-energy show featuring new experiences, partners, exhibitor spaces, activations, and programming that will entertain new and veteran attendees alike. Exhibitor interest in our new activations is gaining the attention of brands that view E3 as a key opportunity to connect with video game fans worldwide." - The ESA, apparently responding to Sony's announcement about E3, even though it didn't once mention Sony in the statement.
QUOTE "Our team is hard at work on E3, and we look forward to sharing with all who love to play what's ahead of us. Our artform has consistently been propelled by the cross-section of creativity and technical progress. 2020 is a milestone year in that journey for Team Xbox." - Phil Spencer, reassuring everyone that yes, Microsoft and Xbox will indeed be at E3 this year.
QUOTE | "Ultimately, we must reach 'net zero' emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year. This will take aggressive approaches, new technology that doesn't exist today, and innovative public policy. It is an ambitious – even audacious – goal, but science tells us that it's a goal of fundamental importance to every person alive today and for every generation to follow." - Microsoft, announcing its plan not just to be carbon neutral, but to be carbon negative by 2030, and to remove an equal amount of carbon from the atmosphere to what it has produced since its founding by 2050.
QUOTE | "We must support the PlayStation platform—that is non negotiable. That said, you will see in the future some titles coming out of my collection of studios which may need to lean into a wider installed base." - Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios chairman Shawn Layden said that last year, implying that there may be precedent for Sony exclusives to make their way to PC in the future. Incidentally, there was also a report this week that PS4-exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn would be among the first.
QUOTE | "The same way it's changed the TV and movie worlds, the subscription system is also going to impact the game industry very significantly. We're starting to see that, and starting to see it maybe unlock the market to weirder things and more original things that would have been more risky beforehand." - Mobius Digital co-creative lead Loan Verneau expresses optimism about subscription services after his own positive experience putting The Outer Wilds on Xbox Game Pass, where he says it attracted players who otherwise never would have heard of the game.
QUOTE | "It's going to get better. In fact, one day when we look back, people will wonder why people were questioning streaming at all. I'm not talking about Stadia specifically. I'm talking about streaming in general." - Raul Rubio, CEO and creative director of Tequila Works, describes the studio's partnership with Google to put Gylt on Stadia, emphasizing that the team "believes in the technology."
STAT | 10 - The number of Call of Duty games that cracked the top 20 best-selling games of the decade in the US, per the NPD Group.. They also occupied seven of the top 10 slots, though Grand Theft Auto V was (unsurprisingly) No.1. Okay, I guess that's one more thing not likely to change any time soon.
QUOTE | "We were in an unusual situation where we had a very successful game and did not have a tonne of pressure to get the second one out. So what happened is it went on for years, and years, and years—some of these games have been in development for way too long." - Riot Games head of creative development Greg Street posits that the traditional product lifestyle "maybe doesn't apply" to League of Legends. The game launched over ten years ago, and the studio is only just now beginning to push a wave of new upcoming projects.
STAT | $680 million - The amount of money the Epic Games Store has brought in since its launch in December of 2018. $251 million of that was from third-party games.
STAT | Over 45 and counting - The amount of articles currently in the new GamesIndustry.biz Academy, with more on the way in the coming weeks. The Academy is an industry-focused guides section with advice from experts on how to get into the games business whether you're interested in development, publishing, PR, journalism, tech, or whatever else.