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Crunch and burnout are staples of a career in big box games. Telltale, EA, Team Bondi… studios have been named and shamed before. Has it made any difference to the wider industry picture? My dismissal of the latest AAA death march team story might be mistaken for apathy. It’s not.

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7 thoughts on “Discussion: Tears for John Marston

  1. You don’t have a cat? Booo! I condemn this! I am here to start the backlash against you not having a cat!

    So I hadn’t heard that story before, and yet another reason to say fuck Penny Arcade. Forwards, upside down, sideways, backwards. Edacra ynnep kcuf. Look, even granting that it’s fantastic for some people to have a job that they love so much that they never want to stop working at it,* the thing about those kinds of job is that you do not advertise for someone to do them. Because that’s the kind of job that you love so much because you are doing your own shit. The brass neck of thinking that what you’re doing is so amazing that you can expect someone to devote their lives to supporting you.

    Anyway, this is as you say a structural problem more than that of a nefarious employer. Unionize and regulate–though hamstringing both those things is what big business gets in exchange for empowering Nazis, at least in the US. But maybe the prerequisite for this is realizing that your employer does not have a moral claim on your life, and any such demand (even an internal one) is prima facie abusive. Eight hours for work, eight for sleep, eight for what we will. That said I should grade papers now the kids are in bed.

    I see Stephen’s Sausage Roll is back on the playlist. About where are you? I’m not ashamed to say I took a hint for Cold Frustration.

    *which I do not grant, we do not say this about actual love relationships with the love of your life, imagine someone saying “My partner and I are soooo in love that we never want to be away from each other and yeah they had to give their job up to devote themselves full time to the relationship,” you would be quietly trying to get their partner to a shelter. You know who has that kind of attitude toward their partner’s relationship to them? Matthew Cunliffe.

  2. I think you should post the crunch section of the newsletter here on your site. I think it’s good, and you’ll be adding your voice to the sphere of discussion on the topic (however removed that sphere is from the general public).

    We cannot rely on the public who buy games to take a stand against crunch, as you say, but for more reasons than apathy. I expect the vast majority of people buying RDR2 will have even heard any of the discussion on crunch. Kotaku and so on have pretty good reach, but nothing compared to the reach of Rockstar’s multimillion dollar advertising campaign for the game. Most players won’t even know; and as you write, many won’t care, and most won’t act.

    But however removed the games enthusiast press and the smaller critical circles are from the general public, they’re much more visible to developers. And providing moral support to developers who are suffering from imposed crunch or working to oppose it is, I believe, a good thing.

    I don’t have any feedback on Side by Side. I’ve watched two episodes of it, and I don’t think it’s really my thing.

  3. I don’t have much more to say about this except that the “100 hour weeks” thing came as no surprise to me (hey, remember “EA spouse”? It’s cute that we ever thought gamedev was a fun, laid-back career).

    Obviously it’s good for the public to kick up a stink about this, and I’m encouraged by the fact that every one of these scandals seems (to me) to be taken more seriously than the last. But as you say, companies only really care about money, so I think any change will have to come from unionisation. I hear some promising things on that front happened at GDC, but AFAIK they were only promising, not actually useful.

  4. MATT

    Matt, I love cats, the problem is (a) I’m allergic to animal hair which brings out the red eyes and sneezing and (b) I don’t want to look after a cat, I find two children are enough.

    I think the most striking thing about the Penny Arcade story was as far as I was aware, PA was doing really well and the could have afforded hiring multiple people. I can see why they might not want to do that – each person is another slice of management to do – but their size would seem to require more people rather than taking risks with a single point of failure who does everything. It’s just crappy management all round.

    Another thought I had on progress towards a better working culture is that if some studios get a bad rep for how they treat their workers they might find it harder to attract quality talent. However, I suspect supply >>> demand, so this is probably a non-starter. Plus being part of the studio who makes GTA and RDR – well, that’s got prestige that’s difficult to talk down. Surely it would look good on a CV…

    SSR: I’m in the third area in Stephen’s Sausage Roll. I just thought I should keep having a go but my brain just can’t computer – playing late again is the main problem. I did solve Cold Head but that’s about it.


    Thanks for saying so, Andy. Maybe I will repost it later in the week, I’ll give it some thought.

    I agree that the “compassionate player” problem is a fraction of a fraction – Consumers >> No. of People Heard of Crunch >> No. of People Think Crunch is Problem. I remember back before EA Spouse hit the skids I didn’t know anything about crunch either. I agree moral support is a good idea, but the suggestion that players should keep buying the games as normal but put “pressure” on Rockstar to improve things… that just seemed naive to me.

    Oh don’t worry I’m not canvassing opinions on Side by Side! That was just to let people know that it was something I was grappling with. Last year I said this would be the last series because it was obviously not going places and wondering whether to follow through on that.


    Hello again James, one of the links in the text takes you straight to EA Spouse! (Don’t worry I wasn’t expecting each reader to click every one!)

    I think studios do pay attention to when there’s some rabid chatter about loot boxes or the like, something that makes players feel they’ve been sold a bad/corrupted game. That comes down to sales, of course. Bad chatter about the game itself will suppress sales. Bad chatter about the conditions, not so much.

    I suppose there is the other half of this debate: are we judging RDR on the working conditions behind the game? No. We’re just judging Rockstar.

    Personally, I’m quite pessimistic about this. I’m not hopeful about the conditions improving.

  5. I don’t actually think you need to apologize or explain your reasons for not having a cat!

    I should probably go back to my policy of “not bugging Joel any more about SSR.”

    The PA ad was just astonishing. “Hey so this job is like four jobs stuck together and requires four times as many hours and gives four times much money

  6. speaking of work-life balance, my older kid changed the website to and hit submit in the middle

  7. anyway, it’s literally described as four jobs stuck together and requires four times as much working hours and four times as much experience but they are very clear that they won’t pay you four times as much.

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