In a games industry that has been plagued with tales of toxic work conditions—including studios like Rockstar, Epic Games, Naughty Dog and other big-name companies—it’s nice to see a developer speak out on the issue and espouse a healthier workplace.
In an interview with PCGamesN, senior designer Brian Hines from Obsidian Entertainment (the team behind Fallout: New Vegas and the forthcoming The Outer Worlds) said flat-out that the developer is “not a crunch studio,” to which he then attributed the company’s retention rate. “Crunch” is a term that is used widely in game development to describe a period (lasting from weeks to months) in which workers are asked to work unreasonable overtime hours to meet deadlines—sometimes including working weekends and staying late into the evening at the office (extra long crunch periods are sometimes referred to as “death marches”).
Hines did mention that sometimes developers at the studio work extra hours, but it is “always a request,” and never mandated by higher-ups. In other words, workers at Obsidian are free to say “no” to overtime hours—something that isn’t exactly common in game development.
“There really hasn’t been a crunch or a death march or anything like that with the studio for quite a long time, as far as I can remember anyway,” Hines told PCGamesN. “That’s definitely one of the things that as a studio we’re very committed to, we’d rather cut something than try and get people to not have a life outside of the industry.”
Crunch has become a more mainstream issue as of late—game consumers and journalists alike have been emphasizing more than ever that they do not support the mistreatment of game developers. Even the most recent episode of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj focused on the work culture within game development, bringing the topic to a larger audience outside gaming altogether.
The constant reporting on development crunch seems to be working, too—just this morning, Kotaku reported that sources within Rockstar Games are saying that there have been significant changes within the company since the popular gaming website’s reporting brought their labor controversies to light, including making previously underpaid contractors full-time employees.
If what Hines said in his interview with PCGamesN is truthfully reflected by Obsidian’s work culture, then it serves as proof that crunch isn’t always needed to make a great game—early previews of The Outer Worlds has generally been very positive.