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As part of a much longer interview with Idle Thumbs for their Designer Notes podcast, Amy Hennig has openly criticized AAA development practices. Focusing on her extensive experience at Naughty Dog and work on the Uncharted series, the illustrious Ms Hennig revealed the harsh working conditions associated with ‘the crunch.’

The crunch is the industry term for developers sleeping at their desks, eating nothing but noodles, and forgetting their families, in order to deliver various aspects of their games in time for big deadlines. In a more general discussion about making Triple-A games; Amy revealed that when working for Naughty Dog she, “pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.”

The creative force behind Soul Reaver and Uncharted went further too. The interviewer pressed on the topic, and when asked how many of Naughty Dog’s team put in these kind of hours she replied, “A lot of it, I mean, Naughty Dog is pretty notorious for the amount of crunch, but obviously in a leadership role you try and do even more.” This is interesting when you consider that earlier this year, Uncharted 4‘s Director – Neil Druckman – intimated that crunch was a factor in the production of the game in an interview with Rolling Stone.

Before anyone gets accused of bashing the old boss though, Hennig wasn’t solely focused on Naughty Dog. She described Triple-A production in general as “an arms race that is unwinnable.” When asked if making AAA games was worth the lifestyle that goes along with it, she replied, “I don’t think so.” She cited the example of colleagues who had gone through health problems, and even personal problems like divorce through the hours they have put into development.

That’s not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that.

There’s people who never go home and see their families. They have children who are growing up without seeing them

We have to get our act figured out as an industry, and the problem is that the ante keeps getting upped… It’s an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people.

To deconstruct these comments; she refers here specifically to the race for photo-realism, changes in technology requiring bigger and bigger budgets, and the associated increase in specific demands this brings from stakeholders. To illustrate the point; Hennig said, “when you pitch a game like this [Triple-A], it better be this many hours, you better have this mode, you better have this … [etc.]” then sarcastically quipped “Yeah, or we could make the best [profanity deleted] 6 hour game you’ve ever seen, and please could you make it $40 [rather than $60]. Why is it that’s not possible?”

In the interest of balancing the argument; to some up her comments about working on Uncharted, Hennig did say that she “wouldn’t change anything in a way that meant [she] never made those games.”

'Not That Kind of Crunch'

‘Not That Kind of Crunch’

The interview itself runs for just over one and a half hours, and touches on many more topics. If you follow the link at the beginning of the article, you’ll find insight into: working on collaborative projects, creativity in games design, the challenges of translating film to game, casting for actors, making Uncharted 1-3 and her contributions to Uncharted 4, and the decision to work on Visceral Games upcoming Star Wars project, among other things. Her comments on allowing actors to ‘act’ the characters they portray, rather than directing every movement, are particularly insightful.

On Star Wars; Amy suggests that the project itself was a big reason for her returning to work with EA. Hennig didn’t approach this without reservations, worrying over whether she would be allowed the necessary freedom when working on such a big licensed franchise. But it seems that talking to the people involved with taking the franchise forward (through Disney’s revamp of the movies, Star Wars Rebels, and more) reassured her that her contributions would align with the new direction.

It’s worth noting that returning to EA to work on a game of that magnitude will not come without many of the pressures mentioned above. It seems, for Hennig at least, that the allure of writing on Triple-A games can still take precedence over concerns about the work-life balance.


Quick Take

It’s sad to think that some developer’s lives are negatively effected to this extent, just to provide us with the high-quality games we demand. It’s an easy thing to blame financial pressure and the demands of publishers; but perhaps we, the general gaming audience and the media, need to ask ourselves if we would make the same sacrifice. If not, how can we demand it of someone else? We love games, and we always want more, but perhaps it’s time to check our expectations – just a little. 

Are you prepared to give developers a break? Do publishers and developers need to be held to account over working practices? Give us your take in the comments below.

 


Dom O'Leary

Staff Writer

I'm a dyed in the wool gamer of the now irrelevant (I'm told) generation-X. If I'm not gaming, you'll find me writing about games, writing my wonderful fiction (opinions may differ), playing guitar, or eating... sleep is a distant memory.



  • Morbid Complex

    I would be fine with keeping the graphics just like they are now, on PC, for the next 10-15 years. And sometimes i enjoy playing 6 hour games. Nothing wrong with that as long as they are good. Just don’t make garbage games. Its sad. Like Mafia 3. Muddy textures, lazy upscaled 720p, 30 fps lock. Just dont make it a garbage quick money grabbing shit show and i think people would be supportive. Its when they get this pressure from publishers and share holders and then release an unfinished, buggy, mess of a game. “Yeah but the real life visuals”. Doesnt mean shit if its in 30 frames per second, glitching out, crashes to desktop and is just generally awful. Of course consoles have their own share of shit problems to deal with. I just know the amount of absolute shit games rushed out on PC is staggering. So even though i wish i could feel bad for these devs, and for some i do, but if they make shit games and take my money. Giving me a broken half finished game. I dont care how long they slept at their desk. They had a job to do.

  • R.J.

    Unhealthy working conditions can never be the responsibility of the end consumer, even if an industry is seemingly unable to self-regulate.

  • JuicyHopFrog

    I would be totally cool with a cheaper, 6 hour experience. Or even paying a bit more for a game like the Witcher 3 (just using this as an example. no idea what the conidtions are at CD Projekt Red) if they can pay enough staff to ensure somewhat a more normal work/life balance for the devs. And I would definitely be cool with having to wait an extra year for some games. Too many are rushed they way they are to the point of broken.

  • Dom O’Leary

    While I agree with your statement, I don’t think that means that consumers have no power to influence the ethics of an industry. If you look at the example of sustainably sourced food, and how those markets have been forced to adapt to changing demand, you can see that voting with your dollar can have an effect. It’s definitely down to the companies themselves to make the necessary changes though.

  • hurin

    As a Gamer I am getting sick and tired of developer entitlement. I am a blue collar worker, do these people think $60 for new releases fall from the skies or something?

    How about instead of focusing on photo realism you focus on telling a good story. Why is it that the game with the best story was made 20 years ago? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e9fc86f30692eb8d470cb7d0b10f450bb97eba3a9b6f0db88fc8791115cd903e.jpg

  • Ace

    Reminds me of Sakurai when he works on those Smash games.

  • vonSanneck

    Eventually we will see unions form to migetate this, but for now we have horror stories to uncover.

  • Casey

    “Amy revealed that when working for Naughty Dog she, “pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.”

    I guess we know why Naughty Dog was bleeding talent for awhile there.

  • Gargie

    Id be cool waiting 2-3ys (like we used to) for a game to be developed.That would eliminate 99% of the problems AAA games have these days.Plus it not like a longer dev time frame will cause a drought in new content for the consumer the industry is to big for that now in addition to the Indy market.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Yup, that’s why I got out of game development/Test.

    The timelines for just about every AAA title needs to be extended about 50%. That means less profit per year but it’s better from a quality and a work/life balance.

  • Casey

    Witcher 3 also got a significant delay as well, and you know what? It shows in their game. Too many of these AAA publishers ram a game out to meet shareholder expectations or whatnot rather than focus on making a good game. It’s the poor blending of artists trying to make something that transcends a boxed product, and business people trying to push a boxed product. Sometimes the business part is necessary though. Beyond Good and Evil and Okami were both fantastic games of their time, and look how well they sold.

    There really is no easy answer..

  • horus752

    This happens in lots of industries…Film and Tv is another example of this crunch. Because I work freelance(film editing) I can tell from contract to contract wether or not the hours are crazy. I can then choose if I want to be part of it or if I want to take a pass. For anyone in the game biz who is freelance they have that option too

  • Zepherdog

    – A good game with a shitty story is still a good game.
    – A good game with a good story is now a great game.
    – A shitty game with a good story is still a shitty game.

    Now the problem with the industry is that they’re cramming shitty stories into shitty games.

  • “I don’t like it when people argue “You’re an enabler by doing nothing”.”

    Buying a product from a game company that treats people badly isn’t doing nothing. It’s actively doing something that supports harmful practices.

    If people refused to actively support them, then the businesses that do this would collapse.

  • DukeMagus

    yes, and no. The extra time is paid in wages, rent, licenses, ad time, etc… some games could go over budget with the delay, then people get unpaid end everything goes to hell.

    They aim too high, plain and simple.

  • Gargie

    and dat multiplayer everything has to has that (unnecessary) multiplayer player;its automatic 4/10 form IGN if it dose.

  • Zepherdog

    What.

  • Am I the only one that is 100% fine with 6-hour single player games with no extra modes? Almost every game I’ve played that goes much longer that only does so by including hours of padding.

  • Γεώργιος Αρχαιοκαπηλίδης

    Reminds me the old Rare where the developers would works even at holidays.