The company tries its best “to not burn out the very best people in the world,” says Half-Life: Alyx designer Greg Coomer.
Crunch has been a hot topic in the industry for a while now, and has become especially pertinent over the last few years as reports have emerged of unideal working conditions at several major AAA studios. Just recently, we heard of the same at Naughty Dog, while not long afterward, the developers of DOOM Eternal made controversial statements regarding that as well. One major studio that doesn’t subscribe to that work ethic, however, is Valve.
Speaking in an interview with GamesBeat, Valve’s Greg Coomer and James Benson – designer and animator on Half-Life: Alyx respectively – spoke about the matter. After Benson explained that Valve’s is “very family-oriented” and that the company tries to attempt a good work-life balance to ensure it doesn’t “slowly erode your home life by working you to death”, Coomer elaborated on that, saying that crunch isn’t nearly the norm at Valve.
“I think explicitly, we’ve purposefully made it so that crunch mode is not the norm, and hopefully not a thing that goes on at Valve,” he said. “Except in very rare cases where people are in the last couple of weeks of development, a subset of the group will choose to work hours that are sort of extended in order to get through certain periods.”
Coomer went on to say that though the final weeks of a game’s development can and do see employees working longer hours, Valve’s general policy is to ensure that people don’t overwork themselves to the point that they get burned out.
“I think as somebody who’s been around forever at Valve, I’m pretty proud of the fact that, even in recent months, as Alyx was wrapping up, I would walk around the office and if it was past normal working hours, the office was empty,” he said. “The kind of thing he was talking about really is an intentional design, to not burn out the very best people in the world. We managed to hire them. If we were causing them to not be able to see their family or work too many hours, it would be shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s almost not a thing in the company. But we can’t keep some people, at the very end of the project, from working a few late nights. That’s almost the extent of it.”
If a developer as storied and with a track record as good as Valve’s can manage to put out the kind of high-quality games it has in the past (and is doing once again), it should stand to reason that crunch is by no means a necessity. Here’s hoping others in the industry follow their example.
Half-Life: Alyx is out now on PC. You can read our review through here.