Crunch – whether its implicitly coerced our outright demanded – is an epidemic that has plagued game development for years, and reports in recent years have highlighted some high-profile examples of games that have seen their developers putting in massive amounts of extended overtime, from Cyberpunk 2077 and The Last of Us Part 2 to Red Dead Redemption 2 and DOOM Eternal.
There are, of course, a few studios out there that actively do try and avoid crunch as much as possible. One such studio Insomniac Games- even with its most recent title, Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, the developer claimed that there had been no crunch at all. Recently at the Develop:Brighton conference (via GamesIndustry), Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price spoke about the same, and how Insomniac has generally managed to avoid crunch. According to him, throwing money and manpower at situations demanding crunch isn’t as effective of a solution as being “more creative within constraints.”
“We face those choices all the time in the games industry,” Price said. “I think the default is to brute force the problem — in order words, to throw money or people at it. But that can actually cause more chaos and affect wellbeing, which goes against that balance. The harder and, in my opinion, more effective solution is to be more creative within constraints.”
And what exactly does Price mean by being creative within constraints? Well, he had an example ready to explain the same- a planned boss fight in Marvel’s Spider-Man against Doctor Octopus that would move throughout the entire city and destroy half of New York in the process. According to Price, having to work within the constraints that restricted them from crafting that boss fight mean Insomniac had to come up with an alternate scenario- which, in Price’s view, turned out to be better than the original vision.
“Originally, we were going to have a boss battle that took you all over New York City, and it was way out of scope,” he said. “The temptation is to just brute force it, put our heads down and run through the brick wall. But the team took a step back and thought about what was important to the players, and that was the breakdown of the relationship between Peter and his former mentor, Doctor Octavious.
“They rethought the fight and realised they didn’t need to destroy half of New York to pay off the relationship. In fact, it would have worked against what we were going for. As a result, the final battle is much more up close and personal, and has a far bigger emotional impact than planned — and it fit within the time we had.
“This permission to be creative within restraints needs to come from the leaders, who set the tone for the project. When we all repeat the message, that it’s okay to try new things that fail, it gets repeated and becomes part of the culture. I see this in action, and it’s incredible when it works, but it takes constant repetition because I think we default to old habits.”
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of developers out there who have openly denounced crunch practices and vowed to crunch-free development cycles for their games. With the likes of Age of Empires 4, Psychonauts 2, and Apex Legends being just a few such examples, it’s abundantly clear that crunch doesn’t necessary guarantee quality, nor does a lack of crunch guarantee the opposite.