Brutal crunch hours, mistreatment of contracted workers, and termination of employees emerge in new report.
One reason why the competition simply cannot keep up with Fortnite is the game’s insane pace of development. A new update comes out every week, introducing new content, tweaking mechanics, keeping things fresh to retain players. It’s a crucial part of why the game not only achieved this popularity—currently, it is the most popular game in the world—but also maintained it for so long.
But this pace of updates came at a brutal cost—a very human cost. In a report by Polygon, the excesses of Fortnite’s development following its sudden rise to the top of the world are detailed, exploring the rigorous crunch that was imposed with no end in sight once the game became popular.
“I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.
“The biggest problem is that we’re patching all the time. The executives are focused on keeping Fortnite popular for as long as possible, especially with all the new competition that’s coming in.”
Horribly enough, it seems like there is actual pressure to fall in line with this crunch—if you don’t, you risk reprimands, up to and including a loss of your job.
“I know some people who just refused to work weekends, and then we missed a deadline because their part of the package wasn’t completed, and they were fired,” said another source. “People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to work these hours.”
“We worked, typically, 50- or 60-hour weeks and upwards of 70-hour weeks on occasion,” one source who worked as a contractor in QA said. “If I got to the end of an eight-hour workday and I turned to my supervisor to ask if I needed to stay on, they’d often look at me as if I was actively stupid. Officially, you don’t have to keep working, but in reality: ‘Sit back down, we’ll be here for a while.’ If you did not do overtime, that was a mark against your character.”
Another source said that contractors who declined to work long hours were often replaced. “You’re on a contract. It could be three months, it could be a year. But if you don’t do the extra work, it’s most likely that your contract won’t be renewed.”
“All [management] wanted was people who are disposable,” said a source. “The situation was, ‘Come in and do as many hours as we need you.’ They put the contractors in a situation where if they don’t do that overtime, they know they’re not coming back.
“One senior guy would say, ‘Just get more bodies.’ That’s what the contractors were called: bodies. And then when we’re done with them, we can just dispose of them. They can be replaced with fresh people who don’t have the toxic nature of being disgruntled.”
This is an incredibly gross and inhuman attitude, and it cannot be good for the people who are working on the game. As much as I have enjoyed Fortnite, and its rapid pace of updates, if this is what it takes, then I don’t want any part of it. Epic can afford to slow down, and not burn out any of its employees.
Epic Games have responded to the story, noting, first of all, that it admits it was caught off guard by Fortnite’s success, and scrambled to try and keep up.
“Fortnite achieved a far higher level of success than we had ever anticipated,” said a spokesperson. “Everybody throughout Epic responded to the success with incredible vigor and commitment. The Fortnite team rapidly expanded the game to grow the audience; the Unreal Engine team began a broad effort to optimize for 60fps and support seven platforms; others throughout the company moved to Fortnite to maintain momentum.”
Specifically talking about the working hours, Epic Games admitted that this happens; however, it maintains that it tries to immediately compensate by minimizing any chance for a recurrence.
“People are working very hard on Fortnite and other Epic efforts,” said a spokesperson. “Extreme situations such as 100-hour work weeks are incredibly rare, and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence.”
Speaking specifically in response to contract worker conditions—arguably the most damning part of this expose—Epic’s answer is less convincing and more troubling.
“All Epic contractors have a fixed contract term that is communicated up-front, typically between six and 12 months. Epic makes contract renewal decisions based on the quality of work performed and willingness to work at times needed to meet critical release dates.”
This does not directly address most of the issues raised in the report—though Epic does add that overtime for contractors is “less than five hours per week” on average.
Nevertheless, if these reports are true—and given the number of sources involved, there is good reason to believe they may be—then Epic needs to instantly overhaul its whole development pipeline and needs a systemic reboot. As I have said, I enjoy Fortnite, in part due to how fresh it remains, but if this is what it takes, I think we could stand to let up the pace a bit. Human lives are more important than any video game.