Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch is just the latest company to suffer from what those in the gaming industry refer to as "video game crunch." Video game crunch refers to the trend of developers forcing their employees to work nearly impossible hours. Some employees even work more than 12 hours a day, including weekends, leaving them with little to no downtime. Crunch usually results in employees who are not only burned out, but also physically and mentally affected by the long hours.
Unfortunately, crunch is something that is all too common in the industry. A report last year revealed that BioWare pushed its Anthem employees to the brink. Publisher EA also forced a game engine, Frostbite, on them that they were unfamiliar with, which resulted in even longer hours, mainly because the development team was severely understaffed. Impossible deadlines meant that the game ended up getting rushed out in an incomplete state, resulting in Anthem being the worst-reviewed games in BioWare's history.
A new report from Kotaku has uncovered a similar situation with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch. The report reveals impossibly long hours, including large amounts of time to change features that were previously completed. The quality assurance team, which were made up of mostly contractors, worked in day and nights shifts, covering a full 24-hour day. Some of those employees reported that the air-conditioning was turned off at night creating a terrible work environment, especially with computers and consoles running non-stop and generating significant amounts of heat.
Even worse is that because the QA team, the testers, were contract workers, some only got paid as little as $13 per hour, which is certainly not enough to cover the cost of living in Los Angeles, where Treyarch's headquarters are located. Although they did receive overtime for longer days, many still struggled to make ends meet when the overtime ended. The contract workers were also isolated from the rest of the development team, but the real slap in the face came when Treyarch handed out fat bonuses to its top executives, directors and leads after the successful release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Contractors aren't eligible for bonuses, even if they worked as hard on a title as everyone else.
So how does the industry break the vicious cycle of crunch? For now, the best bet is for employees to continue to step forward and tell their stories, keeping the discussion in the public eye. Some developers are already paying attention: Blizzard recently committed to having World of Warcraft be a 100 percent crunch-free game. Eliminating crunch doesn't just serve employees' best interests, but would also benefit gamers: less stressed and better-rested employees mean better games with fewer bugs and glitches.