According to John Hight, executive producer and vice president for World of Warcraft at Blizzard, the development team behind the long-lasting MMORPG is endeavoring to ensure that they work within a no-crunch environment. World of Warcraft is coming up on its 15th anniversary later this year, and has existed this long in part thanks to a steady stream of updates and expansions, the kind that have recently come under fire for producing unhealthy work environments and a reliance on crunch practices to roll content out on time.
Crunch has existed in the games industry for quite a while, but studios are only now beginning to come under fire for relying on the procedure to help meet the increasingly cut-throat turnaround time on game content rollouts. Developers like Epic Games and Rockstar Studios have been criticized for allowing employees to work up to 100 hour work weeks, and a small movement shared between game devs has now begun to blossom into a full-on revolution that seeks to alter the way the industry exploits its workers. It has been a slow process — one marred by massive layoffs and more studios exposed for unhealthy work environments — but it is one that is very much in the public consciousness, unfamiliar territory for a problem that has existed for decades.
According to Hight, however, World of Warcraft's dev team is already looking at ways to completely eliminate the practice and become a no-crunch team. World of Warcraft releases a full-on expansion, which is the rough equivalent of a new game releases, every two years, while the title also rolls out content updates every two-to-three months that are also hefty in size and depth. Given that live service games like Fortnite have been exposed for relying on crunch to meet these kinds of content expectations, Hight was asked about the Blizzard team's experience with crunch in an interview with Eurogamer, which prompted this reply:
"Generally our policy on the team itself is we want to be a no-crunch team. We're not there 100% yet, but we're really dramatically better than we were even five years ago, certainly 10 years ago. I think that very few parts of the team end up having to work any degree of overtime.
There's enough studies that have shown that people are just not that effective once they've crossed eight, 10 hours of work. At that point it's diminishing returns, so we don't really want to adhere to that. I thnk we're pretty successful, but we can always get better. I'd love it if we could have perfect work-life balance. That's a goal."
Unfortunately, Hight's reply means that World of Warcraft devs are still making the game under some amount of crunch, although at this point, it seems like far less than the industry standard. Hight also suggested that the shift away from crunch is also something of a cultural change, and that he has frequently had to tell people they need to go home instead of staying late at work to put in extra effort on the next content update.
Still, even acknowledging that crunch is an issue seems to be more than some studios are willing to do, and Blizzard's World of Warcraft team could easily be one of the most overworked in the industry had the publisher chosen to make it that way. Hight's decision to pursue a no-crunch game-making process is refreshing after hearing so many stories about developers being unfairly worked in recent months. Hopefully, seeing a major player in the industry enact this kind of philosophy is enough to cause other studios to re-think their practices as well.