Fortnite is the latest game to put its developers through more than is necessary or moral, according to a report circulated earlier today. The success of Fortnite hasn't exactly been overnight—it's easy to forget that the game only added its battle royale mode after its initial launch—but the game's growth has been so rapid that developer Epic Games has had to make several adjustments over the past few years just to keep up with the demands of fans.
Discussions over "crunch", the term used to describe employee overtime in the video game industry, have been intensifying over the past few months. The discussion began in October when developer Rockstar Games was revealed to have had employees working 100-hour work weeks in anticipation of Red Dead Redemption 2's launch. While the company indicated that these work weeks were not mandatory, the debate surrounding the ethics of even allowing them to happen in the first place raged on for weeks, although the questionable decision-making behind the game didn't stop it from garnering dozens of end-of-year accolades.
Despite the controversy surrounding crunch, it appears studios are quite a ways away from actually ceasing the practice, as Epic Games' Fortnite staff have been enduring it as well. According to a report from Polygon, anonymous Epic Games employees have confirmed that over a period of several months, staff has been working in excess of 70-hour weeks, with some of those totaling 100-hours. Staff stated that while working overtime was voluntary, a combination of a stressful and hostile working environment made it much more of an expected service than someone going above and beyond the call of their position. One employee elaborated:
"I work an average 70 hours a week. 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."
When reached for comment, a representative for Epic even conceded that its employees were enduring extreme work hours, and that the company perceives these issues to be "incredibly rare". Here's the comment in full, which was provided to Polygon in its report:
"People are working very hard on Fortnite and other Epic efforts. Extreme situations such as 100-hour work weeks are incredibly rare, and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence."
According to Epic, the success of Fortnite created difficulties for the company in terms of sustaining growth and creating increased workloads. According to multiple sources in the report, crunch is an implied element of the job at Epic, with many employees believing that working in a AAA studio just makes it part of the job. A telling quote from one employee helped illustrate why the sudden explosion of popularity that came with Fortnite's battle royale mode was a key factor in this crunch culture:
"We're always in crunch. Crunch never ends in a live service game like [Fortnite]. You're always building more content and more stuff."
Obviously, this kind of work environment is not okay—no one should be expected to more than double their expected workload each week, and there are serious health issues that can arise from working the kind of shifts that are apparently occurring with some regularity at Epic. Something needs to change, whether it be live service models being recognized as time-intensive so that studios hire way more staff to work on them, or a different service model being implemented into games as the industry continues to evolve. It's not just about work ethics—although that's a big deal as well—but it's literally about human lives. 100-hour weeks can be genuinely fatal. Hopefully it doesn't take an occurrence like that to get studios to seriously reconsider what they ask of their employees.