It’s been a rollercoaster week or so for CD Projekt Red after they announced Cyberpunk 2077 would be delayed to September 2020, instead of their initial release date of April 16. They aren't alone either, with fellow Polish devs Techland announcing Dying Light 2 has slipped to an undisclosed date.
I was initially thrilled that this would give CDPR and their development team breathing room to complete and polish what is hoped to be one of the best RPGs of all time. No pressure. But, Projekt Red curiously also added that their developers would still be 'required' to put in crunch time, working overtime to meet the September deadline despite the five-month delay.
This raises an interesting thought: Am I still comfortable buying Cyberpunk 2077 when knowing the devs have crunched to get it complete? I know from previous games that crunch can often impact the mental and physical wellbeing of workers.
One developer mentioned after GTA V was delayed three times, he was forced to work an extra six months of overtime in the same period of time, which seems excessive and straining on the developer.
For those of us outside the development bubble it can be difficult to picture what crunch even is. We’ve all worked long hours and had tough weeks at some time or another, but development crunch has spawned reports of 90-hour+ work weeks for months on end. Of sleeping under desks; of a complete lack of social lives, or even missing their children’s entire childhood while coding away on a $300m project. It’s the sheer length of the thing which tends to grind developers down, a seemingly endless slog with precious little reward outside of the elusive ‘prestige’.
It puts me in a difficult situation. I could decide to boycott companies that exercise this practice - By not buying the game, I’m making a conscious effort to say “No, this is wrong”. But, on the other hand, by not buying the game, I devalue the work (and extra work) the developers have put in.
If we all collectively decided not to play Cyberpunk 2077 and it completely flopped, the time, effort and strain the developers put in would be for nothing - it would be a true waste of time and energy.
So what’s the alternative? In a way, the environment that leads to crunch culture is unavoidable. There will always be a squeeze to get a game out for its intended release date, but I think the way this is managed could help greatly.
Instead of making it feel as if overtime is mandatory, make it truly optional. Support the developers by offering them time off if they need it, or options to work at their own pace.
And most importantly, delay if needed - most people would rather a good, polished game than a rushed, buggy mess, and the extra development time would definitely help the developers and improve the end product for the player.