Cyberpunk 2077 has involved months of crunch, despite past promises

Image: CD Projekt Red/CD Projekt

Cyberpunk 2077, one of the most highly anticipated video games of the past decade, has already been delayed three times. Employees at CD Projekt Red, the Polish studio behind the game, have reportedly been required to work long hours, including six-day weeks, for more than a year. The practice is called “crunch” in the video game industry, and it is sadly all too common.

It’s also something that the leadership at CD Projekt Red said wasn’t going to happen to the people making Cyberpunk 2077.

Video game developers rarely speak openly with the press about their labor practices, but that’s just what CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwiński did in May 2019. In a conversation with Kotaku, he said that his company thought of itself as more humane than its competitors. While long hours would be permitted for those interested in working them, crunch would not be made “mandatory.” He called it a “non-obligatory crunch policy” and said it was something to be proud of.

“We are known for treating gamers with respect,” Iwiński told Kotaku last year. “And I actually would [like] for us to also be known for treating developers with respect.” One month later he doubled down, all-but promising during a podcast that mandatory crunch would not be forced on his employees.

Shortly thereafter, signs began to emerge that the Cyberpunk 2077 project was in trouble.

In January 2020, CD Projekt announced the game’s first delay. The release date was moved from April to September. The multiplayer component was also pushed into at least 2022.

“We need more time to finish playtesting, fixing and polishing,” said Iwiński and head of studio Adam Badowski. “We want Cyberpunk 2077 to be our crowning achievement for this generation and postponing launch will give us the precious months we need to make the game perfect.”

That same day, during a public call with investors, CD Projekt revealed that crunch would ultimately be needed to get the game done on time. It would also be mandatory for at least some employees.

“Is the development team required to put in crunch hours?” asked an investor, to which CD Projekt CEO Adam Kiciński answered, “To some degree, yes, to be honest.”

“We try to limit crunch as much as possible,” Kiciński continued, “but it is the final stage. We try to be reasonable in this regard, but yes. Unfortunately.”

Six months later, the game was delayed for a second time — from September to November. Once again, Iwiński and Badowski said that more time needed to be spent on polishing the final game. The COVID-19 pandemic was at least partly to blame.

“The final few months are always the biggest hurdle, so these are always the most crucial months,” they wrote, “and we know that from our past experience. We’ve been there a couple of times in the past and of course this is the first time we’re doing that remotely, so we learn as we go — but that’s as much as I can say.”

In September, Bloomberg reiterated what CD Projekt’s leaders said to investors months before. A leaked email mandated six-day work weeks. Crunch had become a requirement, and according to anonymous employees, some developers had been working nights and weekends “for more than a year.”

In other words, delays do not mean relief for workers. Oftentimes, it simply means working at the same exhausting pace for additional weeks or months.

But the story doesn’t stop there. In October, CD Projekt announced that Cyberpunk 2077 had “gone gold,” meaning that the near-final game code had been sent to the major console manufacturers for certification to run on their devices. Then — a little more than three weeks later — the game was delayed again. Instead of Nov. 19, the game will instead launch on Dec. 10.

The move undoubtedly stretched the period of crunch required of CD Projekt’s workers even further.

Let there be no mistake that the practice of crunch is destructive. It’s a fact that those inside and outside the industry have acknowledged for decades. Human beings weren’t made to work these kinds of hours, and the true cost of crunch can be measured in the physical and the mental health of those it is forced upon — and also their families. CD Projekt claims to be a progressive company, and it maintains that employees will benefit from the success of the game that they’re helping to make. Badowski says that employees will share in the profits CD Projekt makes in 2020.

But let’s not sugarcoat it: Crunch is cruel. It is the result of poor management, and evidence of a disregard for the people working to make the games that we love to play. Crunch at this scale, and for this duration, casts a shadow over Cyberpunk 2077 — and actively undermines some of the progressive and cautionary themes no doubt present in the game itself.

Everything we know about Cyberpunk 2077

The game’s world 10
The specs 9
The development cycle 8
Tabletop 6
Spare parts 4
Guides 16

Comments

I feel like we’re being asked to be outraged on behalf of the crew for this game, but just I can’t. I would at least need a first hand account from someone at the studio, expressing that what they were subjected to was unreasonable. I think to put a stop to crunch, the employees would have to understand their worth, step up and complain themselves, and perhaps unionize.

Agreed. What I also don’t understand is why the gaming industry should be held to different standards as any other job? I’ve been subjected to mandatory over time and I work in the hobby industry, I didn’t see a community of people raise the pitch forks and protest our products over it, why should they care? As long as there are deadlines for games, there’s going to be crunch, these are facts.

Now, show me a video of them being forced to live in cubicles for days on end with a guy walking the aisles with a whip, now you’ve got a tragic story on your hands, but mandatory over time just isn’t that much of a heart string puller for me, sorry.

"My work sometimes treats me like garbage so everyone else’s should do the same" is a pretty awful way to look at this kind of thing. Have a little empathy.

I took the above comment to be more "all jobs have parts that suck" than "my job sucks so your’s should too". And why should empathy be extended to somebody that chooses to work in an environment where this is commonplace? This is their choice. Nobody is being forced to work in the video game industry. I’d be willing to bet that you would not extend this same empathy to analysts on Wall Street even though they work on average 80-100 hours a week. Because that’s the job.

This is such horrific thinking. So people are allowed to work in horrible conditions as long as it’s part of their desired industry? Game developers don’t deserve a 40 hour work week because they love their job too much?

Also, your wall street comparison is almost entirely spurious, because game developers make a pittance compared to even your entry level analysts or consultants, and the industry itself is notoriously unstable with little job security.

But seriously, I can’t get past the whole "if you like your job, your employer gets to treat you like shit" thing. I hope you never have a manager who thinks like that.

So, if you get paid a lot it’s okay for your employer to treat you like garbage? And what dollar amount is the cutoff for a 40 hour work week versus getting treated poorly? That’s why I used Wall Street as an example. Nobody has pity for them but, they work horrific hours and experience all of the same bad things people use as examples of why crunch is bad. But, you don’t care about them and their well being in the slightest because they aren’t the new cause du jour with think pieces telling you to feel sorry for them.

I did have a job I loved and got a new boss that thought like that. I quit and found a new job where I wasn’t forced to work 60-70 hours a week. I was happy with my 40 hours and my old job found somebody that liked working all the OT that they could. Choice is an amazing thing.

Choice is an amazing thing

You’re lucky to have, not everyone does.

but your world view is only as big as your backyard it seems

Being a video game developer or a wall street analyst is a choice and a very entitled one at that. Let’s not make it seem though as someone working a development job is on the same unfortunate situation as a single mother out there with no education working 2 jobs flipping burgers or some shit. Of the echelon of shit jobs out there, game dev and analyst are not high on the list.

Saying "it could be worse" is a quick way to make sure no progress is ever made. Do video game developers and Wall Street bankers likely have better career flexibility than your average high school dropout? Sure. But that’s no excuse to just accept the fact that these people are facing horrendous working conditions so that a few wealthy stockholders can continue to realize their capital gains.

If you approach every problem with a mindset of "it could be worse so don’t worry about it," you will never solve any problem. There’s always some way that something could be worse. Nihilism is a crap way to run a society.

As a high school dropout working in AAA game development; yeah we do have a lot of flexibility but many people taking jobs at studios like this do not. In particular CDPR is known to treat their developers like crap and many people avoid the studio for that reason. As such, there are a lot of people there that cannot just change employers, whether it be due to their circumstances, or due to their personal commitment to the project.

Another thing I saw mentioned here was "they should just unionize" — and let me tell you: we would if we could. Most attempts to unionize are stomped out by the bigger companies, or are just not actionable due to the fact we are an "emerging" market without any unions specializing in our field. That said, many developers are severely underpaid compared to their counterparts in other areas of software development, and are mistreated far more often as well. It’s a systemic problem in this industry, and it’s hard to find ethical employers.

All that said, I completely agree with you on all points here and wanted to share my own insight. People are far too quick to brush off these issues and just assume we’re privileged. It’s not a cakewalk working in this industry, as much as people would like to think it is. I also wish people would understand why a lot of developers don’t want to speak out; their jobs would be in jeopardy and the risk outweighs the reward.

Your hypothetical is awfully convenient. So, if you’re in the game industry working mandatory overtime for 52+ weeks, stop complaining because you’re not a single mother without an education working at 2 different Burger restaurants?

I assume you’re American at this point as that’s a very American response wherein the employer is always in the right and laborers should always be lucky they don’t have a "worse" job or that they chose to work at this bad job so "just get a new job in a new industry where the incredibly niche skills you gained will magically translate into another career".

So many comments in this thread I swear read as if they’re from CD Projekt Red’s PR department but I have zero doubt these are from actual people who have traded in even basic empathy for vile indifference.

If you want to address a problem, address the root of the problem. Not the side effects.

Here’s the thing, these are sought after jobs. It’s an active decision every person in the industry has made. No less so than any other white collar job.

This isn’t a job people are forced in to just to make ends meet. Most all production based jobs, which game development is, deal with as much and typically worse. To the point that the employees life and limb are severely at risk. So where’s the empathy for those people? The ones making everyones cars, planes, toys, windows, doors, siding, etc? Some of those jobs may be unionized today, but most unions truly only act to protect those in positions of authority at those unions.

Seeking to protect game developers only furthers that by putting them under the thumb of even more people with authority over them. Seeking to protect those at the highest risk to the abuses would also force other industries like gaming to meet at least the new minimum standards.

So why is this only an issue in gaming? Simply, bc Jason Schreier was told Bobby can’t come out and play today bc he has work to do. If people like him could see past their own personal agenda, actual change could be inacted.

You expect empathy, try showing it yourself.

So where’s the empathy for those people

It’s a well known fact you can only care about one thing at a time, and that if you don’t mention it every time in every conversation, you don’t care about the issue.

They are showing empathy. The entire article is expressing and asking others to show it. I’m sorry you either work in Manufacturing or know someone that is and that you feel that you should get empathy first before anyone else does.

Not at all what I said lol. My point was, if i had to work a ton of overtime in the hobby industry, our consumers would not care less and it wouldn’t stop them from buying our products. I don’t expect them to care.

Then your industry and its consumers are similar to your own attitude about the game industry and your consumption of it. Congrats I guess?

Agreed. What I also don’t understand is why the gaming industry should be held to different standards as any other job? I’ve been subjected to mandatory over time and I work in the hobby industry, I didn’t see a community of people raise the pitch forks and protest our products over it, why should they care?

Maybe people should care more. Have you ever thought maybe its not the video game industry that’s being held to a different standard but that the hobby industry standard is too low? Just because you’ve had it bad doesn’t mean other people should shut up and deal with it.

Now, show me a video of them being forced to live in cubicles for days on end with a guy walking the aisles with a whip, now you’ve got a tragic story on your hands, but mandatory over time just isn’t that much of a heart string puller for me, sorry.

A lot of times crunch isnt mandatory but its more of an unspoken expectation or pressure. If you decide to go home on time management might view you in a negative light or your workload might get dumped on someone else. Those are things that can make you feel guilty. I dont care what industry you work in, its not healthy to work hours and hours on end for days and weeks straight.
No one should have to go through crunch and anyone that thinks otherwise should lay off the kool-aid.

FTR, I never said that i had it bad, i actually love my job, and it’s very very rare that overtime is mandatory. My overall point is that overtime is quite common amongst alot of other jobs out there, and I don’t understand why we’re supposed to be up in arms because a game maker does. Idk if it has something to do with this cancel culture we’re living in now, or the fact that we need to be super PC to everyone or what, but it just seems like a silly thing to be arguing about.

So, you’re fine, you love your job and rarely if ever work overtime. But you think those that don’t love their job and work overtime almost exclusively are underserving of empathy because, hey, you’re doing good. And more-so, demands of empathy for them are part of a Political Correctness conspiracy to make people have empathy?

Whats with all the whataboutism? I’m saying we should be up in arms about all obscene amounts of overtime no matter what industry. But since this is a video game website that happens to be the industry we’re talking about. Just because you love your job and rarely work overtime, doesn’t mean others should shut up and work overtime for months on end.
Please elaborate on how any of that has to do with cancel culture or being super PC?

I didn’t see a community of people raise the pitch forks and protest our products over it

Have you ever spoken up about it? It’s not like people are going to instantly know the ins and outs of your industry.

On a side note, I work in the railroad industry, people usually get their pitchforks out against the colleagues when they stand up for their rights. So people definitely notice when you make a big enough stink of it.

why should they care

Humans have this thing called empathy. Sometimes we care about the plights of others for no good reason.

Must be an USA thing. Games are the only industry I’ve worked in where overtime was forced for crunch and mandatory. I looked at the release schedule and how it overlapped important calendar events. I left making a point of it – showing the calendar to numerous people and asking if they overlap too. And the ones that did left (4, but it was a small team so like 15% of the workforce. Always been proud of that moment not sure if emojis work here.

I left and set up my own studio. Released 5 games under our company name and finished another for another local company. That was ages ago and I can live off the royalties — still! The tail exists but never ends!

I’ll write up my thoughts on Cyberpunk in a separate post. They’re not positive on the company.

We Americans hold employers and corporations as our most important idols, above even our devout religious ones, in terms of how blindly and without fail we’ll rush to their defense consistently and without question in the face of overwhelming evidence they don’t have our best interests as employees and consumers at heart.

It’s really funny because this exists, just from a few hours ago:

https://www.polygon.com/2020/12/4/22058784/cyberpunk-2077-marketing-cd-projekt-red-transphobia

And now this article was made, talking about CDPR and crunch for the nth’ time.

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