Callous, crunch-heavy work culture keeps shaking the games industry, but it seems like some developers are at least trying to safeguard against it. Colin Walder, a CD Projekt Red engineering director with over a decade of AAA audio programming experience, discussed game industry leadership during Inven Game Conference in South Korea this week. Then, in an October 15 interview with esports site and conference host Inven Global, he spoke about how the studio behind The Witcher now avoids crunch, considering it a lesson taught by Cyberpunk 2077’s grueling development period.
Crunch isn’t as useful as a looming deadline may make it seem—it didn’t save role-playing game Cyberpunk from being called fundamentally broken for a long time after it revealed its dystopia in 2020. It wasn’t until this September, when CDPR released its Phantom Liberty expansion, that Cyberpunk could bandage problems that had been bleeding for a long time. Before that, CDPR was stuck in a cycle.
“Every time we delivered something, it was intense,” Walder said.“It was always like, ‘Okay, how are we going to do this?’ And then, somehow, we achieved that.”
Prior to Cyberpunk’s launch, Bloomberg reported, CDPR made six-day work weeks mandatory, acknowledging that “crunch should never be the answer. But we’ve extended all other possible means of navigating the situation.”
Things are different now, Walder said, because they had to be.
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“The morale took a significant hit; that’s clear,” he said about Cyberpunk’s development. “The crucial thing was to acknowledge what happened. We had to admit that the outcome wasn’t what we’d hoped for and that we were determined to change things. But it’s one thing to say it; it has to be put into practice, you know? Actions speak louder than words.”
For CDPR’s more recent projects, including its pristine spy-thriller Phantom Liberty and forthcoming The Witcher 3 follow-up Polaris, “instead of reverting to crunch,” Walder explained, “we might say, ‘Let’s adjust the schedule,’ or, ‘Let’s approach this differently.’ Once this becomes a repeated behavior—once the team sees a genuine effort to prevent crunch—that’s when trust and morale start to rebuild. People need to see it to believe it.”
Finding solidarity helps, too. CDPR has its tail between its legs about crunch, but it’s still a major piece of the creaking games industry, and it was one of many studios to announce layoffs earlier this year. In response, CDPR developers created the Polish Gamedev Workers Union, writing on its website that it was time to “voice the employees’ concerns about the safety and conditions of employment.”