During a discussion at the Gamelab conference in Barcelona, Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime, who has left the company in April, suggested that he doesn’t know if Blizzard would be the studio it is today if it wasn’t for the crunch its founders and initial employees put into its projects.
“Blizzard has definitely evolved around crunch,” Morhaime said. “In our early days, we crunched crazy hours to get the games done. I think if you’re a small studio, you’re living or dying by the success of the next project, it takes a lot of superhuman effort – or at least it did for us…I can’t speak for other companies and I’m sure there are better ways of doing things, but for us, I don’t think we would have been as successful if we hadn’t put in everything that we had.”
We’ve heard other major industry figures in the past state that crunch usually does start when a company is getting on its feet and trying to grow. The problems start to come when that crunch becomes ingrained in a company’s culture and soon becomes standard practices. So far as that goes, Morhaime agrees that crunch is not sustainable over long periods of time.
“That is not sustainable, and we need to find better ways of working,” Morhaime said. “They’re taking breaks, they’re sleeping, and I think the larger companies are able to hire more staff. And actually even the smaller companies – there’s a lot more money coming into the space these days, so even the smaller companies are able to get funded to do the work they want to do better than in the past.”
While some companies (including Blizzard) have stated that they are making efforts to curb crunch culture, we’re not entirely sure that breaks and naps are actual solutions to these problems nor are we really seeing the kind of changes we really need. Just recently, we heard about Treyarch (a studio working under Blizzard’s partner, Activision), mistreating their contract employees with long hours and predatory policies.
Of course, part of the reason why crunch is generally accepted at the start of a company is that many of those working for the company at that point are literally and figuratively invested in its success. While expanded profit-sharing programs may not fix every problem with crunch culture, it’s certainly one of the more progressive things that a studio can do to help their employees feel like their time is truly valued.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014.