Last month, CD Projekt said it wanted to ensure that developers on Cyberpunk 2077 didn't have to endure the punishing crunch that concluded development of The Witcher 3. That included the implementation of "non-obligatory crunch," a policy enabling developers to take a pass on working long hours if they don't want to do it.
In an E3 interview with Kotaku, CD Projekt Red chief Marcin Iwiński reiterated the studio's commitment to making the policy work. The big Cyberpunk 2077 demo for the show was a good opportunity to put words into action, "and it did work," he said.
"Some people were working long hours on the demo and some who felt like they wanted to leave, they were leaving, and it was no problem," Iwiński said. "Actually it's still a lot of work of work ahead of us [on the crunch policy] because we want to make sure that there will be no guilt when people will be leaving early if they need to, in case we ask some people to stay. But I think that's how it's supposed to be, and I'm really happy with that.
"I think the most important thing is to make it something normal, something part of the company culture—it's OK if you stay longer hours if it's needed, and it's OK if you go home. Just let's have an open conversation about it, and don't feel guilty. That's what we really mean about the non-obligatory crunch. But it is as good as it works in practice, because we can say a lot of things, but if it's not introduced properly—I mean an introduction and commitment is one thing, but then making sure it works, on the HR side with the team leaders and producers and whatnot, and we're putting a lot of focus on that."
Iwiński acknowledged that it's impossible to eliminate all external influences that push people toward working extra hours—just seeing other developers volunteering to do it is a form of pressure in itself—but said that it's the job of studio management to make it as clear as possible to everyone that crunch is not mandatory.
He also suggested, although he seemed a little evasive on the point, that the decision to bring out Cyberpunk 2077 in April 2020 rather than trying to launch it this year was made in part to avoid making it "a ginormous burden on the team."
"Why we’ve been making this public commitment is because we really care about the people that are making this game," Iwiński said. "It’s not me coding personally or painting something, it’s the super-talented folks that decided to join us, and I want to make sure they feel taken care of and respected."
There are some contradictions in Iwiński's statments. He says both that long hours are "needed" and that employees don't need to work long hours. If development is structured in such a way that employees can go home after eight hours and still hit deadlines, then why should any long hours be "needed?"
It doesn't sound like a perfect solution, but it is heartening that more and more developers are addressing the issue of crunch, and that we shouldn't expect Cyberpunk 2077 to be the product of people pressured into sleeping in the office and neglecting health and family—a culture that seems to be finally on the way out in the industry, even if there's a long way to go.