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Devolver Digital co-founder talks about how crunch affects indie studios

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In recent weeks the games industry has been having an overdue conversation about working conditions, focusing on the issue of crunch. The inciting incident was Dan Houser's comment on Rockstar employees working 100 hour weeks (opens in new tab) which led to an investigation by Kotaku (opens in new tab) and then comments by various Rockstar developers on the subject of its tendency to encourage death-march crunch (opens in new tab).

The culture of crunch doesn't just affect big-budget studios. Speaking to PC Gamer at PAX Australia, Graeme Struthers said that he and his colleagues at indie publishing label Devolver Digital (which he co-founded) have been discussing the issue as well.

"I'm sure Red Dead's going to be an absolutely huge success," he said, "and I hope  they use some of that success to address what seems to be a fairly deep-rooted issue. And I'm sure they will, because it's in their best interest to keep that talent and nurture it."

Even self-managed indie developers remain at the mercy of timed commitments: marketing deadlines and game conventions count among these, as do crowded release schedules. The pressure to overwork is still there.

"My view personally is that if you're a company that owns a studio you've got to figure out better ways of working with your own employees and take better care of them," Struthers said. "In the same way when you work like we do, independent studios, you've got to take care of people because they can basically throw themselves into unhealthy work practices. It's very easy to do that."

Devolver work with indie studios all over the world, which can make that difficult. Especially when the personal touch is needed, as Struthers explained. "I'm not joking, sometimes one of us or two of us have jumped on a plane to go to another country to effectively take people out to eat and have a night off," he said. "We're not pressuring [developers to crunch] at all, in fact we're trying to push them in the other direction—which is have a normal balanced life. 

"I told my dad this, and he said to me 'You were a nightmare at school, you'd wait two days before an exam and then cram.' So I'm not sure how you solve that one, but you have to pay attention to it and you have to try to help people make good decisions about their mental health."

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was published in 2015, he edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and actually did play every Warhammer videogame.