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 which led to an investigation by Kotaku and then comments by various Rockstar developers on the subject of its tendency to encourage death-march crunch.
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."