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Night in the Woods dev slams crunch work culture: 'people are going to die'

Night in the Woods is a wonderful, heartfelt and often humorous coming of age narrative adventure game. Andy loved it, and it's since won a host of prestigious awards. Behind the scenes, though, bouts of crunch negatively impacted developer Infinite Fall more than its whimsical game might have let on. Scott Benson thinks a cultural shift is required.

"The reason we're killing ourselves isn't because we love what we're doing," Benson tells gamesindustry.biz, referencing his Night in the Woods GDC postmortem earlier this year. Here Benson discussed the stress he and his colleagues endured in the run up to launch, and how this impacted the team's collective wellbeing. 

"That's the thing we tell ourselves and tell people: 'We're just so passionate about it'," says Benson. "But I'm passionate about a lot of things and I don't kill myself over them. The reason we're killing ourselves is money and deadlines. It's these material constraints."

Benson tells GI.biz that pressures levied by Night in the Woods' Kickstarter—which accrued over four times its initial ask—added more stress still. Night in the Woods was first earmarked for a January 2015 release, however launched in February last year. Benson says that announcing a delay is treated by some as a "mortal sin" and a direct insult. 

Benson also mentions internal pressures to overwork. "It's a cultural thing we have to fight against. One of the reasons I talk about the experience is because I want to say that was not heroic. That was not cool. That was bad. And it came out of some material conditions, but also because I was not valuing myself enough to stop, I don't think."

Benson concludes by saying despite this intrinsic desire to work hard, employees should never "find their jobs hanging on it". This is otherwise abuse and exploitation, says Benson, which by his reckoning can only be stopped laws, unions and organisation.  

"That's the only way," he says. "No executive's going to say, 'Man I just hate making money. I hate this. Maybe I can just give it back to the people I work for and maybe the game can come out next year some time.' No one's going to do that. There is no opposing force to that that isn't someone producing that value they're using to buy a yacht. There's no other place this could come from.

"I think new models of this have to be made, because people are going to die. People die from overwork. Marriages get ruined. People never see their children. That's all bad, but we consider it good, like 'Yeah, you sacrificed!' Why? Fucking why?"

Read Scott Benson's interview with gamesindustry.biz in full this way