According to a massive new report by Polygon, developers at Epic Games are working 70 to 100-hour weeks on Fortnite years after the game’s launch in September 2017. These reports come to Polygon from several current and former employees of Epic Games, while those in Epic’s quality assurance and customer service departments also speaking of a “stressful and hostile working environment in which working overtime – while officially voluntary – was an expected service to the company.”
While the staff were paid overtime for their additional hours (Epic Games is pretty darn flush with cash thanks to Fortnite), the devs reported a “culture of fear” while speaking with journalists. “They were expected to pull long hours as part of their job. Some reported suffering health issues after working consecutive months of 70-hour weeks,” Polygon reports.
However harrowing those basic facts are in the opening of Polygon‘s report are, the direct quotes from current and former devs are even more devastating.
“I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.
“The biggest problem is that we’re patching all the time. The executives are focused on keeping Fortnite popular for as long as possible, especially with all the new competition that’s coming in.”
A representative for Epic conceded that workers had endured extreme working hours. “People are working very hard on Fortnite and other Epic efforts,” said a spokesperson in an email interview. “Extreme situations such as 100-hour work weeks are incredibly rare, and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence.”
But meeting player demand and maintaining the game’s momentum has forced some to endure ongoing crunch.
“The executives keep reacting and changing things,” said the source. “Everything has to be done immediately. We’re not allowed to spend time on anything. If something breaks — a weapon, say — then we can’t just turn it off and fix it with the next patch. It has to be fixed immediately, and all the while, we’re still working on next week’s patch. It’s brutal.
“I hardly sleep. I’m grumpy at home. I have no energy to go out. Getting a weekend away from work is a major achievement. If I take a Saturday off, I feel guilty. I’m not being forced to work this way, but if I don’t, then the job won’t get done.”
Unfortunately, this new report is just another instance in the massive sea of overworked game devs. It’s an industry epidemic that supports a culture where devs are expected to work ridiculous hours for months to oversee development on games. That many game devs are hired as contract workers just supports the abuse by game publishers and studios, as contract workers have less recourse for unpaid overtime and fewer (if any) benefits.
Now, there are those who disagree with the fact that game devs are expected to work long hours. Industry veteran Alex St. John took to VentureBeat way back in 2016 to argue that “making games is not a job—it’s an art,” and therefore devs should give everything they have to their games and not expect fair wages or conventional work hours. Other game devs I’ve spoken to argue that the 100-hour reports are often true, but that the devs in question sustain that pace only for a few days, and therefore we shouldn’t take the complaints too seriously.
But both of those arguments don’t hold water. Video game development is a massive, billion dollar industry. Game development studios and publishers put out quarterly investor reports for their shareholders, and some are part of the Fortune 500 list of companies. Pretending like that isn’t the case, that game devs are a “starving artist” cliche is just backwards. And abusing workers shouldn’t be an industry standard practice that we hear about with every major game release.
That sentiment, that something has to change in industry standards, is best put by the quote that ends Polygon‘s feature:
“It’s killing people. Something has to change. I can’t see how we can go on like this for another year. At first, it was fine, because Fortnite was a big success and that felt good. We were solving problems that were new for Epic: how to run a big, global game as an online service. But now the workload is just endless.”
If you’d like to support change in the game development industry, Game Workers Unite! is attempting to start a game dev union and could use the help.