Few names are bigger in gaming than Amy Hennig, and now the former Uncharted director and writer (and current Electronic Arts employee) is speaking out against development crunch. It’s no secret that many games are turned around on tight deadlines, and Hennig shows that these problems still exist even for some of the biggest developers in the industry. This comes from a great episode of Idle Thumbs’ Designer Notes podcast, where Hennig discusses her time at Naughty Dog and working on Uncharted 3.
When asked about what impact working at Naughty Dog had on her personal life, Hennig had a sobering response (transcription courtesy of GamesIndustry.biz). “[It was] really hard. The whole time I was at Naughty Dog – ten-and-a-half years – I probably, on average, I don’t know if I ever worked less than 80 hours a week. There were exceptions where it was like, ‘Okay, let’s take a couple of days off,’ but I pretty much worked seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.”
Hennig also revealed that it wasn’t just her who was working a crazy schedule, as she said “a lot” of the team would work weekends as well. “Naughty Dog is pretty notorious for the amount of crunch, but obviously in a leadership role you try and do even more,” revealed Hennig.
She also described the working conditions in 2011, while she worked on Uncharted 3. “[Uncharted] 3 was hard, because even though we had two years again, it was two years after two projects that were a crunch,” revealed Hennig. “And it was a time when we were also trying to grow the studio and split into two teams, and deal with all of the recruitment issues that went into that. And try to figure out what to do in the face of the success of the second game, and still only have two years with all those challenges. It was a tough one.”
Finally, Hennig gave a speech about development crunch not being worth it, and said something had to change.
There’s people who never go home and see their families. They have children who are growing up without seeing them. I didn’t have my own kids. I chose my career in lots of ways, and I could be single-minded like that. When I was making sacrifices, did it affect my family? Yes, but it was primarily affecting me and I could make that choice. But when I look at other people… I mean, my health really declined, and I had to take care of myself, because it was, like, bad. And there were people who, y’know, collapsed, or had to go and check themselves in somewhere when one of these games were done. Or they got divorced. That’s not okay, any of that. None of this is worth that
We have to get our act figured out as an industry, and the problem is that the ante keeps getting upped… It’s an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people.
It’s a sobering reminder that games don’t get made out of thin air, and that thousands of hours of hard work get put into every experience. Hopefully the industry will change sooner rather than later, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. It’s probably something that gamers should remember the next time they get upset over a game and lash out at developers over social media.