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Crunching to Complete Cyberpunk 2077 / Pushing Limits for Perfection

It takes a large amount of time to enable passionate designers to create the games we play. There are coders programing artificial intelligence, musicians creating soundtracks, and story writers who are telling the story that brings everything together. Each studio has its own collection of inspired and talented people who love video games, and work in collaboration to meet deadlines during our gaming seasons. Everyone has a big job to do, and hours can fluctuate as deadlines close in on phases of development, and quite often, lead into overtime. We as a community have seen plenty of examples this past generation of studios rushing a game out and compromising on quality, but that is not what I’m focusing on here. I want to shed light on what crunching is, the sacrifice it demands, and how CD Projeckt Red is using crunch to complete their highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077. 

In the worst-case scenario, when overtime is not enough, developers begin what is known as crunching, pushing the studio and its employees to their physical limits. This practice is used when parts of the game need polishing, but also when a phase of development faces complications, interior or exterior, threatening to interfere with the game’s roadmap and release. During crunch time, which is typically initiated during the final stages of a game’s development, employees are asked to work beyond their regular hours, making significant compromises. In the case of Red Dead Redemption, employees reached schedules demanding 100 hours weekly, which almost always were left uncompensated, as their jobs were salaried, and could be taken away from them, if employees chose not to exert themselves. 

Crunch time is very tense for a studio. Though it is considered non-mandatory, and a person may choose to go home after their day is over and return to severe repercussions. As with during Red Dead Redemption’s development crunch, Rockstar had told their employees that not staying late would be “naturally selecting” themselves, leading to their terminations. Some reported to have spent days at their offices and sleeping at their chairs for one or two hours maximum, given less time for meal and bathroom breaks. Others experienced even worse, from PSTD, loss of normal bodily functions or even mental illness, which is sickening considering oftentimes the extra work put in wasn’t even compensated.

 Crunch is a double-edged sword which is significantly sharper on the wrong side. The costs of pushing a work force to the extent that the quality of the game is compromised as well as their own wellbeing isn’t even from a choice they individually get to make, but their publisher does. As they are investing money and resources into studios, they can make creative demands, such as adding a Battle Royale mode to follow what is trending, without offering additional resources or allowing a deadline delay. Crunch is a dangerous technique which is being used out of necessity and ignorance to the wellbeing of creators. We understand what crunch is. We understand what it does to people. And we now understand that CD Projeckt Red has delayed their game and plans to crunch. What does this mean for Cyberpunk 2077? CD Projeck Red Joint-CEO Adam Kiciński answered honestly during a Q&A conference call also discussing the delay:
To some degree, yes - to be honest…We try to limit crunch as much as possible, but it is the final stage. We try to be reasonable in this regard, but yes, Unfortunately. Of course, it was a tough decision, but we and our team – which was informed minutes ago – think that this was a good decision and that having an extra five months will enable us to deliver a perfect game.

CD Projeckt Red are their own publisher and have made the choice to crunch on their own. The team long decided to make Cyberpunk 2077 their crown jewel and a worthy successor of the Witcher franchise, so the use of crunch, and the entire studio’s decision to buckle down has me inversely quite confident. I’m still mentally prepared to be knocked out of my chair and straight into the streets of Night City. There have been discussions and rumors about a potential new teaser or new sweet details from CDPR, and I can’t wait to share them here with everybody. 


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