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Epic president defends 'crunch' comments

Michael Capps responds to criticism, details studio's crunch rules

Epic president Michael Capps has responded to recent criticism about quality of life comments he made in late 2008, defending the need for occasional 'crunch time' and outlining the studio's standards and expectations for employee hours.

In an interview with consumer weblog Joystiq, Capps responded directly to criticism from Manifesto Games CEO Greg Costikyan and several members of the International Game Developers Association community, who called out Capps for advocating long work schedules during a late 2008 discussion panel.

In the panel Capps said that the company culture at Epic was "very different than the traditional forty hour work week kind of stuff."

"We're not about that. We split the profits internally with the people in our company, so no, we purposely don't hire people, because we want to work sixty hours a week so we don't have to split the pie up as much," he continued.

"The nine to five work week, I don't think that fits for our industry," he added. "And it's not just because we mismanage or mis-schedule."

Critics have reacted harshly to these comments, with Costikyan saying that "The notion that a f*cking board member of the IGDA should defend (and indeed, within his own studio, foster) such exploitative practices is offensive on the face of it, and has caused a considerable kerfluffle within the organisation."

Speaking recently with Joystiq, Capps responded: "Honestly, I'm not sure which of the various things that got everybody so upset. I think the main one was that if someone walks into the door and says, 'I refuse to ever work past 5pm, I'll never work more that 40 hours a week and you can't make me,' they're probably not a fit for us."

"I mean, our average number of work hours is what, 49, 50 in the US? So to have someone walk in and say they refuse to ever crunch for an E3 demo, it's kind of silly."

When questioned, Capps revealed that Epic employees observe three rules during a work day: they must work eight in-office hours, they must be in the office between 1:30pm and 5pm for meetings, and they must be out by 2am.

"Honestly, the rule I have the most trouble here with these guys is kicking them out at 2," said Capps. "That's the one that pisses folks off. It's not the 8 hours a day, it's the 2am and I'm still working and I'm on a 'I've got a bug by the tail and I want to finish it.' And we'll have someone going around banging on doors, kicking everybody out because they need to go home."

Capps also admits to crunch, estimating that for Gears of War 2 the team was working approximately twelve hour days, five days a week, for a six week stretch. Even during crunch, the 2am rule is "absolutely" enforced.

Capps also revealed Epic's voluntary turnover rate averages between 1 and 1.3 per cent per year, or approximately one employee, which he described as "shockingly below industry standards."

"Everybody here is incentivised," said Capps. "All of our money stays in the building. There's no 'send it off to the ownership' or to some fund or something like that. They're paid extremely well and we're very creative about spending money rather than just giving out money. You know, spending on benefits and finding new ways to make the benefits here better."

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Latest comments (6)

I think EPIC are making it perfectly clear how they want to work and their employees are hired on the basis of that work structure. So, to criticise them for their practices is a little harsh considering how open they are about it.
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Stephen Triche , Yatec12 years ago
A few weeks of crunch before a demo or launch is fine, especially when it's work the employees are passionate about; that doesn't seem exploitative. As long as employees don't have to neglect their families, and the crunch period doesn't go into the months, I don't see a real problem.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Stephen Triche on 24th April 2009 2:53pm

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Chris Kolmatycki Game Designer, HB Studios12 years ago
There's nothing wrong with this if the employees are informed of what may happen before accepting a position. I commend Mr. Capps for willing to be so upfront and ensure people know what they're getting into when they work for Epic. A less scrupulous company would likely hide the fact as long as possible.
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Show all comments (6)
Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd12 years ago
Would this be legal in Europe under EU work directive rules?
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games12 years ago
Crunch time is a reality for many industries for decades. Don't accountants stay at night for work, don't they take work at home? don't doctors stay longer in the hositals? professional drivers on the wheel although very strict rules apply? parents spend many sleeless nights and students near exams. Scientists waiting for results of their experiments...

I think it is understood by every passionate employee that it is "required" from him to stay longer at office and support the goal of the team if that means bringing a quality product to the market and the emloyee believes in it. As an artist i do not remember myself leaving earlier than 6-7 PM even though nobody ever asked me to. The same i remember for most of my coleagues artists or programmers. In EU.

Crunch times are not a welcome event for anyone. Nobody wants our coleagues and friends to stay up for countless nights and sleep on the keyboard or with a wacom pen at hand. But many times the team has to. And the company has to appreciate and reward a team's efforts.

This is not an enforced practice but rather work ethics, dedication, and passion that makes a difference!!!

And the result of that is shown in the AAAA games epic and equivalent studios bring to the market.

Acting like crunchtime is something unheard of...or even the greatest evil... well i think it is not realistic.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 27th April 2009 7:17pm

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Mat Bettinson Business Development Manager, Tantalus Media12 years ago
It's talking at cross purposes though isn't it. Crunch time at a studio by keen employees greatly motivated/incentivated to deliver the final polish on that great AAA title... well that's one thing.

Then there's systemic crunch due to poor project management by non-incentivized and demotivated staff on projects which were always under resourced and over specced. That with the staff staring down the barrel of being let go just as soon as they've delivered or the project is cancelled.

When is it okay? When is it not okay? Well that's up to employees isn't it? How much do you want to work in games, what will you put up with?

Annecdotally what I've seen is that it's young guns who want to work on the big console projects because that's sexy cool. It's often these type of projects which are horrific. Eventually young gun gets married, has kids and says "You know what? I'm sick of delivering blood and then getting sacked at the end (or middle) of it" and buggers off to another industry to program databases or draw pictures for an advertising agency.

I'm really not trying to sing up our company here because I'm sure there's a lot more like us. I think it needs to be said though: We've got guys here at who have worked on a string of big budget console games that were never even released. Not a single credit on their CV. Now they're happy to be working on a 'lowly' DS game, knowing that it'll ship and happy that there's a job for them as soon as they've finished the project.

It's a shame because there's a lot of game development going on in the world which is much more 9-5. It's just often not the sexiest game development. Unfortuantely we see a lot of talent upping off to the sexy-dev, burning out and leaving the industry for good.

I think the crunch issue is symptomatic of a general failure to spec, cost and manage those projects effectively. The structure of game dev deals generally has the developer pitch to get the job done for a fixed cost. If the job isn't getting done there's no more money on the table.

On the other hand that doesn't explain why we hear the worst stories from those internal publisher studios...
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