Crunch and Consumers

The announcement of Cyberpunk 2077’s delay came together with a barely-tacit admission that the developers would be crunching to meet this already-delayed release date.

It should, I think, be an uncontroversial statement to say that crunch is bad. It’s psychologically draining, demotivating and simply leads to bad quality work from people. For the individual, it’s also completely unsustainable.

For the corporation though, you can pretty much go on crunch mode forever if you are able to replenish your workforce as they slowly get fired or quit from depression and disillusionment. This is very much happening. Blizzard did this when they laid off over 800 people before relisting their job positions with either lower pay or more responsibilities or both.

Hiring and firing is a hassle, of course, but the crunch, ah yes the crunch makes it worth it. Crunch make thing go fast. When thing go fast, you make more thing. When you make more thing you make more money.

But hey, games are made for us consumers right? What if we, through sheer force of miraculous will, collectively decided we didn’t like our favourite game devs crunching? What is that sacred power we have under Capitalism? It’s like democracy but the rich have more power. Oh right! It’s called voting with your wallet. So let’s say we did just that. How does the company respond? Maybe, if you’re lucky, they stop crunching. Maybe, instead, they do something else to cope with lost revenue. They fire people. They add micro-transactions. They make smaller games. There’s a whole host of ways a company can cope with lost revenue. If your company culture involves crunch, it can feel like it’s impossible to separate your company from that culture. That certainly seems to be CD Projekt Red’s attitude. You can give them a reason to change. You can’t direct *how* they change.

The awkward truth here is that the idea of ‘voting with your wallet’, the power to shift markets and corporations through market incentives, is severely limited in a variety of ways. After all, you’re controlling a company’s bottom line, which is really just a single number. Maybe the power to stop crunch has to come from somewhere else. Maybe it has to come from within.