The Callisto Protocol Proves That Crunch Isn’t Worth It

Earlier this year, The Callisto Protocol director Glen Schofield came under fire for promoting crunch culture at developer Striking Distance. “We r working 6-7 days a week, nobody’s forcing us,” he said in a since- deleted tweet. “Exhaustion, tired, Covid but we’re working. Bugs glitches, perf fixes. 1 last pass thru audio. 12-15 hr days.This is gaming. Hard work. Lunch, dinner working. U do it cause ya luv it [sic]”

We didn’t luv it, and the immediate backlash caused Schofield to delete his tweet and issue an apology, but the quote is still worth looking at in the week since The Callisto Protocol’s release. The first and most egregious part of Schofield’s tweet is the assertion that “nobody’s forcing us”. Maybe nobody’s forcing you, Mr. Director, but if you’re creating a culture of 15 hour days and working through lunch and even Covid (which is a whole other safety issue), there’s a chance that employees will feel forced. You don’t want to be the developer who goes home to their family for dinner, and is therefore seen as not pulling their weight and passed over for promotions or opportunities.

Despite the team’s potentially 105-hour work weeks, The Callisto Protocol had a divisive launch. For many players, the game stuttered to the point it was unplayable. I don’t say this often, but check out the Steam reviews to see a lot of players experiencing such issues. However, even without performance problems, there’s not much to like about the game, as our reviewer Andrew King points out.

Late on Sunday night, The Callisto Protocol’s official Twitter account wrote that a second patch, following the Day One patch, was live. “We are listening, working hard on updates, and will have details to share on more upcoming improvements early this week,” it read. Developers have worked through the weekend on these fixes, a weekend when they should be celebrating their creation. Schofield even blamed the problems on “a freakin error by someone rushing”, but who was rushing them? Despite Schofield’s promises that Striking Distance doesn’t crunch, despite his assertions and apologies, countless devs put in overtime this weekend. And for what?

I’m certain I’ll get some responses along the lines of, “Why should they celebrate releasing a broken game?” or, “The game needed fixing!” On the first point, creating games is pure magic, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool. It never ceases to amaze me that games are created full stop, even ones with bugs or glitches. That’s something to celebrate. Secondly, you can wait for a patch. Yes, a lot of people will have hoped to play The Callisto Protocol over the weekend, but that wasn’t possible. It’s fine to be disappointed, but it’s not the end of the world. There are other games you can play. You want science fiction? Play Citizen Sleeper. Zombies? Darktide. There are so many games. Would it have been an issue if the performance patch had released on Tuesday instead? Friday even, to give the devs ample time to fix the issues without working into their evenings or lunchtimes?

At this point, I’m just sick of studios overworking their developers. I’m sick of hearing directors and bosses like Cap’n Crunch here brag about how hard their teams work and how many hours they put in. I want to hear a triple-A studio do the opposite, boasting about how few hours their devs put in, how their four-day work week improves productivity, and how many lovely holidays the devs are going on. Whether your game releases as a masterpiece or a broken mess, killing your devs along the way is never worth it.

The Callisto Protocol is proof that no matter how much you crack the whip, crunch cannot guarantee good results. Or perhaps the results are because Striking Distance bosses cracked the whip so much. Let’s just hope that triple-A studios learn a lesson from this, and treat their devs better in future. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

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