Amy Hennig, the veteran game director and writer responsible for Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and the Uncharted series, denounced the unacceptable work conditions of the AAA gaming industry in an audio interview (split in two parts) with the Idle Thumbs Designer Notes podcast earlier this week.
When host Soren Johnson (who designed Civilization IV and more recently Offworld Trading Company) asked how the industry's standards affected her personally, she responded with the following:
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.
A lot of the team was there. I mean, Naughty Dog is pretty notorious for the amount of crunch, but obviously in a leadership role you try and do even more. You may not be hands-on with the game as much, but you’re writing, you’re reviewing stuff. Maybe you’re working with the composer, reviewing the music, giving them notes. It’s like being a film director.
When Johnson asked if she thought making AAA games was worth having this kind of lifestyle, Hennig replied:
I don’t think so. 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 sort of 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, you 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. I have seen so many people that have been in the AAA space for a long time packing it in and going to do VR, going indie, going casual…People are just sick of that. So one of my challenges, one of the things I’m thinking about is how can we still make games like this in a way that is sane and responsible and ethical? Because we’re not doing it right now.
We shouldn’t be lauding games that are soaked in the blood of the people that made them.
A solution to this problem hasn't been an easy find, as AAA games are still integral to the industry as a whole.
Hennig is now working as Senior Creative Director at Visceral Games on their upcoming Star Wars action/adventure game slated for release in 2018. Here's hoping her conditions are better there.