Crunch: THQ's Kaos theory

Crunch: THQ's Kaos theory

By David Votypka

January 17th 2011 at 10:00AM

Read the full letter sent to Develop by Kaos general manager David Votypka

[Last week, having heard complaints of excessive crunch work from developers at Homefront studio Kaos, Develop contacted THQ for its right to respond to the claims before publication. The company’s retort, issued by Kaos general manager David Votypka, can be read below.]

"Hi Rob,

I’ve been forwarded the statements you sent over. I generally don’t discuss internal studio matters with media, but since articles are already released, they should at least be factual and accurate.

1) Studio has been crunching for the last 6 months, at 10 hours a day.
Yes, that’s true.  After only requiring core hours based on an 8 hour day for 2 and ½ years, we needed to increase our velocity heading into our final Alpha/Beta phases.  If this seems unique or abhorrent, I would have to suggest that any assessment regarding a 10 hour work day would need to consider a much larger segment of the American workforce.

Digital Media companies, Marketers, PR, even Accountants in various industries throughout the nation, work 10 hour days regularly, 52 weeks per year.  Out of the three year project life cycle this has been less than 20% of the project time, and many staff (who have finished their critical work on the game), are currently back to an 8 hour day.

2) Had to recently meet bug solving milestone to avoid working six days a week.
True, but the statement above is incomplete.  On many games, and other digital media/software projects, when the bug counts start rolling in, a blanket overtime policy is put in place.

That type of practice isn’t particularly developer friendly.  At Kaos, feedback from the team was that they wanted to maintain a level of control over their work schedule, so the policy we ended up using was goal based.  I don’t mind sharing it because it is much more developer friendly than most (or possibly any) that I’ve seen in over ten years of making games.

* Bug fixing targets are set daily.  If we’re not on track each day, we put in an extra hour.  If we still haven’t met the target by the cut-off time, we go home for the night (i.e. no later than 8 or 9pm).

* There is also a weekly bug fix target.  If we’ve hit the target by end of week, we don’t use any extra time on a Saturday.

If we haven’t met the weekly goal, in order to avoid a bug count that piles up that is beyond the possibility of completion, we come in on Saturday.  However if we achieve the weekly target on Saturday by noon, we go home at noon.

There have been weeks we avoided Saturday work, there have been weeks we haven’t, and there have been weeks we went home at noon.  The policy was crafted with the goal of balancing overtime, while keeping the project deliverables achievable.


3) Many staff had to work over the holidays.

No staff was asked to work over Thanksgiving or Christmas, and they never would be.  Three days off for Thanksgiving were given, and 3-4 days for Christmas.  The management team here worked with a handful of individuals on unique circumstances for their situation and workload surrounding those dates. 

The main part of the “holiday” time that could not be taken off this year by the entire team, was the week between Christmas and New Years.  Generally THQ gives that time off, but it is discretionary based on project needs, and part of the team was needed to work several of those days.

4) Studio is now in 7 day a week crunch mode.

This has only been the case for the last two to three weeks leading into our final submission, for about 1/3 of the team.  Unfortunately, it was misstated that this has been going on for two months, but that’s simply not the case.  For the record: no Kaos developer has worked 60 days without a break.  That will also never happen here.

As we head into the last few weeks of finaling the game, our workload is based on the remaining bug counts, and ensuring we get through those counts so the game delivers on its great potential.  All of a game team’s work over the life time of a project can either be validated, or invalidated, by the outcome of the final beta phase.

Delivering a great game is the best outcome (from a career perspective) for any dev team, and the team here has shown great passion and commitment to delivering a really great game with Homefront.

That said, we’ve also communicated that we will manage this last push closely with the staff on a case-by-case basis, and if anyone feels they are nearing their limits, they should communicate this and Kaos management will find a way to let them re-energise. 

The goal here is always to balance the challenges of remaining developer friendly, hitting our milestones, and maintaining the high quality project goals we all uphold at this studio.  In addition, staff bonuses and (post-ship) time off are awarded to all staff, and also scale to reward extra effort put in.

5) Planned DLC is suspected will keep some staff in crunch months after Homefront is released.

Untrue, and is obviously written as speculation.  We never plan ahead to crunch, and resources, scope, and dates will be set based on an achievable DLC schedule.

6) THQ is determined to release Homefront this fiscal.
Correct, Homefront has always been planned as an FY11 title, and as the studio responsible for delivering the title, that’s the goal we are working toward.  This is a passionate team that’s giving their all to a product that they will all be very proud to have on their resumes, that will benefit their careers, for many years to come.

Also, it would be unjust not to communicate that Danny has been our most staunch supporter from the outset.  He personally brought on talent to the game such as John Milius, and THQ has been fully supportive in giving us additional time and resources to deliver a ground-breaking, AAA experience."