Psychonauts 2 made without crunch. That’s the claim made yesterday by Kevin Johnson, a senior producer at Double Fine. Johnson said the “team has been amazing” and that he’s proud they can release “something so special that’s been made in the schedule we set forth.”
If you’re new to videogame industry talk, crunch is the term given to intense and excess overtime made mandatory by studios in order to get games finished in time to meet their release dates. While some would argue that crunch is a necessary evil, due in large part to its place in videogame development history, it is often a sign of poor management, unrealistic deadlines and irresponsible design scope.
That being said, it’s fair to be skeptical when anyone in a leadership role makes any claims to a positive working environment. It’s often that bad management practices and excess overwork are revealed by workers, rather than their managers, but it’s doubtful that Johnson would think to cast a spotlight on the issue by making such a boast if there was any risk of him being called out for it.
And when you consider that Psychonauts 2’s development has had a long and difficult history, it’s easy to think about everything that may have gone wrong on the journey from its crowd-funding on Fig in 2015, to becoming a fully funded project after the Microsoft buyout in 2019. So the idea of a Psychonauts 2 made without crunch would require that the current release date isn’t some arbitrary leadership mandated deadline.
Still, I can believe it. At the risk of coming off as fannish, having seen a ton of documentary footage out there from filmmakers like NoClip and Two Player Productions that places the day to day of Double Fine under the lens, it’s clearly a very chill studio. The people who work there don’t obsess over hierarchies and pleasing managers but pressure themselves to turn in their best work and entertain each other.
At worst, the early years of Psychonauts 2 — 2015 might as well be a different century as far as game development culture is concerned — may have begun with crunch. But Double Fine’s studio culture seems to actively reward creativity and collaboration, not the heads down servility of a hundred people in front of their screens, so I can’t imagine any kind of crunch could last.