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AAA game dev lifestyle is 'unwinnable,' says veteran game designer Amy Hennig

"There are people who never go home and see their families. They have children who are growing up without seeing them."

Chris Kerr, News Editor

October 7, 2016

3 Min Read

Amy Hennig knows more about triple-A development than most, having steered the Uncharted ship for so long as the series' creative director and head writer, before leaving for pastures new prior to the release of Uncharted 4.

After stepping away from Naughty Dog, Hennig joined up with Visceral Games to serve as creative director on the studio's top secret Star Wars project. But despite having made a name for herself in the realm of triple-A game dev, Hennig isn't exactly smitten with the "unwinnable" lifestyle it imposes on developers. 

"There are people who never go home and see their families. They have children who are growing up without seeing them," she explained in an interview with the Designer Notes podcast, as transcribed by GamesIndustry.biz

"There were people who, y'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. It's an arms race that is unwinnable and is destroying people."

Despite her reservations, Hennig is still happy with how her own career has panned out, although it's not the games themselves she's taking issue with. It's the process behind them. 

So, how do you sold a problem like triple-A? As it stands, there isn't a quick fix, and according to Hennig there isn't even a clear long-term solution. Sure, studios could ask for more time and resources, but that'd inevitably be offset by the pressure to make their blockbuster game bigger, better, and even more lucrative. 

It's pressure that rolls downhill and piles onto those behind the industry's biggest releases, forcing them to go above and beyond to meet rapidly approaching deadlines. 

"Trying to finish a game like that [Uncharted 3] in two years is insane, especially when you're saying that the two years is everything: pre-production, production," Hennig elaborated, explaining why crunch is still part-and-parcel of triple-A development.  

"Time is a huge one, but then everyone is racing with cost versus time. So could we do it with smaller teams longer? Sure, but then we tend to throw people at these things and burn money fast. We've all seen games that took too long and they kind of got lapped. We're definitely at the point where something's got to give."

Hennig's interview has prompted other triple-A developers to share their own experiences. Writing on Reddit, an anonymous Scottish designer, who claims to have had stints at Rockstar and another Edinburgh studio, explained crunch time and over-expectant publishers are "killing the triple-A industry."

"I work with a couple of people who have been doing this since the late '80s and they look remarkably older than they are. Going into a smaller studio was the best thing I ever did, we still make triple-A games but it's so much more manageable," they wrote. 

"The truth is that publishers are more and more demanding, expecting better and better results with less time and less budget and less resources."

Another user who purports to have worked in-studio on an unnamed triple-A title spoke about the debilitating effects of crunch, and how it ultimately drove them out of the games industry.

"In roughly seven or so months in the midst of crunch, while working 12-20 hour shifts, seven days a week, I lost about 70 pounds," they revealed. "On the days when I didn't just crash on the couch in the waiting room, I'd go home, fall asleep, wake up, immediately go back to work."

"I saw the project through to the end and left the industry. Maybe I just wasn't passionate enough about games, but nothing really seemed worth that to me."

To hear more from Hennig you can listen to the Designer Notes podcast, which is hosted by Mohawk Games founder Soren Johnson and, sometimes, Finji co-founder Adam Saltsman, right here. You can also see what other Reddit users thought of the interview by clicking here.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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