It’s been nearly two years since Epic Games released Fortnite, and the game’s popularity has shown no signs of slowing down. The game hit 250 million total registered users in March, and part of the game’s ability to continue to grow is due to its constant updating to keep things fresh.
The game goes through “seasons,” debuting new skins, new player challenges, and updates to its maps every couple of months, and releases “patches” within each season. This allows players to feel like there’s constantly something new to experience with Fortnite, but it’s led to obscene hours for many of Epic’s employees focused on the game.
In a piece published Tuesday on Polygon, multiple Epic employees paint a picture of an increasingly toxic work environment, with some people working an average of 70 hours a week, with others hitting 100 hours or more, to hit the responsibilities of what’s called “crunch” in the gaming industry.
Although contract staff were paid overtime, developers report a culture of fear, in which they were expected to pull long hours as part of their job. Some reported suffering health issues after working consecutive months of 70-hour weeks.
Crunch is the name given to working intense overtime, sometimes for stretches that last weeks or months. In the game industry specifically, it was generally associated with the period leading up to a game’s launch. But in the age of early access releases, post-launch updates, downloadable content, and games as a service, crunch can be a constant problem.
Though Epic purports working overtime to be voluntary, Polygon reports that the culture within the company makes employees feel like they can’t take any time off in fear that it would hurt their chances of moving up in the company, or they’d be outright fired.
“I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.”
Epic has attempted to combat the pressures of working on Fortnite by issuing mandatory two-week breaks in the summer and winter, per Polygon, but it has done little to ease the workload that’s become necessary to keep up with the game’s breakneck pace. As the game’s popularity continues its meteoric rise, it’s hard to see working conditions improving.