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Game Dev Halo Co-Creator Left Bungie After Enduring Life-Altering Crunch

Jan 11, 2019
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Marcus Lehto wants a studio where work-life balance is possible.
One of the reasons that Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto left Bungie was because of the extended periods of crunch that negatively impacted his life and wellbeing. Speaking during a roundtable interview for his new game, Disintegration, Lehto said his new studio, V1 Interactive, is taking a stance against crunch. By doing so, they hope to do right by its employees for their health and happiness.

"One of the reasons I left Bungie--and I know one of the reasons people from the industry have joined us here at V1--is that many of us have seen the bad side of extended crunch periods that would go on for months and months ... and what kind of human toll that took," Lehto explained. "We don't want to experience that, we don't want to replicate that at all again [at V1]. So at V1, one of our primary goals with the studio is making sure that we create an atmosphere where everybody is intimately involved with what we're working on, so there is a lot of responsibility on everybody's shoulders. And everybody wears several hats."

"We also value, incredibly, the health of everybody here--both physically and mentally. Making sure they have that time outside the office to be with their family," Lehto added. "And we support them to be home when they need to be home, to go to their kids' school concerts and to have the weekends to themselves. That is a very important part to me, and it's one thing we've extended to everyone here at the studio."
"We also value, incredibly, the health of everybody here--both physically and mentally." -- Marcus Lehto
Lehto assured people that he and his team work hard, while he also acknowledged that the team pushes extra hard when milestones come up. However, these periods of extended working hours are limited to around "a week or so."

"It's not like we don't work hard--we work really hard. And at the end of every milestone, we maybe spend a week or so working extra hours," he said.

This kind of intense work schedule, so long as it doesn't lead to burn-out, can actually be a good thing, Lehto said. That's because it brings the team even closer together as they collectively grind on a particular objective. So long as these periods of crunch are few and far between, this can be a positive, Lehto said.

Bungie is known for its periods of crunch. Engineering boss Luke Timmins recalled to GI.biz in 2017 how the 18 months leading up to the release of Halo 2 in 2004 were "brutal" and nearly destroyed Bungie. The developer was crunching for nearly the entire 18 months, he said, and during that time, developers were spending at least 50 hours per week.

"The Halo 2 crunch almost killed Bungie as a company," he said. "It is the most I've ever seen humans work in a year and a half. It was brutal."

Bungie is said to have adopted policies and practices after that to lessen the instances of crunch, but it still happened. For the first Destiny, there was a "department-wide crunch" for the engineering team, Timmins said, though the team never had to crunch on any of the game's numerous expansions. Destiny 2 also had no "full, enforced crunch," he said.

In 2019, following Bungie's split from Activision for the Destiny series, Bungie announced it would delay a Destiny 2 patch so its developers did not have to crunch.

As for Lehto, he left Bungie in 2012 while the original Destiny was just getting started.

Going back to Lehto's new game, Disintegration, the first beta test for the FPS launches on January 28--here's how to sign up. The game, which is made by a team of around 30 people, mixes FPS and strategy elements to create a type of game that Lehto says has never existed before. You fly around the map on a "grav-cycle" while simultaneously commanding soldiers on the ground. Check out the gameplay footage above to see Disintegration in action.

Here are some other things Lehto said about Disintegration:

  • The "incredibly ambitious" campaign will take you around 9-10 hours to complete, though it could stretch into the mid-teens depending on how you play
  • There will be no ranked multiplayer or stat-tracking at launch, though this could be added down the road
  • There will be microtransactions that allow players to customize their grav-cycles
  • It's possible V1 will support the PS5 and Xbox Series X down the road, but nothing is confirmed yet. The same is true for Nintendo Switch
 

GHG

Member
Nov 9, 2006
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Long term crunch isn't for everyone. This isn't something exclusive to the Videogames industry either.

Those who can handle it endure it and sometimes reap the rewards. Those who can't leave and find a work environment more suited to their needs.

Personally I can only do it in short bursts but I don't have anything against those who can do it all the time. I'm actually in awe of some of those people, although a lot of the time they don't have families or interests outside of work so can dedicate all their time to it.
 

BusierDonkey

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Sep 21, 2018
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Long extended hours in an office is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I work in the industrial sector where 12-16 hour days are not uncommon, often months at a time when big building projects like a hospital or school are in full swing. It's physically taxing, but I'm working outside a lot, running equipment and am always moving around. My knees and back get sore, but I can tone it down to account for that or swap jobs with someone and run some heavy equipment for a while to take some of the strain off. If I'm in full attack mode a 16 hour day goes by quickly.

The mental toll of being chained to a workstation/desk/cubicle for 16 hours a day for even a week is something I wouldn't want to deal with. I get restless just sitting at home on the weekend sometimes and will often find myself jumping between hobbies. My brother worked in tech support and often put in a lot of extra hours and you could see how tired he was getting as the week went on. It's good to see the video game industry is starting to focus on their people more. Relaxed happy people with clear heads will make a better product too.
 

Trilobit

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Jun 15, 2015
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Few employers raise statues or thank their employees for burning themselves out. Rather, once you've reached that point, you're pretty much on your own to fix your health. I have a strong work ethic, but I've had to learn to find balance so that I won't have to take that long journey back to mental soundness, again.
 
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Omeggos

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Jan 12, 2018
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So it was lessened for halo 3 and reach but went full force for destiny and destiny 2 (until recently)

jeez, i feel like of the plenty of reasons that bungie decided to fuck off activision, this may be one of the bigger ones.
 

Blond

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Dec 10, 2019
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Man I know I'm in the minority but I'd rather be doing crunch here than my IT job or God forbid, Telecom. There was times where my paychecks averaged 120-140 hours regularly for months and the only thing I got out of it was jack shit.

I'd feel better if put in the same amount of time and people got to enjoy the fruits of my labor into the millions. But that's just me, I guess.
 
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rofif

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Sep 13, 2019
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Lol and i am angry when i have to do overhours only free days a month. Longest I worked was from 8am to midnight and you feel like a trash bag afterwards.
 
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Mar 19, 2015
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I like working 8 hrs a day, but sitting in that office chair for more than 9 hours a day would really fuck me up quickly
 
Jan 11, 2019
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Man I know I'm in the minority but I'd rather be doing crunch here than my IT job or God forbid, Telecom. There was times where my paychecks averaged 120-140 hours regularly for months and the only thing I got out of it was jack shit.

I'd feel better if out the same amount of time and people got to enjoy the fruits of my labor into the millions. But that's just me, I guess.
"It's always greener on the other side."
 

DJ Shalad

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Dec 10, 2018
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Our mothers work way more than that every day. In retrospect mine probably spent 50% of every month with either working, cooking, keeping the family going (6 days every week, some of them "unpaid maiden work").

10 hours sitting in front of a computur modelling 3D monsters in the next halo, with the occasional breaks in between and what not is not what i consider "CRUNCH", mental-shattering-distress. And for sure not when the avg. pay is around $60,000 and more.

What about nurses doing nightshits, sleeping during daytime? on top of being underpaid. Taking care of the ill? Don´t you think that cleaning butts, taking care of elder people, people in need every week is WAY harder for most of us to tackle? than just simply move a cursor from left to right.

If 10h constitute = crunch
what are 8 to 9h shifts per day?
mini crunch?

And i thought they were complaining because of the 15h shits per day.
 
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Cert.in.Death

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Jun 28, 2013
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Crunch happens everywhere, not just in videogames. Go talk to lawyers and doctors if you want to know what long hours are, and in those industries the expectation is to get along or move along.

I wish it were better, but welcome to the rat race. Perhaps folks should get a greater share of the pie for their sacrifices, but I won’t pretend that I have the one true answer.
 
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Dontero

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Apr 19, 2018
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1. As a head of Halo i doubt he personally experienced any crunch. There is simply no reason for manager or designer to stay in company non stop. Crunch is done mostly by people like artists, programmers who do not design game.

2. If he was head of Halo and their team was crunching it means:
- he was one of the people responsible for crunch
- game wouldn't be as good as people remember it. If crunch was necessary it means that either their budget wouldn't be able to get people Halo people know or time wouldn't allow to make it in this quality. Crunch is not extra magical something that happens and has no effect on game development.
At any point and time he or other heads could say : "OK we chop half the levels from game" or "half the weapons" or "we ship with bugs"

3. Crunching is the only reason ton of games are made. Crunching means doing MORE than your studio is capable off. If someone is not crunching it means he willingly decided to be content with what their studio is capable off even if it means creating bad games.
 
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CitizenX3639

Banned
Jan 25, 2020
391
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This notion this only happens in gaming industry is ignorant. Last year i worked almost every day covering for my team being out on medical. I have watched Mgrs in many fields working every day for decent pay, but not worth it. This constant 'crunch' is laughable when they are talking about a small window. I see it every day, and its 12 months of the year, everyday, every year.
 
Sep 26, 2019
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He's a co-creator! Ask him if 'the crunch' paid off?

Boo hoo.

Students crunch at the end of every semester. What about us? What about our rights!?

I want tens of millions!
 

kiphalfton

Member
Dec 27, 2018
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Our mothers work way more than that every day. In retrospect mine probably spent 50% of every month with either working, cooking, keeping the family going (6 days every week, some of them "unpaid maiden work").

10 hours sitting in front of a computur modelling 3D monsters in the next halo, with the occasional breaks in between and what not is not what i consider "CRUNCH", mental-shattering-distress. And for sure not when the avg. pay is around $60,000 and more.

What about nurses doing nightshits, sleeping during daytime? on top of being underpaid. Taking care of the ill? Don´t you think that cleaning butts, taking care of elder people, people in need every week is WAY harder for most of us to tackle? than just simply move a cursor from left to right.

If 10h constitute = crunch
what are 8 to 9h shifts per day?
mini crunch?

And i thought they were complaining because of the 15h shits per day.

Either you've never sat in front of a computer at a job for longer than 8 hours a day, or you're a mother/nurse/whatever you mentioned who is trying to discredit anybody who works any of these sort of jobs. Nobody is saying mothers/nurses/etc. don't have it hard, but in any case you don't know what the guy in the article went through, or any of his coworkers, so no need to discount it like it's nothing.
 

Carna

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May 7, 2019
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Being a creator of a legendary franchise, doesn't always seem to have it's advantages.
 

AvenueWinning

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Jun 14, 2017
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It feels like someone is coming and going from Bungie, 343 etc. every day I'm hearing someone is always leaving the studio
 

DJ Shalad

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Dec 10, 2018
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Either you've never sat in front of a computer at a job for longer than 8 hours a day, --

I´m a employee in a architecture studio. When we have a lot of projects at once, 200H per month is possible.

- lot of sitting
- calculating
- contracting
- getting permits
- stuck in track to/from construction visit to construction site
- yada yada, we too have our seasonal highs and lows .. some month are easy, others require "crunch" and be on time. WE dont have 18 months time to work on projects.

And unless there´s Phil Spencer behind them with a whip making their lives miserable, 10h are no crunch in my book.
 

grfunkulus

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Dec 23, 2016
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350
1. As a head of Halo i doubt he personally experienced any crunch. There is simply no reason for manager or designer to stay in company non stop. Crunch is done mostly by people like artists, programmers who do not design game.

2. If he was head of Halo and their team was crunching it means:
- he was one of the people responsible for crunch
- game wouldn't be as good as people remember it. If crunch was necessary it means that either their budget wouldn't be able to get people Halo people know or time wouldn't allow to make it in this quality. Crunch is not extra magical something that happens and has no effect on game development.
At any point and time he or other heads could say : "OK we chop half the levels from game" or "half the weapons" or "we ship with bugs"

3. Crunching is the only reason ton of games are made. Crunching means doing MORE than your studio is capable off. If someone is not crunching it means he willingly decided to be content with what their studio is capable off even if it means creating bad games.

He did crunch on halo 2. It's in the making of Halo 2 collectors edition where he's working overnight. I'm sure it's not the only time it happened.

I'm sure Jason Jones was a lot more responsible for the crunch than he an art lead was.