On Thursday night, hype hit the breaking point for Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. According to its creators, it was due for release. According to its Steam countdown, it was overdue. It was being streamed, but no one could buy it. Fans who’d been enjoying a steady diet of hype since the game’s announcement last month (on Father’s Day, naturally) started to get antsy at the lack of news.
And then the news came down: Dream Daddy was delayed.
Game delays happen all the time. For any other ultra-niche indie title, this wouldn’t have been so much as a blip on anyone’s radar, but Dream Daddy is a special case. Dating sims are having a moment right now, and people who want to play dads dating other dads are a fairly under-served niche. Probably more importantly, Dream Daddy is developed by folks from Game Grumps, who’ve built a following of nearly 4 million viewers by streaming games. Fans are unsurprisingly excited to see what comes of their first foray into game development.
So between the silence that led up to the delay and the delay itself, a lot of extremely excited fans were left disappointed. As with any high-profile disappointment in the video game world, the situation then got a bit nasty. But amid accusations of unprofessional behavior, another conversation emerged: one about the dangers of crunch.
In the official delay announcement that went out on Twitter late Thursday night, developer Vernon Shaw explained that unexpected issues had cropped up, as they so often do in game development, and that his team was working hard to address them.
But as he explained, there was an additional problem. Thanks to a crunch-heavy development schedule, the team completely lacked the personal resources to deal with the issues that night.
“I checked in with all of the developers on the project with us, and while they were working as hard as they could, it was obvious that the last three weeks of sleep deprivation were taking their toll.
We all sat down and talked to talk it through, ultimately deciding that we can’t release the game tonight. We want to put out the good game that you all deserve, but to do that it’s going to take a little more time. The plan right now is that we’re all gonna go home, get 12 hours of much-needed sleep, and then come back to you tomorrow with a new release date.”
The Dream Daddy team ultimately decided to delay the game almost a week. It’s now due to be released this Wednesday. In response, they got a lot of blowback from unhappy fans, but they also got a lot of support — particularly from people in creative industries. For every angry tweet and message, they received several more asking them to take care of themselves and get the rest they need. By admitting that crunch had overwhelmed them, the Dream Daddy team reminded players that the people who make games are human, and have human limits.
Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail, who has spoken out against crunch on several occasions, also took the opportunity to remind developers that crunch isn’t a mandatory part of development.
Reminder: you don't owe customers, colleagues, or companies crunch. It might feel uneasy, but you are more than your work. Take care of you.
— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) July 14, 2017
Generally, people who play games are insulated from the impact of crunch. The pressures of game development drive people out of the industry on a regular basis, but it’s only when an icon in the industry retires early due to the mental health impact of that pressure that we take much note. Bugs and delays are seen as an ordinary part of the game development business, and are often attributed to the complicated relationships between studios, publishers and platforms.
But we know that crunch has a serious impact — both on the health and well-being of developers and on games themselves. Research is still lacking, but two weeks is usually considered to be the longest a team or an individual can crunch before any productivity gains turn into productivity losses. And as is evident in this situation, a single night’s sleep can’t make up for three weeks of sleepless nights. When overwork becomes truly excessive, errors are introduced, quality suffers, and delays often become inevitable.
If you’re interested in the research around crunch, our white paper includes a detailed look at the state of overwork research.
The Dream Daddy delay and the reasons for it are unfortunate for both its developers and its fans, but they do shine a light on a problem endemic in the video game industry. Crunch regularly comes with a high cost. This time, we all get to see it.