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Dead Space creator’s deleted comments show how pervasive crunch culture is

Glen Schofield apologized for valorizing ‘12-15 hour days’

The protagonist of The Callisto Protocol aims high gun, with sweat dripping down his face Image: Striking Distance Studios/Krafton

Glen Schofield, the co-creator of Dead Space now heading up the production of its spiritual sequel The Callisto Protocol, has walked back comments he made this weekend that appeared to valorize overlong working hours at his company, Striking Distance Studios.

As reported by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Schofield said that his team at Striking Distance was working 12 to 15 hour days, six to seven days a week, to finish the game. (The Callisto Protocol’s release date is Dec. 2.) He said nobody was “forcing” the team to crunch in this way, but admitted they were experiencing “exhaustion.”

“We r working 6-7 days a week, nobody’s forcing us. Exhaustion, tired, Covid but we’re working. Bugs, glitches, perf fixes. 1 last pass thru audio. 12-15 hr days. This is gaming. Hard work. Lunch, dinner, working. U do it cause ya luv it,” Schofield tweeted on Saturday.

Later the same day, Schofield deleted the tweet, and offered a retraction and an apology to the Striking Distance staff, saying, “We value passion and creativity, not long hours.”

“Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about the people I work with,” he said. “Earlier I tweeted how proud I was of the effort and hours the team was putting in. That was wrong. We value passion and creativity, not long hours. I’m sorry to the team for coming across like this.”

There’s no reason to think Schofield is not sincere in his apology. But, as Schreier pointed out, his original tweet is a textbook example of how unhealthy working practices and crunch culture persist in the video game industry.

Schofield is a charismatic and creative figure, and well liked within the industry. With a background in art, he has been making games for over 30 years. He was a key player at Crystal Dynamics and, later, EA Studio Visceral Games, where he co-created Dead Space with Michael Condrey. The pair then formed Sledgehammer Games, which was swiftly acquired by Activision. After a decade working on Call of Duty, Schofield left to form Striking Distance and return to the sci-fi horror setting that had made his name.

He is both a well-known creative and a studio boss. He clearly feels passionately about The Callisto Protocol, a game that deliberately recalls his most famous work. It’s understandable that it would be personal to him. (Schofield may also feel strong pressure to beat his former company’s remake of the original Dead Space to market.) But he’s also an employer who sets an example for, and manages the careers of, the Striking Distance development team. And he brings into both these roles attitudes that have been formed across three decades in game development, during which time crunch has been the norm.

“Nobody’s forcing us,” he says, without questioning the example his own overwork sets for his staff, or the pressure it puts on them to conform. Working through meals, working through exhaustion and illness, are simply how it is and how it has always been: “This is gaming.” Passion for games is both the motivation and the reward for all the extra effort: “U do it cause ya luv it.”

It sounds almost like a mantra. This is how deeply embedded these attitudes are in developers of Schofield’s generation. The swiftness and clarity of his retraction show that he understands, on some level, how important it is that these attitudes change. But the proud glorification of overwork in the original tweet shows how instinctive the crunch value system is for Schofield. It’s all he’s known. These are the values he himself was taught, and it’s hard to change.

Schofield shows he understands that changes need to be made. But the real proof will be in the hours the Striking Distance team work over the next three months leading up to The Callisto Protocol’s release.

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