Epic has admitted its efforts to maintain Fortnite’s status as the world’s most popular game have resulted in extreme working conditions for some employees, although it claims 100-hour working weeks are “incredibly rare”.
Round-the-clock development and customer support for the game – which has some 250 million registered users – has resulted in staff regularly working in excess of 70 hours per week, and some as many as 100 hours per week, according to a detailed Polygon report into working conditions at the studio.
The site says it spoke to a dozen current and former Epic employees and contractors across a range of disciplines, with varying levels of seniority, as part of its investigation.
While staff said they were paid for overtime (some very handsomely) and that it was officially voluntary, several employees said their positions would come under threat if they declined to work long shifts.
“I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one source. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks.”
“People are losing their jobs because they don’t want to work these hours,” said another source.
Responding to the claims, Epic confirmed Fortnite’s success had resulted in challenges and rare cases of extreme working hours.
“Fortnite achieved a far higher level of success than we had ever anticipated,” a spokesperson told Polygon. “Everybody throughout Epic responded to the success with incredible vigor and commitment.
“Extreme situations such as 100-hour work weeks are incredibly rare,” they added, “and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence.”
Epic said it has been recruiting heavily to try and reduce workloads, more than doubling its full-time employee headcount since Fortnite released in 2017.
“We’ve also worked to contract with great independent studios to contribute to Fortnite and relieve internal workload,” the spokesperson said.
“Finally, we’ve refined our release planning of Fortnite features to incorporate the work of multiple teams working in parallel to reduce the burden on each individual team.”
However, employees interviewed for the report claimed Epic’s efforts to reduce working hours haven’t gone far enough.
“It’s killing people,” one source said. “Something has to change. I can’t see how we can go on like this for another year.
“At first, it was fine, because Fortnite was a big success and that felt good,” they added. “We were solving problems that were new for Epic: how to run a big, global game as an online service. But now the workload is just endless.”
Earlier this month, an investigation into working practices at BioWare claimed that structural and cultural failings at the studio had led to significant periods of crunch that seriously affected the health of many of its employees.
Studio general manager Casey Hudson subsequently admitted “these problems are real and it’s our top priority to continue working to solve them”.