Demystifying the High Turnover Rate in Video Game Development

Hey friend! Lately there‘s been a lot of talk about turnover rates in tech. And it turns out the video game industry sees more churn than most – around 15.5% according to 2021 data. As an avid gamer and developer myself, I‘ve been curious to dig deeper into these numbers. Where do they come from? Should we be worried? And what can be done? This article has all the details.

Why Quantify Turnover Rate?

But first – why do we care about measuring turnover rate anyway?

Well, turnover has real costs, both monetary and beyond. Recruiting and training replacements costs thousands per employee. Organizations also lose hard-won knowledge and continuity when people leave. Excessive churn can harm morale, stall advancement, and destabilize projects.

For individuals, switching jobs repeatedly prevents putting down roots and can disrupt career development. And on a human level, what does frequent turnover say about an industry‘s culture? Clearly, an excessive rate can signal deeper issues.

Ok, back to games! How does the 15.5% figure compare?

By the Numbers: Games vs Tech

Let‘s look at how gaming stacks up against a few other tech sectors:

Industry Turnover Rate
Video Games 15.5%
Software Development 13.2%
Tech Overall 9.9%

So gaming sees over 5% more turnover than software development – a striking difference!

And exploring further, the contrast becomes more stark for some specific studios:

  • Rockstar Games – ~20% annual turnover [1]

  • Ubisoft – 25-30% turnover as of 2021 [2]

Annualized, that suggests potentially a third of staff or more exiting major studios each year. Clearly a deeper dive is warranted!

What‘s Causing the Churn?

Alright, on to the heart of the matter – why do so many developers change jobs? The leading culprit is:

Crunch Time

In gaming, crunch time refers to extended overtime sprints, often involving:

  • 65-80+ hour weeks
  • Working weekends
  • Little time off over many consecutive months

This intense culture has become ingrained in the industry, especially among AAA studios releasing big-budget titles.

But it extracts a serious toll. Let‘s examine a few of the costs:

Mental Health

Numerous studies correlate sustained crunch with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Burnout
  • Other issues

In one survey, 51% of developers said crunch directly led to or worsened mental health struggles [3]. That‘s a staggering impact!

Physical Health

Alongside mental strain, crunch can also provoke:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Reduced lifespan

Science shows overwork and lack of recovery elevates inflammation, stress hormones, heart rate, and more [4].

Work-Life Balance

With 60+ hour workweeks standard during crunch time, unsurprisingly most developers report poor work-life balance. Attempting to maintain outside relationships and hobbies proves extremely difficult.

Thisrole "always on" mentality and lack of separation from work fuels burnout. People‘s identity becomes consumed by their job.


Given the above factors, it‘s no surprise many who experience crunch end up leaving their studios after a project or two. The grueling lifestyle simply becomes unsustainable.

This churn costs studios dearly in recruiting, training, and losing irreplaceable knowledge.

Other Factors

Beyond crunch, a few other elements contribute to increased turnover:

  • Stunted advancement – Short tenures inhibit moving up internally within one company
  • Limited flexibility – Rigid hours make accommodating family/outside commitments tough
  • Toxic culture – Reports of discrimination, harassment, etc beyond just crunch

But excessive overtime remains the primary driver.

What‘s Being Done?

In light of public criticism in recent years, some studios have taken steps to address crunch and turnover, such as:

  • Unlimited vacation policies
  • Overtime pay instead of unpaid crunch
  • Shorter, more flexible development cycles
  • Leadership messaging discouraging overwork

These are positive gestures. But many argue voluntary measures don‘t go far enough. Truly fixing crunch requires fundamental change.

Radical Ideas for Change

What would it take to really transform the current culture? Some proposals include:


Collective bargaining could establish strict limits on overtime. Unionized shops have already negotiated reduced crunch.

But industry-wide change would need a critical mass of developers unionizing together.

Legal Limits

Legislation capping hours and mandating overtime pay after 40 hours would prevent unconstrained crunch. Countries like France have national limits.

Of course, passing such laws in the US seems unlikely currently given politics.

Employee Activism

Developers and advocates speaking out have already swayed some studios to reassess crunch policies. Continued pressure could drive more change.

Funding Models

Rethinking how game creation is funded could reduce reliance on crunch. Crowdfunding with set timelines vs publisher-driven schedules might help.

Process Improvements

Better scoping, planning, workflow, and production practices could also alleviate end-of-project death marching.

But modernizing deeply entrenched methods is difficult.

Culture Change

Ultimately, transformation requires leaders committing to a philosophical rethink of values around quality of life versus short-term goals.

This remains an obstacle and must come from within.

There‘s Still Hope!

While the industry has far to go, all is not lost! The conversation around crunch moved from taboo to mainstream in just the last 5-10 years.

Awareness and a willingness to engage are the first steps. And developers, especially younger ones, increasingly demand better. They grew up with games and expect more from their dream jobs.

The path forward won‘t be easy. But a generational sea change could redefine working in games. And push back against crunch‘s human costs while still creating great interactive art. After all, many landmark games arose without extreme overtime.

There must be a balancing point that preserves passion while respecting health, family, and lives beyond work. If any creative field can find the way, it‘s gaming!

So in the end, while sobering realities underlie those turnover figures, they need not be destiny. Positive change is already underway, even if gradual. And a dream shared by many – of sustainable, compassionate development – remains achievable. The numbers alone do not define the future.

Thanks for exploring this issue with me! Let me know if you have any other thoughts. And if we stick together as a community, I really believe we can build an industry worthy of its phenomenal talent.

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