After the incredible success of God of War in 2018, Ragnarok looks set to surpass it. But what did this success cost the developers?
The God of War Ragnarok collector’s edition is already sold out a day after release. Because the Jotnar Edition is also nearly impossible to get your hands on.
The fact that copies are hard to come by, coupled with all the rave reviews, shows just how huge this game is. While this success is great for fans who love the series and for Santa Monica Studios, who spent so much time perfecting the game, it only did so well because of how hard the developers had to work.
In a GQ interview (opens in new tab)Cory Barlog and Eric Williams, the game’s creative and game directors, talked about what it was like to make Sony’s biggest game of the year.
Going beyond the scope and success of God of War 2018 is no small feat, especially after the game has been surpassed 23 million copies sold (opens in new tab) earlier this year. The stakes were raised for Ragnarok and it was all left to the developers at Santa Monica Studios to deliver a game that would go beyond its predecessor.
“It’s tough,” said game director Eric William. “The team is already a bit burned” [out]and you are asking a lot of them in a place where they are already quite vulnerable”.
But that didn’t stop the team from pulling out all the stops on a daily basis and doing everything they could to make sure Ragnarok would be in his best shape. “I’ve played the game probably ten times since April, all the time and on every different setting we have,” William says.
Not only was the pressure to live up to expectations that hit hard, but like many, Santa Monica Studios were thrown out of the norm by the lockdown and forced to adapt to remote working.
“Working from home is a big wrinkle,” William says. “Walking at someone’s desk and seeing something cool was dead”. The team was split and found it difficult to compete against each other and make the most of the creativity that comes with working in a group.
Not the first
“If I don’t feel like I’m scared, like I’m literally getting fired every day for screwing up,” William said. “I don’t feel like I’m doing it right.” While this demonstrates the fantastic work effort and mindset you need to keep improving a game to the best of your ability, it’s not far from the norm for many game developers.
Rockstar Studios was accused of intimidating employees who were at work Red Dead Redemption II to work unpaid overtime after Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser appeared to brag in an interview with Vulture about how “we worked 100-hour weeks”.
This interview was followed by a series of complaints from the spouses of Rockstar San Diego employees. In an open letter, “if working conditions continue to deteriorate as workers are manipulated by certain hands that wield power in Rockstar San Diego,” workers’ spouses will take legal action.
This is not an isolated problem. CD Projekt Red used a ‘crunch’ to help the team meet the delayed release schedule of cyberpunk. At the same time, Naughty Dog has been accused of putting huge amounts of pressure on their employees to sell their AAA titles such as Uncharted 4 or The last of us part 1.
The reason I left is because I only want to work with the best. That’s no longer Naughty Dog. Their reputation for crunch within LA is so bad that it was nearly impossible to hire seasoned contract game animators to complete the project. As such, we loaded movie animators.March 12, 2020
All this is not to say that Santa Monica Studios is putting ridiculous pressure on their employees. Pushing your limits to produce a game like God of War: Ragnarok is far from uncommon. “Everyone wants to get away from it all, but basically they’re saying, ‘We need to start building,'” said William.
However, as players begin to expect more and more from AAA titles, the pressure is mainly on developers to deliver on this, and fans should be aware of this.