Rockstar Games, Riot Games, and NetherRealm Studios have all had significant issues with crunch, which commonly refers to the period of time leading to the release of new or updated content, requiring workers to lose all sight of work-life balance with overtime and toxic workplaces that shun any form of objection to the hours.
Speaking on the subject was John Hight, executive producer and vice president for World of Warcraft. When asked about if the team deals with this seemingly-common issue among studios, he responded by stating that the policy in official terms is that their team aims for zero crunch, but they were not exactly there. Despite not being at that goal, Hight affirms that the conditions were far better than they were five and ten years ago.
Hight continued by explaining that relative to other studios, his team at Blizzard has a few notable advantages over studios that are creating new games. Namely, the main point stems from the fact that World of Warcraft is not "new" any longer. For fifteen years now the game has been in a state of constant development, and so the needs for their staff are quite clear, and there are few surprises in the development cycle that could cause alarm or a sudden need to enter into any form of crunch. He then relates the most common examples of crunch on his team as mostly voluntary, "There's still a few pockets... Largely this is people that are self-motivated, they want to put in just that extra little effort and they have a hard time letting go. As we're finishing up a major patch or an expansion, I'm literally wandering the halls and saying, 'Go home! It'll still be there tomorrow.'"
Perhaps what also gives Hight the edge in this case is that in recent years the approach of the company has been to space content releases further apart for its player base, something it calls "right-sizing". This has the dual effect of prolonging the engagement by the players, but also frustrating some who see the data mined information long before it becomes playable, and believe they should have access sooner rather than later.
Hopefully the state remains the same for the staff at Blizzard, particularly as World of Warcraft Classic is set to launch in the coming months.