How ‘GTFO’ crossed the finish line without compromising on crunch

How 'GTFO' crossed the finish line - and what's next for 10 Chambers

Playing hardcore co-op survival shooter GTFO, you might have a few preconceptions about developers 10 Chambers. These pre-conceptions are definitely incorrect. As the Swedish outfit celebrates GTFO reaching its long-awaited 1.0 release, the team is also quietly celebrating the fact that it didn’t need to cross any of its own boundaries to do so.

The design philosophy at 10 Chambers – founded by the creators of co-op heister Payday and more – revolves around the belief that facilitating a good time with friends is intrinsically linked to how the game feels in all other aspects of gameplay. Beyond the carpet of dead bodies and spent bullet shells, co-founder Oscar Holm says GTFO is all about “the experience you get with friends”.

“I think you call it watercooler moments – when you have these things and can talk for weeks afterwards,” explains Holm. “It’s those memories that we want to create. You forget what time it is and you enjoy it. You get that dopamine kick, and it feels great – and you have the memories with your mates.”

“That’s what we love with GTFO, you always need to communicate. It creates such a tight-knight group, and you get immersed in the game. When you need to communicate that much, you can’t think about anything else but the game,” adds 10 Chambers’ communications director Robin Björkell.

For a studio that crafts entire games around bonding with other players – even if it’s fuelled by the base need to survive – both Björkell and Holm feel that it’s important to emphasise this comradery both in and out of the game. Although 10 Chambers now has 69 signed employees, it started out as a humble team of just nine. Once those founders realised that the studio’s journey required some growth, they were determined to raise it with the best culture possible and deliberately avoid some of the toxic norms that are rooted in the games industry.

GTFO. Credit: 10 Chambers
GTFO. Credit: 10 Chambers

One of those norms is the practice of crunch, which leashes developers to long overtime and – in short – holds no respect for their personal time. Discussing crunch culture, Holm identifies it as one of the lines 10 Chambers refuses to cross:

“When we were nine people as a collective in the beginning, we all had as a rule we should be able to prioritise our family but still do the job we love to do,” he explains.

“It’s important, if we want people to feel comfortable at work, to differentiate between work and regular time off. We’re trying to work between 9 to 5, we’re trying not to crunch like other companies do. With that said, a lot of us are really engaged in what we’re doing so it’s hard to tell people to go home sometimes, but we’re doing our best to keep that.”

Björkell chips in to say that while the studio does occasionally crunch, it’s a last resort and something they’re hoping to eradicate. He adds that while it’s easy for a studio to say it won’t crunch, actually doing so is another. Fortunately, he recalls a time where 10 Chambers’ commitment to avoiding crunch was tested in practice – a test the studio passed.

GTFO. Credit: 10 Chambers

“It was very evident once we had a huge bug – a game-crushing bug – for a huge update that was due to launch te next day. It was approaching like 7pm, and usually at many game studios you would be like, ok, we’re going to be in overnight, but then the game director said: ‘Everyone will go home now.’ This is how we really show [our commitment], not just having it in some HR message thing,” he says, adding that it left him feeling “proud” of the studio. As an added bonus, with a good night’s sleep behind them, the team managed to identify the bug and fix it almost immediately the next day.

However, game development – as that bug shows – rarely goes as planned. Björkell recollects being scared to tell GTFO‘s community that the game would be delayed in 2018, but found they were instead “super supportive” of the decision. “It’s important for us because we feel like we have a community that has our back, rather than just trying to sell copies to people that want the game”.

Holm agrees that “the community has been very supportive,” and explains that 10 Chambers approach to community involvement is just “to be as honest and as open as we can with them”.

“On our Steam page, we put ‘please don’t buy this game until you’ve read this text.’ A few people are like, you can’t write that. It’s not very commercial of you. But it’s important for us, because we feel like we have a community that has our back rather than just trying to sell copies to people that want the game.”

GTFO. Credit: 10 Chambers

It’s not the first time that 10 Chambers’ approach to development was criticised, as Holm remembers being told by “a lot of publishers” that GTFO wasn’t “commercial enough” to succeed.

Now that GTFO has ditched that big Early Access label, it feels the approach has paid off. With thousands of very positive reviews flooding in since launch, plenty of fans seem to be enamoured with 10 Chambers’ survival hit. Best of all, many of them – who have been along for the ride since Early Access – praise how fun GTFO is to play with friends.

In its quest to achieve the perfect co-op game, 10 Chambers – by all measures – seems to have struck gold. It now seems ironic that the studio was told that it was doing things wrong – as Holm stresses – it was fun to make, and now it’s fun to play. But, as many have already asked 10 Chambers, was it commercial enough?

“No, but it’s a game we want to play, you know,” Holm answers. “If we do something we really enjoy, success comes in later – we believe! Luckily enough, other people seem to enjoy it as well.”

With GTFO officially across the finish line, fans will likely spend some time devouring all of 1.0’s new content before looking toward the future. But for 10 Chambers, that future is already in the works. While Holm says the next game “will not be in the horror [genre],” it will, of course, be a co-op game. It’s a game that was supposed to be shown off to us at the press trip to Copenhagen, involving tons of Covid-safety waivers and the cost of flying a ton of journalists and 10 Chambers staff themselves out to Copenhagen.

However, after a personal emergency for a member of the development team, the team realised it would involve extra work for everyone to do the reveal, so they pushed it back. It’s hard to escape the feeling that all development should be like this, putting people first.

Clearly excited by the prospect of another game, Björkell can’t help but tease a little more.

“It will be a co-op FPS game. As Oscar said, it’s the core DNA of 10 Chambers. It’s what we say when we go out hiring people. You will work on creating the ultimate co-op experience. That’s what we want to do: create the best co-op games. Simple as that. True co-op, and the next game will be a co-op game – that’s all we can say right now.”

GTFO has left Early Access, and is available to buy now on Steam.

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