This happens in business software too; I work at a business software company and we were asked to put in 80 hour weeks for over 4 months. Some of the senior developers at the company had been doing it for nearly 9 months by the time release rolled around.
I will say that it is a very rare human being that can take working this sort of overtime without pay, comp time, or even food (they made us pay for our own meals when we stayed till 2am).
I will say this, however, the first 2-3 months of this Death March were actually really enjoyable as I was thrown headfirst into a codebase (this is my first job outside of university) and asked to create an SDK for their product. I didn't mind coming in extra because I was given a great deal of responsibility and leeway to do things the way I liked.
At the end, we were given a free $20 lunch and some ice cream to celebrate putting on 25 lbs and being indentured servants for the last 4 months.
This sort of practice, imho, occurs when you have a lot of top down management from reactive people. Middle managers get a plan together and execute, just to have the executives change their mind about what they want (but not the deadline). It just spirals out of control and there's tons of duplicated/wasted work. It tends to happen the most when the top level guys see some fancy new technology (cloud, mobile, etc.) at Gartner or something and think "Hey let's do that at our company! Gosh, I'm so proactive!"
I think it's really luck of the draw. Some teams will be fun and easy-going, but others will be mismanaged and horrible.
One last note is that it's my experience that most of these mis-managed teams tend to have a LOT of immigrant engineers. I think the reason is that visa-holders are reliant on their job to stay in the country (at least in the U.S.). Most are too scared to say 'no' to their boss for fear of being deported.