2019 seems to be the year of crunch and unhealthy work practices in the video game industry. Not because it’s just now happening for the first time, but because many former and current developers are speaking out against companies that have allegedly mistreated them or mishandled issues in the workplace. The latest report comes from US Gamer, and it covers the alleged poor work practices at NetherRealm Studios, the team behind Mortal Kombat and Injustice.
The report highlights issues from the point of view of four former NetherRealm contractors, all of which wished to remain unnamed, for fear of retaliation. The crux is that contractors are useful to the company because they don’t receive benefits, are paid far less, and can be motivated by the reward of eventually being a full-time employee.
Many new college grads just trying to break into the video game industry are hired at NetherRealm as contractors, 75% of which are reportedly “first-time employees.” Being new to the industry, some contractors are willing to deal with discomfort at first, because it might mean they’ll get hired on as full-time employees later. Here’s a snippet from US Gamer’s report:
Another source said that the ‘lowest tier of contractor employees were put in the same windowless room,’ a box-like, renovated garage that was often filled to the brim with temp workers.
Even more damning is the small amount of pay pay contractors receive, getting as little as $12 an hour. This is the minimum wage in Chicago, where NetherRealm is located. Because of this, when crunch would roll around, contractors would be willing to take on more hours just to survive. One source said this:
A big part of that too was because we were paid so little. I barely made enough to get by on my wages and I relied on crunch to have some extra income just to get by.
Another source noted that they were often at the office quite late:
We’d be there all day, we’d hardly see the sunlight sometimes, you’ll be going home really late and that can be kind of dangerous depending on where you live in the city.
During the development of Injustice 2, there was a substantial leak online. This prompted NetherRealm president Shaun Himmerick to have a meeting with contractors, to get “screamed at,” according to one source. Many alleged that the meeting was not constrictive and that it involved Himmerick unfairly accusing them of causing the leak and that it was “demoralizing”.
It was humiliating to get grouped in a room and get screamed at by the studio head Shaun Himmerick. We were threatened with legal action and being blacklisted in the industry.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it was only the contractors who were treated this way, as none of the permanent employees of NetherRealm received the same “talking-down to”.
Of course, unhealthy working conditions are present with full-time and temporary employees, but it seems like the latter might have it worse off. Companies can leverage the reward of full-time against them and treat them unfairly. And when a contractor quits or once their contract expires, the company can just hire more “bodies,” per a report on similar practices at Epic Games.
It’s horrifying to hear how unfairly many employees are treated at game development studios. However, it’s a positive thing that there is more awareness of this, which will hopefully lead to a solution.
[Source: US Gamer]