The transition to remote work has been exceedingly hard for everyone, and nowhere is this more apparent to the games industry when looking at the conversation surrounding crunch culture, exploitation and abuse. It’s been a very unfortunate reality to have to confront how pervasive these issues are in the games industry. Just recently EVO 2020 was cancelled outright after allegations of abuse were made against multiple prominent FGC personalities. French company Ubisoft also faces allegations over crunch culture, rampant HR neglect, and a toxic work environment.
The added nightmare of COVID-19 has only made this whole conversation more needed and obvious as more and more developers and publishers stick to remote work to protect their staff from infection. When you lose that delicate work-life balance, the problems with the whole situation become even starker for those suffering from them. More and more developers are feeling pressure over delays and lost productivity, and it’s definitely not healthy. 2020 has already been a roller coaster of a year for millions in the worst way, and games have been no different.
Now a new report implicates Respawn Entertainment, makers of Apex Legends, in a workplace environment of crunch culture that has only gotten intolerable as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened. A new Glassdoor review from an anonymous employee is very clear on what they do and don’t like about this whole thing.
“Mostly every other game company has extended project deadlines […] to accommodate for lower efficiencies and general stresses or anxiety during COVID-19, but not on the Apex project,” reads the review. The employee also points out that the extended deadlines aren’t all that helpful when mandated productivity destroys that aforementioned work-life balance, “I feel extremely stressed and burnt out trying to keep our seasonal releases on the same aggressive timeline as pre-shelter in place productivity. I currently work 12-13 hours a day and there is no separation between my home and work life.”
Going further, the review also states that developer Respawn Entertainment isn’t well-lead on the project, with some senior staff making very confusing choices for the project, leading to poor developer workflow and morale.
“We have no idea how to do a live service project, which means poor planning decisions and no sizing of work. [There has been] no attention to employee health during this period. We get two conflicting messages of ‘please take care of your health’ and ‘we must keep the same schedule and work even longer hours to meet our deadlines.'”
Since Glassdoor isn’t widely accessible without an account, a full screenshot of the post has been circulated online.
Apex game director Chad Grenier has also responded, saying that the allegations have some merit. And that the studio has struggled during the pandemic.
“We certainly didn’t have the tools, tech, or systems in place to make a smooth transition to going from several hundred person team on the same campus to a completely remote studio. During this transition, I knew that not only was work going to be more difficult and less productive, but people would also be dealing with a scary global pandemic,” he wrote.
“Add to that the pressures even in a normal environment of making a live service game and we were set up for likely the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced, and are still facing as we continue to work from our homes.” So in short, the allegations seem to have some weight behind them. The director also said the anonymous employee was “absolutely right in how they felt, and they were clearly working too much” despite there being an apparent rule that developers didn’t have to feel pressured.
It seems like this was all yet another case of “soft” pressure. The nonsense common in the games industry where team leads and executives dangle incentives and bonuses in front of employees to compel them to work their fingers to the bone.
For what it’s worth, which isn’t much considering the exploitative nature of the video game industry, at least Respawn came out and admitted there were issues. Some companies would absolutely shut these rumors down and deny them, all while continuing to push developers beyond normal decency. At least most of the folks reacting to this news have had the correct reaction, saying they would be happy to wait for new content if it meant devs weren’t suffering crunch.