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Reports tell of damning culture of exploitation and crunch at NetherRealm

Mortal Kombat 11 Story and Gameplay Trailers

The newly launched Mortal Kombat 11 is burning up the charts, bringing a ton of new and old fans of fighting games back to the Realms. An eternal war for control of time and existence has begun, and Mortal Kombat 11 wants to tell that story. But a controversial new report from USGamer has another story to tell. And it’s a story that NetherRealm might not want you to hear.

The report alleges a lot of labor abuses, there’s so many layers to these claims that I’m just confused about where to start. But I suppose the easiest place to begin would be to focus on the rampant alleged exploitation of contracted labor. Workers under contract are not full-time employees perse, nor are they explicitly temporary either. Contract workers are hired on in massive numbers at the start of the project, and given some basic terms and a small potential for job security. The idea is that most of the staff that’s under contract would have a chance at having their contract renigotiated and would be moved to full-time status.

Sources in the report not only paint this progression as unlikely, but as being recklessly abused by upper management to both pressure employees and to cover for other issues and abuses. The promise of this job security would be dangled out to young, hungry developers. Leads would tell contractors of openings at NetherRealm “in the ‘near future’ and to ‘keep working, you’re doing great!'” This same kind of “soft” pressure was documented at Rockstar Games during production on Red Dead Redemption 2.

“Most of QA is temp, that’s about 40-50 people on console and mobile QA onsite at NetherRealm. Then you have about 15 or so modelers, animators, designers. I’m just ball parking numbers, but the number of temporary workers at that studio is high and competition is fierce.” 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.”

The reliance on contractors, interns and temps, and allegedly the toxic treatment they received, is baked into the culture of the company. Many of the assets and sequences you see in Mortal Kombat 11 were entirely created by temporary workers, said one source. The upper management is also apparently exploiting their status in ways according to anonymous sources, “Definitely. They would definitely take advantage of it. I know full-time employees that would take extra long lunches and told contractors when they could take their lunch, or when they could take their break. They would micromanage us.”

These claims should always be taken with a grain of salt, but given the near-constant pressure to perform under an equally ever-present crunch, some sources claim those couldn’t handle it broke down. It should be obvious, but this kind of culture isn’t healthy. Not for the workers or the industry as a whole, and given how widespread and common these kinds of issues are, I don’t think the problem will be dealt with anytime soon exempting some revolutionary change.

All in all, it’s a definite read if you’re at all interested in the state of labor relations in the games industry, and if you would like to see more of how some companies can be quite ruthless to their employees when making some of your favorite games.

Mortal Kombat 11 is out now for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.

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