Crunch time in the video game industry is a hot topic lately, as reports continue to surface of video game companies expecting their employees to work excessive hours. The latest report centers around Treyarch, the studio behind the Call of Duty: Black Ops series of games, which has been accused of mistreating its contracted QA Testers.
The report comes from Jason Schreier of Kotaku, who broke the news earlier this year about Anthem's troubled development, and also wrote about Rockstar's toxic work environment. Now Schreier, speaking to anonymous people that worked on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, has revealed that some QA Testers feel like "second-class citizens" at the studio.
Contracted QA Testers who worked on Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 have to park at a parking lot that's further from Treyarch's office when compared to regular employees. QA Testers are sometimes not allowed to eat lunch that's catered to the studio and are rarely invited to company parties. One situation described was that the QA Testers on the night shift had to work with no air conditioning, despite it being 90 degrees in the office. This went on for two months until Treyarch finally left the air conditioning on for the night shift.
The excessive work hours associated with crunch time seemed to be one of the biggest issues for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 QA Testers. QA Testers would be expected to work through the weekends, with lackluster benefits, and some making just $13 per hour. Sometimes development on Black Ops 4 would put QA Testers into double overtime, which resulted in bigger paychecks, but still took its toll. According to Schreier's sources, these excessive work hours led to people "drinking to cope," sleeping at the office instead of going home, and emotional distress.
"Panic attacks, burnout, dissociation. You feel like your boundaries are being violated. You lose all passion for what you’re doing and forget why you were doing it in the first place. It’s a nightmare," one QA Tester said.
Other QA Testers expressed disappointment that Activision gave a $15 million bonus to its new CFO Dennis Durkin back in January, when QA Testers themselves didn't receive any kind of bonus despite Black Ops 4's commercial success. Black Ops 4, for those unaware, made $500 million in its opening weekend alone. Some feel it's not fair that they put in excessive crunch hours, yet aren't rewarded for their efforts and in some cases barely make more than California's minimum wage.
In a statement to Kotaku, Activision pushed back against these kinds of allegations, stating, "It’s important to us that everyone working on the game, or any of our projects, is treated with respect and that their contributions are appreciated. If there is ever an instance where this standard is not met, we work to remedy it immediately. We constantly strive to provide a rewarding and fun development environment for everyone."
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact this report has on the industry moving forward. There has been a push for the video game industry to unionize by some organizations and even politicians like Bernie Sanders, with the hopes that practices like those described in Schreier's report will stop. Whether or not there's any lasting impact remains to be seen, however, and with Treyarch having to churn out the next Call of Duty with just a two year development cycle instead of three, it seems like more excessive hours are in its employees' futures.