Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios is the latest company to be accused to overworking and mistreating employees. These types of allegations are starting to become almost routine, with companies like Rockstar, Riot, and Epic Games facing similar charges within the last few months.
The dirty laundry airing was kicked off on Twitter by former NetherRealm software engineer James Longstreet, which spurred further tweets by former NR concept artist Beck Hallstedt and Q&A analyst Rebecca Rothschild. PC Gamer reached out for further comments from Longstreet, Rothschild and others. All of the former employees report long-lasting, extreme crunch (work weeks of up to 100 hours) and an overreliance on independent contractors, who were paid as little as $12 an hour with no benefits or assurance of future employment once their contract was up. Rothschild summed up the NetherRealm contractor experience, thusly…
“I was working 90-100 hour weeks for both [Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2]. I can personally say from my recollection that nothing improved from MKX to Injustice 2. Everything was down to the wire. Everything was worse. [Contractors] were second class citizens, and that was made clear in many little ways. [Overtime money is] great but if I have no life and am working myself to death, what good does this money really do me?"
Disturbingly, Hallstedt also alleges gender discrimination and inappropriate behavior were common during her time at NetherRealm, with female employees being excluded from certain meetings, referred to by demeaning nicknames, and forced to share a unisex washroom where men would urinate with the stall doors open. According to an anonymous source PC Gamer spoke to, a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was filed at one point.
NetherRealm have yet to respond to these allegations, and the recollections of these former employees may not be representative of the general experience at the studio. That said, these stories paint a pretty consistent (and unflattering) portrait. As I said before, the issue of crunch in video game development is complicated. On the one hand, video games are an artistic medium, and sometimes creativity doesn’t happen on a strict Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 schedule. On the other hand, video games are an industry, a product, and those who make them deserve fair treatment. It’s increasingly clear the industry needs to seriously reconsider the status quo.
Mortal Kombat 11 is currently available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.