In a report published Wednesday by Kotaku, multiple QA staffers (both current and former) from Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 studio Treyarch anonymously told anecdotes describing a culture of unfair, biased treatment and a lack of work-life balance.
These Treyarch QA employees paint a vivid picture of their second-class treatment, which included exclusion from company events, feedback sessions and even rules that prevented them from even speaking to certain members of other development teams, among many other concerning issues.
Another problem that was addressed, although not a surprising one, was an intense crunch cycle that was a result of Black Ops 4’s relatively troubled development. This multi-month period saw QA testers, among other staff, working unreasonably long hours, including over weekends, for miniscule pay. Even more glaringly wrong are the alleged conditions that specifically night-shift QA staff were forced to work under, like the air conditioning being turned off for the entirety of their time in the office.
Although Black Ops 4’s sudden developmental changes, which included the last-minute cancellation of an already-realized campaign mode and the mostly from-scratch development of the new COD battle royale mode (now called Blackout), affected the entirety of Treyarch’s staff, the QA team seemed to have borne the brunt of it all. In the videogame industry, QA testers are seen as the bottom of the employee hierarchy, and their mistreatment is not exclusive to Treyarch (although these reports are particularly egregious).
“We’re getting paid these very minimal amounts working these ridiculous hours, yet these people are getting paid absurd amounts of money. It’s just a culture of not being cared about,” a former Treyarch QA staffer told Kotaku in reference to the $15 million cash and stock bonuses that Activision awarded to CFO Dennis Durkin just this year. For QA staff at Treyarch, pay starts at just $13 per hour, just $1 above the California state legal minimum. Former employees detailed near-pointless benefits for contractors, as well.
“There were weeks straight when I was not taking weekends,” said another former Treyarch developer to Kotaku. “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.”
In an update to their article, Kotaku obtained an email sent to staff today, June 26, from Treyarch studio heads Dan Bunting and Mark Gordon (one that doesn’t really address the problems detailed by the staff):
Today, Kotaku published a story that explores a number of reported behind-the-scenes issues in Black Ops 4 development. The first and most important statement that we want to make to the team is that, as managers of this studio, we take the well-being of every single individual working here very seriously.
We have a vision for the future of this studio that includes significant improvements to work/life balance, and we plan to achieve that through better project planning, streamlined production processes, and rigorous decision-making timelines. It is also our intention to maintain our commitment to increased transparency.
Getting there will require time, hard work, and commitment — most of all, it will require open communication. If you ever feel like your needs aren’t being met, please do not hesitate to communicate actively with your manager. No one should ever feel like they don’t have options, can’t talk openly, or that the only choice is to take their concerns to the public. These conversations should always start with an honest dialogue with your department manager, and if that’s not working, feel free to reach out to one of us.
Game development is a wildly complex art and it requires a diverse set of people and skill sets to do it successfully. It’s important for all of us to foster a studio culture that treats all team members with respect.
We appreciate the contributions made by all parts of the team in the name of the games we make.
Dan & Mark
You can read the full Kotaku report, which includes additional anecdotes from current and former staff regarding their treatment, and Treyarch’s culture of crunch, right here.