USGamer has a great article up about the crunch culture at NetherRealm Studios, which came out as a result of the Polygon article about Fortnite.
Last week, just as NetherRealm Studios celebrated the release of Mortal Kombat 11, ex-contractors at the company shared stories on social media with startling allegations of crunch and stressful workplace conditions; particularly for contracted employees. Our investigation into the allegations has revealed a long-running culture at NetherRealm that has taken advantage of a contracted workforce, enabled by a full-time staff and management team that are still currently working at the studio.
The writer, Matt Kim, spoke to former contractor members who worked on Mortal Kombat 9, 10 and Injustice 2. A lot of these contractors were recent graduates from Chicago who were looking to start their careers in the industry.
Our sources confirmed they worked for $12 an hour while working contract at NetherRealm. For context, the minimum wage in Chicago is currently $12 an hour, but only after a minimum wage hike that took effect on July 2018. Multiple sources also told USG that NetherRealm would offer $11 per hour wages for the art team.
"I can share that everything Beck Hallstedt has said is absolutely true," said another anonymous source who contracted at NetherRealm. "[Ed Boon, creative director at NetherRealm Studios,] kind of brags, 'I don't ever fire my full-time employees.'" But two sources feel the statement is hypocritical.
"[Boon would] claim to be fortunate to never be forced to lay off people but ended contracts of dozens of people on a regular basis due to the system despite that," said one former contractor. "People never get hired," another said bluntly. LinkedIn currently lists a little over 200 employees as working at NetherRealm, but because the studio hasn't released any internal data it's difficult to parse who is full-time versus who is a contractor.
"It was the first time any of us were working on a triple-A game," said a former contractor who spoke with USG. "We all had hopes of getting hired after our contract were up," said another former contractor. "Spoilers: none of us got hired immediately after our contracts were up."
The desperation to earn a full-time position at NetherRealm, essentially a protected status, was repeatedly dangled in front of young, hungry developers. Leads would tell contractors of openings at NetherRealm "in the 'near future' and to 'keep working, you're doing great!'"
There's a lot more in the US Gamer link. Jeff mentioned this on the Bomb Cast this week but I'm sure we'll hear more of these stories as this is likely just the beginning. The hardest part for me as a consumer is trying to determine the best course of action. Boycotting these games isn't really fair because a lot of people put so much time and work into these games. On the other hand if these games end up as huge commercial successes, that might also make management focus more on what they're doing currently instead of bettering themselves.