Toxic workplace standards and 100-hour work weeks severely brought employee morale down at NetherRealm Studios during the production of recent titles. In a recent report by Variety, employees of the Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment-owned studio reached out to discuss the conditions they are being subjected to.
From cramped working spaces and constant fear of being fired, to consistently unchecked sexual harassment and long working hours, NetherRealm Studios has garnered a bad name from employee reviews.
This report is one in several which surfaced as employees became vocal about their discomfort. An ex-employee shared her experience which had made her leave her job and made it uncertain if she even wanted to continue in the industry. She explained that she had to work for about 100 hours every week and faced constant harassment from co-workers. "I have never been more aware of my gender and insignificance at a workplace," said former QA analyst Rebecca Rothschild. "I left with scars and fear of an industry I am deeply passionate about."
Rothschild worked on Mortal Kombat 11 as well as Injustice 2 and had serious qualms about the biasness of the management, "I just want management to at least consider the other side and try to be better." She said that the women who worked there were called by inappropriate nicknames and the male-dominant environment did not allow for the growth of people of other genders.
A spokesperson from NetherRealm said, "At NetherRealm Studios, we greatly appreciate and respect all of our employees and prioritize creating a positive work experience." They also stated that the studio constantly takes steps to "reduce crunch time" for the employees. James Longstreet, a former employee who worked on Mortal Kombat in 2011, said in a series of Tweets that the management "tells when crunch is scheduled for" instead of asking employees. Crunch time refers to the period nearing the release date of a game when developers are expected to work overtime.
Extreme crunch has been seen in other companies in the industry as well, including Fortnite creators Epic Games. However, allegations against NetherRealm go beyond crunch. An employee of the studio alleged that the studio head, Shaun Himmerick shouted at the staff and humiliated them in a closed room after a substantial Injustice 2 leak. He threatened employees with legal action and blacklisting in the industry without knowing that the leak came from outside the company.
Another employee said in a report by US Gamer that many new college graduates were being hired by NetherRealm as contractors, with about 75% being first-timers. Being new, they were willing to put up with discomfort at first, so that they may be given a full-time job later.
They were reportedly crammed into box-like, windowless rooms and paid as little as $12 an hour, which is the minimum wage in Chicago, where the studio is located. A few sources also reported $11 hourly wages for artists. Furthermore, it has been reported that contractors did not get proper credits for working on games. They were not invited to formal events and did not receive a free copy of the game like normal employees.
On the one hand, we have studios actively seeking public feedback to fix issues, but in the same industry are also studios which reportedly exploit workers and still only deliver half-complete results. NetherRealm Studios is known for creating some of the most popular fighting games, including Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us. However, due to the mismanagement and mishandling of employees, the efficiency of the studio has declined.
Their most recent game, Mortal Kombat 11 hit stores on April 23, and already has its third patch coming in to fix glitches, exploits and problems with in-game currency. Two more patches are planned to fix the game's various bugs.