Several former contractors for NetherRealm Studios, who worked on Mortal Kombat 9, Injustice 2 and Mortal Kombat X, ranted about the company’s working conditions, especially during crunch time.
PC Gamer contacted several contractors about their time at NetherRealm Studios after two former hired hands, James Longstreet and Beck Hallstedt, made lengthy Twitter threads about their experience at NetherRealm.
Longstreet started the conversation on April 23rd, 2019, writing across multiple tweets about his experience working at NetherRealm…
“’I hardly sleep. I’m grumpy at home. I have no energy to go out. Getting a weekend away from work is a major achievement. If I take a Saturday off, I feel guilty. I’m not being forced to work this way, but if I don’t, then the job won’t get done.’ It’s been 8 years, and they’ve made it clear to me that I’m persona non grata there anyway so, fuck it: working at NetherRealm on MK9 nearly killed me. I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours for months. from January to April 2011 I was at work more than half of the time.
“In the past 3 years, i had gotten a 1% raise and no bonuses. it was made very clear that everyone was required to crunch. NRS doesn’t mince words and say ‘hey, anyone who’s staying late tonight…’ nope, your manager tells you when crunch is scheduled for. On MK9 crunch officially began after new years day 2011. Of course, we did a bit of pre-crunch before that, just to make sure we were in a good spot for crunch. this was on schedule documents. This was not a wink-wink-nudge-nudge “passionate hardworking” thing, this was mandate.
“I took one day off between Jan 1 and the day the day1 patch was approved. it was my birthday, and it was on a Sunday, so it was ok if i was just on call. i was allowed to go to a friends’ wedding (on call of course) on a Saturday night, after working an 8 hour shift first. Those were the only two days i didn’t work from at least 10 am to at least midnight. we were all doing this. i mean, except the bosses, of course, who would leave after dinner. The whole time the old hats talked about how this was the easiest crunch ever. I hadn’t done laundry in weeks. if i had stayed at NRS I definitely wouldn’t be married.”
Longstreet explains that while the industry tries to make this feel like a moment of pride, it wasn’t. Upon reflection he regrets the sleepless nights, the cigarettes and cold pizza to get through the high-stress moments of finishing the game on time.
Longstreet also states that he heard through the grapevine that the crunch has become worse for the current crop of developers, and that one developer died during crunch while working on Injustice 2.
This story was picked up by contract worker Beck Hallstedt, who also shared their experience of having worked on Injustice 2 for five months. In a lengthy thread published on April 24th, 2019, Hallstedt wrote…
“This might get my ass blacklisted but i want to talk about the ridiculous amount of experiences I had/saw at Netherrealm for the short FIVE MONTHS that I was there.
NRS needs to be exposed for predatory and abusive behaviors in the same ways that Riot, Epic, and Telltale have.
“NRS is in a long building with 3 sets of bathrooms. they turned the woman’s bathroom closest to contractors into a “unisex bathroom” b/c there are so few women. men would urinate with the stall door open while women were in there. fem coworkers told me not to bother to complain.
“I sat with all the other contract artists in a back room that was stuffed with workstations so they could fit as many temp people as possible.
“It was a daily occurrence to hear FT people talk about how many contractors were cramped into that room during crunch cycle.
“My second or third week of work, a new temp environment artist sat down next to me and was working on getting his desk set up. the first thing that a FT person said to him was “ready to die from crunch?”
“I will never forget that.
“I and most other contractors, some of the most talented junior-level workers that games have to offer, worked at $12/hour to work on a AAA game.
“Unless you were a woman like me, we got $11/hour.
“Because of this, NRS’s contractors NEED overtime to survive. they NEED the time-and-a-half pay to make rent.
“Much of the best talent in Chicago is paid so little that they go into credit card debt to buy food and seek out 60+ hour weeks to pay their bills.”
Part of this story was corroborated by other contractors that PC Gamer managed to get in contact with, who requested anonymity but also confirmed that contractors worked for $12 an hour. Quality assurance tester Isaac Torres also confirmed to PC Gamer that what the others were saying was true, and that the crunch was real while working at NetherRealm Studios.
This was also further corroborated by Tango Comics creative director and former NetherRealm Studios contractor, Rebecca Rothschild, who made a tweet on April 24th, 2019 stating the following.
I worked as a contractor at NRS and can confirm everything @beckhallstedt has laid out here. Lots of amazing people work at NRS, but there are serious, systemic issues that need to be addressed. https://t.co/Q7XPDgzcJ2
— Rebecca Rothschild (@RBonksR) April 25, 2019
Rosthschild helped with Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 while she was working at NetherRealm Studios.
Moreover, Hallstedt would continue to point out other flaws at NetherRealm Studios and their hiring practices, stating the following in the thread…
“I know women that were not included in scrum meetings because they were “distracting” for the guys.
“Since NRS is the only AAA studio in chicago, they headhunt new grads and then grind them into hell for minimum pay. I know a LOT of people that quit games entirely because of a single contract with NRS made them realize how shitty it can be to work in games.
“When things go wrong, they blame & yell at & abuse contractors. there was a major leak that resulted in a higher-up bringing all contractors into a room and having a SCREAMfest at them & threatening all of them collectively
“Found out later the leak didn’t come from a contractor.”
Hallstedt then goes on to talk about how temp workers and contractors don’t get invited to most company events, and that “queerfolk” and “women” aren’t treated well there. Hallstedt rounds out the rant by telling people not to boycott NetherRealms, saying…
“Please do not boycott. bosses get paid first.
support game workers and be patient with us. a lot is going to happen in the next year across the industry. I believe it.
“All this in 4 months. i’ve heard worse stories, especially about harassment, but those rely a bit too much on secondhand information.
“Not everyone has these experiences- some workers have a perfectly fine time there- but jeez it’s mostly rough”
YouTuber Infinite Retro also did a recap of all of the claims made by the contractors while putting it into context as to where NetherRealm stands at the moment with their audience and the gaming community.
PC Gamer meanwhile drew parallels to other stories from companies like Rockstar Games, Telltale, Riot, Epic Games, and Electronic Arts where developers discussed crunch times.
Whether or not anything comes of this is entirely dependent on how far the media goes with the story.
Right now the big focus is on the debate about Mortal Kombat 11’s microtransactions, always-on, the de-sexualization of the females, the wokeness, and the grinding, but things could end up being a lot worse for NetherRealm if any sort of labor investigation got underway regarding pay discrepancy and hours worked.
(Thanks for the news tip Gemma Ham and Plake Filmmaker)