Hot off the launch of Mortal Kombat 11, developer NetherRealm Studios has found itself in hot water. No, it’s not about the atrocious Towers of Time. Recently, reports of a toxic workplace and 100-hour workweeks began to emerge. Former NetherRealm employees began voicing concerns, with complaints ranging from sexism to low pay and intolerable crunches. Following all the negative publicity, NetherRealm had to say something. And it has. Speaking with Variety, the studio is now “actively looking into all allegations.”
“At NetherRealm Studios, we greatly appreciate and respect all of our employees and prioritize creating a positive work experience. As an equal opportunity employer, we encourage diversity and constantly take steps to reduce crunch time for our employees,” a NetherRealm representative told Variety. “We are actively looking into all allegations, as we take these matters very seriously and are always working to improve our company environment. There are confidential ways for employees to raise any concerns or issues.”
Issues surrounding the studio began on the day Mortal Kombat 11 launched, April 23. That day, James Longstreet, a former software engineer for NetherRealm, wrote about his experience working at the developer. Longstreet was employed with the studio for Mortal Kombat 9. The experience “nearly killed” him.
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
— Jiminy Snackmouth (@jlongstreet) April 23, 2019
NetherRealm and the Tale of “Rampant” Sexism
An additional source to the Variety story described the toxicity of the NetherRealm workplace. Apparently, women were given nicknames by some of the male staffers. Names like “Silver Fox” and “Dyke Bitch” were heard around the office. In addition, women also had difficulty negotiating for better pay. According to former QA analyst Rebecca Rothchild, this wasn’t a problem for the men.
“However, I heard from men working on contract that they were able to negotiate and get a higher rate,” Rothchild said. “Same thing with promotions. The studio would create positions for specific people — all men. That meant no one else got a chance to interview or even hear about these positions.”
Naturally, studio owner Warner Bros. Entertainment denies all allegations. Apparently, since the source was an independent contractor and not a full NetherRealm Employee, it nullifies the complaints — somehow.
Meanwhile, crunch is, sadly, a constant within the games industry. We seem to hear about it more often these days with the rise of AAA games. Demanding more spit and polish, these games also require more hands on deck and additional time to get games looking “next gen.” Of course, this leads to the dreaded crunch, which can leave many developers sick and disheartened. Both Rockstar Studios and Epic Games have had news reports on destructive crunch times.
To put it laughably lightly, games development shouldn’t be this way. As much as we love our games, it’s criminal that they should come at the sacrifice of developers’ mental and physical well-being. For many of these people, making games is a dream job. But studios have turned these dreams into a living nightmare.