A new report alleges that development on Fallout 76 took a heavy toll on the developers, especially within the QA department.
The extensive report from Kotaku (opens in new tab), based on conversations with 10 former employees of Bethesda and its parent ZeniMax Media, suggests that many of the former Fallout 4 developers who moved on to Fallout 76 were unhappy about working on a live service game.
The report alleges that the Fallout 76 management team was willing to borrow developers from other games at the company, including Arkane’s Redfall and Bethesda’s Starfield, to the detriment of those projects. Poor conditions on Fallout 76 allegedly prompted what’s described as an “exodus” of senior developers who had worked on previous Bethesda games.
But things were much worse for developers in QA, according to these allegations. Some members of the team report having had their bathroom breaks timed. Much of the report is about crunch, which one of the sources describes as “voluntold overtime” – managers would reportedly say that if no one volunteered for weekend overtime, everyone would be forced to come in, creating peer pressure to continue crunching.
One developer in the piece describes fantasizing about a broken bone, in hopes that they would be able to take time off. Another describes the relief of a member of the team who left the project: “I didn’t cry last night when I was taking a shower.”
The interviewed developers are unsure whether conditions at Bethesda will improve now that the company is owned by Microsoft, but Xbox’s “hands-off” approach to its acquired studios has not inspired much confidence.
“It would be great if something like ABetterABK existed for Bethesda,” one employee says, referencing the group that pushed for unionization at Activision Blizzard. “But everyone is terrified…because [Bethesda] HR is super cutthroat.” Another says that Microsoft’s better employee benefits package has not been offered to Bethesda employees.
Neither Bethesda nor Microsoft responded to Kotaku’s report.
Crunch is not uncommon across the games industry, but studios like Bungie have been making progress toward improving work culture, for example, and many Insomniac games employees celebrated the “completely crunch free” production of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.