NetherRealm Studios, the developer behind Mortal Kombat 11, is under scrutiny this week after former employees and contractors spoke out about the "severe crunch" they experienced working for the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment company. All of their accounts detail a job that expected 80-100 work weeks and subtle coercion to keep up the breakneck pace, a story we keep hearing time and time again.
Crunch has become more and more controversial recently, with studios like Rockstar Games making headlines for the practice. This problem is compounded by the slew of layoffs also plaguing the game industry. This constant threat of being fired leads to many video game developers working long hours with little compensation to show for it. Some of these workers end up "burnt out," taking significant leave, or exiting the industry altogether.
Many of these devs spoke out on Twitter as news of Epic Games' crunch for Fortnite updates also spread. PC Gamer reached out to several employees and painted a picture of a small workspace constantly stringing along contractors with months and months of crunch. Beck Hallstedt, a contractor who worked on Injustice 2, detailed a stressful environment with small work stations and low wages bordering on minimum. Other stories came out that seem to indicate that this has been common practice at NRS for years. Some of this crunch is mismanaged too, with QA testers waiting hours for builds to work on. Jim Sterling discussed the issue for Epic Games, explaining how devs risk losing their contracting gigs if they refused to put in additional hours.
Mortal Kombat 11's launch has been fraught with controversy that has nothing to do with its gratuitous violence. NRS brought on Ronda Rousey to voice the titular Sonya Blade, only for her performance to be considered laughably bad. People also noticed the ridiculous grind required to unlock everything thanks in part to the new micro-transactions (though those should be getting a fix soon).
All of this extra news hasn't been great for public perception of Mortal Kombat 11, a game that's otherwise rather great and getting rave reviews. Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat, hasn't helped either with tweets that seem tone deaf in this situation, and he's not spoke to the allegations regarding his work environment. Recently game developers have been calling for a union and stories like this only fuel that fire. Twitter accounts like @GameWorkers have started calling for unionization in the game industry, as well as calling out companies mistreating workers like with Telltale. They've set their sights on NRS as well, retweeting testimonials from many of the spurned workers. It'll be interesting to see how Warner Bros. Games responds to this backlash and if it'll affect MK11 in the future.
We reached out to WBIE for comment yesterday and haven't heard back yet.