Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios has said that it’s “actively looking into” the recent wave of reports online alleging toxic working conditions and unhealthy, sustained crunch culture within the studio.
Word of problems at NetherRealm broke when, following reports of severe, ongoing crunch at Epic Games, former NetherRealm developer James Longstreet posted a long series of Tweets discussing his eye-opening experiences at the company. “I didn’t sleep more than 4 hours for months”, he wrote, “Working at NetherRealm on MK9 nearly killed me”.
That prompted Ex-NetherRealm artist Beck Hallstedt to call the studio out on its “predatory and abusive behaviours”, which, in turn, saw a wave of editorial pieces from different publications – all speaking with both current and former employees about their time at NetherRealm, and backing up claims made by Hallstedt and Longstreet.
Speaking to GamesIndusty.biz, one former employee claimed to have worked 90-hours a week for around four straight months while working on NetherRealm’s Injustice, with similar numbers coming from other sources. Others highlighted low pay for NetherRealm’s contractors – with many reportedly earning “as little as $11 an hour” – and a former contractor even said that the studio had “a reputation at Chicago-area schools as a rough place for aspiring developers”.
Another a source (via US Gamer) described an incident, in response to a leak on Injustice 2, where contractors were singled out and called into a room to be “screamed at” and threatened with firing by NetherRealm studio head Shaun Himmerick. “It was disturbing,” they explained, “People were upset and crying and I was really shocked that it happened.”
Additionally, a former employee told PC Gamer that they and a workmate had filed a formal complaint about NetherRealm Studios (described elsewhere as having an “incredibly bro-centric” atmosphere), with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing sexist and discriminatory practices within the company.
“We brought up the harassment…the secret nicknames that the devs had for all the female employees, the lack of women who actually had full-time jobs, the singling-out that we experienced,” they said, “We tried to get others involved but they were scared of getting blacklisted and being retaliated against which made our case harder to get pushed through.”
In response to all these reports, NetherRealm has now issued a statement to press. “We greatly appreciate and respect all of our employees and prioritise creating a positive work experience,” it reads, “As an equal opportunity employer, we encourage diversity and constantly take steps to reduce crunch time for our employees.
“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.”
NetherRealm is, of course, only the latest in an ever-growing list of studios to be called out for their crunch culture and toxic work environments. League of Legends developer Riot Games has continued to face accusations of systematic sexism within the company, leading to a walk-out by more than 150 staff members this week in protest of its practices.
Epic Games has also come under fire following reports that its Fortnite teams face regular 70-hours-and-above working weeks to meet the game’s gruelling, ongoing update schedule.