“We do not have a situation where people are crunching and we’ve got this bullying atmosphere,” says Xbox’s Matt Booty.
Allegations surfaced earlier this month that the development of Fallout 76 was plagued by, among other things, a heavy reliance on crunch. One source described it as “voluntold overtime,” because employees were told that if nobody volunteered to come in to work over a weekend, the entire dev team would be called in. Bethesda’s acquisition by Microsoft a couple years later reportedly hadn’t changed the situation much, as sources said the new ownership was largely taking a hands-off approach to the studio.
In a recent all-hands meeting reported on by Kotaku, however, Xbox Game Studios chief Matt Booty said he’s “confident” the situation has changed, and that Bethesda and its parent company ZeniMax Media are no longer crunching as part of their regular process. He also made a point of noting that crunch wasn’t a problem with Bethesda specifically, but just the way things were done across the industry as a whole.
“Crunch culture is… if you go back 10 years ago, it’s a little unfair to put that on one studio,” Booty said. “It was just part of the industry. I don’t say that to justify it, I’m just saying it was part of the culture of the industry. I literally slept under my desk early in my career. And we looked at that like a badge of honor.”
“I know from talking to Bethesda leadership that we do not have a situation where people are crunching and we’ve got this bullying atmosphere… I’m confident about that.”
Overtime isn’t completely outlawed, of course, but Booty said that it shouldn’t be part of the mandatory production schedule. Employees who do feel pressured to crunch can report it to Xbox’s human resources department, or to support groups at individual studios. “There’s avenues for them to report that anonymously back to us that goes through HR,” he said. “We have to rely on those independent systems of checks and balances.”
“Go to HR” isn’t always a workable strategy, as demonstrated by the ongoing mess at Activision Blizzard: One of the chief complaints from employees is that the company’s human resources department actually worked to cover up abuses and shield abusers from punishment. Microsoft has been more publicly outspoken about the need to address those kind of problems in the industry, though, and recently reached a “ground-breaking agreement” with the Communications Workers of America that will clear the way for union organization at Activision Blizzard once Microsoft’s acquisition of that studio is complete.