When Call of Duty Black Ops 4 hit the shelves in 2018, it made $ 500 million in three days. Thanks to this, according to Activision CEO Boby Kotik, 2018 became the most successful year in the history of the publishing house. If you follow the realities of the gaming industry, then you understand that behind such impressive numbers there are hours of overwork, wasted nerves and exhaustion. Speaking specifically about how Call of Duty Black Ops 4 was created, in his new investigation, Kotaku editor Jason Schreyer said that there is a very cruel class division in the Treyarch office, crunches are "classics of life", and the employees themselves face panic attacks and neuroses.
His investigation into the creation of Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is based on 11 interviews with former and current Treyarch employees who naturally wished to remain anonymous.
Discrimination based on occupation
One of the main problems with Treyarch is the rigid division of the profession. Not so long ago, Jason was at a studio party for the new interns. It wasn’t a big deal, it was just that the staff decided to drink beer and eat pizza together. The game testers were also called to it. More precisely, they were allowed to stay on the territory of the party for 20 minutes, and besides, they were forbidden to drink, since they had work awaiting them.
When Jason asked a developer why they have such strict rules, he replied: "I'm surprised they were even allowed in."
Treyarch's attitude towards testers is not very pleasant, to put it mildly, and many testers openly say that they are considered second-rate personnel. They all work separately from the main team on the second floor, they are not allowed to use shared parking [they use a parking lot located far from the office], and even talk to developers. According to Schreyer's interlocutor, he is talking with one developer in secret, because it threatens to be fired. And when lunch is prepared for the team, testers are told openly that it is not for them, but for the developers. The most they can do is pick up the leftovers in an hour.
But the underlying problem is that almost all testers work, as it were, separately from the studio, and therefore they cannot claim cash bonuses. Who does not know, it is often practiced in the industry that in addition to the basic salary for work, a developer can receive a very large financial bonus if the project is successful and sells well. However, this does not apply to testers. On average, they make $ 13 an hour and plow 70 hours a week. Many employees were hit hard by the fact that the new CFO, Dennis Derkin, got a $ 15 million raise when the testers department didn't get even $ 15. One of Jason's interviewees vividly described the management's attitude towards them: “They just don't care about us.”
Next time it will be different ...
However, there were problems on the first floor of the studio. When the Treyarch team created the third Black Ops, they encountered a very unpleasant thing. It was planned that they will introduce a full-fledged open world with multiplayer. Halfway through, the team was instructed to forget about it and focus on traditional line levels. After that hell, when they had to do everything from the beginning, the management promised that this will not happen again.
And now 2018, 2 years have passed since the start of the development of Black Ops 4, working on an ambitious 2v2 mechanic. The management advises that you need to remove it and start over with a new classic linear levels in a single company that you are used to players. How did it happen?
After the third part, it was decided to refresh the gameplay. This is how the 2v2 mechanic appeared. You chose another player as your partner and opposed two other real gamers who also play together [you can play against AI too]. Together, you completed missions in a post-apocalyptic world. For example, you and your partner were guarding the convoy, and the enemy should, on the contrary, take it away. Before the beginning of 2017, the team collectively “chipped”, turned in the material to Activision, and left for the Christmas weekend, happily going to a party in Las Vegas on the occasion of a successful job.
At the beginning of 2018, information began to flow from the top that there were technical problems in the 2 by 2 system, troubles with timing, and some players found the mechanics itself monotonous. Therefore, it was decided to turn 180 degrees, remove the company for two, replace the traditional linear company with one person and add more explosions. In short, make a classic conveyor witch.
The time was short, plus, the management decided to compete with the Rockstars and their RDR 2. Therefore, the release of the game was postponed a month earlier, which also reduced the development time. It was simply impossible to remake a story company from scratch that told the same story, but in a completely different way. After a while, the team realized that this was simply impractical, so it was removed from the game, leaving the multiplayer and zombie mod.
Like everyone else
This was not enough to surprise the players. This was not even enough to surpass their own past game. Then it turned out that many of the studio's employees are playing battle royals, namely in PUBG and Fortnite. They got an idea to do something similar in a witchcraft. Why not? Now this is a hype thing, and everyone rides battle royale. Since then, 9 months before the release of the game, the developers began to create Blackout.
Then practically everything was processed. One developer, in an interview with the editor of Kotaku, said that by his calculations he worked a total of 64 hours a week. This is at best, and he used to work 12 hours on weekends. Fortunately, those who stayed at work overtime were given cash bonuses. Average salaries ranged from $ 13 to $ 30 per hour. If you worked more than 8 hours, you could get one and a half times more, and if about 12 hours, then twice as much. But for those who got the least, overwork bonuses were the only way to survive in very expensive Los Angeles.
According to employees, some colleagues had a part-time job, and after 8 hours of work at Treyarch, they went to another job. Ironically, they were creating the most expensive game on the planet. Many employees slept in the office while others were addicted to the bottle to deal with stress and drank on the spot.
Sometimes, employees did not take days off in principle, this led to constant panic attacks, burnout and dissociation. As one interviewee said, “You lose interest in what you are doing, but you also forget where you started at all. This is horror. ”
Crunch and only crunch
The culture of rework has always accompanied every development, but the last few months of making the game have been especially difficult. The management promised every time that in the future the load would be less, and when the promised time came, they would repeat the same song. All were loaded, but it was especially hard for the testing department. After the release of the game, there were two updates a week for it, and testers had to jump and break the game for hours to find out what was wrong. However, with each new patch, new problems appeared and they simply did not have time to fix them.
In addition to fatigue, I had to fight the heat. The work in the testing department is divided into two shifts: the daytime one comes at 10 am and leaves at 10 pm, and the night one, on the contrary, plows from 10 pm to 10 am. The night shift refused to turn on the air conditioners, saying that they were broken, although everyone knew perfectly well that they worked during the day. Yes, it's cooler outside at night, but not indoors, where dozens of consoles and PCs are constantly running, generating heat. As a result, the temperature reached 32 degrees Celsius, and employees cooked in their own clothes.
The world of testers at Treyarch is cruel. They work in teams of 12, but sit in rooms for six. They walk 10 minutes to their parking lot, their lunch is not paid, they cannot humanly eat it with the developers, and reviews on working conditions, staff health reports do not include opinions or data from the testing department. And if they will work on weekends, they are told only on Friday evening.
Apart from such unpleasant working conditions, the quality control team is almost always kept in the dark and limited in information. So, the testers learned that the next spell will also be done by Treyarch only from the material Kotaku. A couple of days after that, a letter accidentally fell into their hands, in which this information was confirmed. The bosses said that this does not concern them and let them continue to work.
The developers themselves are also forbidden to speak with testers, and almost everyone realizes that this is an absurd practice. They say that this is due to the fact that not so long ago, one of the dismissed testers leaked information about all Easter eggs in zombie fashion to Reddit, and with such a policy the company is fighting against such precedents. The management also tries to create the appearance that the testers are very busy and should not be distracted. But everyone knows this is a lie.
This strange policy directly affects the game. Since due to the lack of communication, new bugs appear. Ridiculously, the only direct communication between some employees is through the JIRA bug finder application. Also, some testers constantly come and others leave, no one talks to anyone, does not teach, but only demand the result. Testers, in fact, are not employees of Treyarch, but work as if for a third-party company Volt.
Rich Dad Poor Dad As stated, Volt contract employees do not receive any bonuses. Therefore, if you walk near the Treyarch parking lots and see a brand new Tesla, then this is clearly a developer's car, and the nearest wreck is a tester's car with 90% probability.
Workers with experience in this field are paid $ 20 per hour, although in other studios they would pay more for at least 6-7 bucks, and besides, they would definitely be given at least some bonuses for crunch. No sick days off, no vacation. Even between the holidays, you have to constantly choose: go on a weekend for Thanksgiving or New Years? You cannot select both at once.
In 2018, it became known about the requirement to receive a salary for the holidays, the tester needs to ideally work the next 13 weeks 510 hours: neither be late, nor leave earlier, not get sick and fulfill all the requirements. As the anonymous author said, no one received holiday payments.
Testers have benefits, but they "suck". For example, one of the anonymous authors said that he formalized fears and lost hundreds of dollars a month, although no one warned him that it would be so.
We don't care about your opinion
The main problem in the studio is that no one wants to hear testers. They are not even allowed to introduce any creative ideas into the project. Because of this, when Blackout was created, the creation department and the control department felt that they were working on different games. When management gave the order to introduce microtransactions, both floors felt the pain of what they had to do. Activision introduced and came up with new ways to make millions, but nobody knew where they were going. Certainly not salaries for testers.
As a result, all of Schreier's interlocutors hope that this investigation will change the attitude of management towards its employees. As it was with Bioware. According to one of the anonymous authors, most employees want not so much high salaries [although it would not hurt], but equal treatment in the studio.
They also hope that Activision will follow Ubisoft's lead and take a hiatus for the 2005 franchise.
The Topic of Article: Discrimination, Burnout and Dissociation - How Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Was Created.