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Report: Xbox Game Studios boss downplays alleged crunch on Fallout 76

Xbox Game Studios CEO Matt Booty reportedly downplayed reports of crunch at Bethesda during the making of Fallout 76.

Last week, Xbox Game Studios CEO Matt Booty allegedly brushed off employee's questions about reports of intense crunch and mismanagement that plagued the development of Fallout 76. Booty apparently added that he believes Bethesda (and its parent company ZeniMax) "does not have a situation where people are crunching," and that it does not have a "bullying atmosphere."

Word of Booty's comments comes from Kotaku, where writer Sisi Jiang says they've reviewed video of the Xbox Game Studios town hall where Booty spoke. Booty's comments came after employees directly asked about Kotaku's investigation into the making of Fallout 76, whose launch was marked with deep technical flaws and dearth of original game content.

Xbox Game Studios wasn't in charge of Bethesda during the making of Fallout 76, and it appears Booty is leaning on that fact to downplay accountability for allegedly poor work conditions at the studio. After saying that Xbox Game Studios took the report "seriously," Booty apparently downplayed Kotaku's reporting by saying "the challenge with a lot of these articles is that they look backwards, sometimes pretty far back in time."

Said report did focus on events that took place in 2018, whose repercussions may have been felt in departures that continued into 2021.

Booty's central thesis was apparently that if you looked back to 10 years ago (well before the development of Fallout 76), it's "a little unfair to put [crunch culture] on one studio." Booty described his own history with crunch, mentioning that at one point he'd slept under his own desk early in his career, and that such behavior was viewed as a badge of honor.

He concluded his comments by reiterating the company's support for Bethesda leadership and encouraging employees to go through Xbox's human resources department if they wanted to report excessive overtime.

These answers to employees' questions about the making of Fallout 76 are one heck of a mixed bag. It's easy to take Booty at his word that Microsoft and Xbox don't want crunch culture to continue at the company, but Kotaku's reporting went beyond employee passion leading to overwork. 

The trials of Fallout 76's development also had to do with management allegedly sidelining its experienced online game studios, calling workers in for extra hours when updated builds weren't available, and encouraging testers to spy on each other for social and professional benefit.

It is tricky legal territory for Booty to comment on development that he wasn't responsible for overseeing. But with reports that Xbox is choosing to let its newly acquired game studios operate relatively unhindered, will it step in to ensure the mistakes of Fallout 76 aren't repeated? Or will fears of messing with a game studio's "special sauce" prevent any extra action?

One open question that remains after Booty's comments is if ZeniMax employees will receive matching benefits that other Xbox Game Studios developers enjoy. Xbox did not respond to our previous query about that particular question.

We've reached out to Microsoft for comment on this story and will update it when the company responds.

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