“Sometimes we were pushing updates twice in a week, which is absurd... As Black Ops 4 was live, it progressively got more broken and buggier, not because the developers didn’t know what the problem was, but because they didn’t have time to fix it.”
- Cycles like these led to QA facing the worst of the studio's crunch culture, says one anonymous dev
A number of current and former employees of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developer Treyarch discussed the company’s longstanding crunch and studio culture issues for a story on Kotaku.
That story is unfortunately only the latest in a long string of similar articles exposing rampant crunch issues at major game studios, and those speaking up about Treyarch told Kotaku they did so in the hope that it would bring about change at the studio.
The full article shares stories about crunch across the studio spawning from events like Black Ops 4’s sudden release date change or a completely reworked campaign, but the brunt of the issues brought up in Kotaku’s story are faced on a day to day basis by those working in Treyarch’s QA department.
According to those interviewed for the story, Treyarch’s QA staff are isolated from the rest of the development team, both physically and socially. The department is housed on the floor above the rest of the development effort, and both former QA staff and devs from other disciplines say that they were told not to directly communicate. Others note that QA was often deliberately left out of studio-wide meetings or company-provided lunches.
All of Treyarch’s QA staff are contracted employees, rather than full-time devs, and Kotaku’s sources say that the difference between the two employee classes was always apparent. Quality-of-life surveys were distributed only to full-timers, making it difficult for contracted staff to air their grievances. For contracted QA, pay starts at $13 an hour which is, as Kotaku points out, just above California's $12 minimum hourly wage.
Contractors in other disciplines say they were paid $20 an hour despite years of experience or, in some cases, a comparable full-time role being paid $6 to $7 more an hour.
Some speaking to Kotaku say they relied on the overtime created by significant crunch to make rent since it pushed their hourly rate to time-and-a-half past 8 hours, and double time past 12.
“That broke a lot of people,” one now former QA staff member told Kotaku, discussing the $15 million cash and stock bonus Activision CFO Dennis Durkin received this year. “We’re getting paid these very minimal amounts working these ridiculous hours, yet these people are getting paid absurd amounts of money. It’s just a culture of not being cared about.”
The full story over on Kotaku is an essential read, and shares more anecdotes from current and former developers on the issues that impact full-time and contract staff across different disciplines on the day to day at Treyarch.