Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 crunch conditions and employee woes

A new article has revealed the employee work conditions behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4In an era when game development crunch is being criticized and called out, the testimony of Treyarch employees is a timely and important addition to the conversation around work/life balance in the gaming industry.

The Kotaku article gives readers a look behind the scenes at Treyarch and the “human cost” of the popular game Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. The focus was on the quality assurance team, the traditional bottom of the video game industry hierarchy, where employees say they are often the butt of everyone’s jokes and are treated as “subhuman.” Since they are not technically Activision employees but contractors, they are often kept out of the goings-on of the company. From smaller affronts such as only being allowed to attend office parties for 20 minutes to not being included in company surveys about quality-of-life, the QA department at Treyarch is left out to dry in almost every sense. The regular Activision team is reportedly told not to talk or interact with them, and testers fear they would lose their jobs for befriending the Activision employees.

The testers reported getting paid a base wage of $13 per hour and often worked 64-70 hours per week during crunch. While it wasn’t technically mandatory to work weekends, testers had no choice in order to get work done for a constantly-shifting development cycle. With every change to the game’s core campaign came new bugs to find and report. One employee described a culture of “drinking to cope” when crunch time came around. Going weeks straight without breaks, one developer described the work hours giving them “panic attacks, burnout, [and] disassociation.”

Despite long hours worked, contractors were not eligible for bonuses. While Treyarch staff can receive incentives and executives take home massive bonuses, the contractors cannot even earn a $15 bonus. With all of the pressure and small likelihood of being hired full-time, the turnover rate is massive.

The testimony of the Treyarch contractors is a glimpse into the attitudes of the game industry as a whole. Despite other companies such as Rockstar getting in the news for employee overtime abuses, the practice of crunch is so normalized that it will take a wide movement to cause a shift in the industry’s attitude. Nintendo is off to a good start, recently announcing it was delaying the new Animal Crossing game in order to avoid crunch and give its employees a healthy work/life balance. It’s a step in the right direction for the industry.