A new report has detailed a long-term culture of crunch at TT Games, the developer behind the main Lego series of licensed titles.
The article, published by Polygon, also details more recent studio frustrations during the creation of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – which today got a final release date after years of delay.
More than 20 TT Games staff – past and present – described working for bosses who reportedly expected their teams to crunch as part and parcel of game production, ever since the studio’s founding in 2005.
Overtime was supposed to be voluntary and paid, but from 2010 became mixed with the studio’s capped flexitime system that could not be cashed in for extra pay or time off in lieu. Staff were also pressured into crunch, some said. “It was a very soft-spoken blackmail,” one person described, as staff were told not to leave early or let down others.
Several staff said 80-100 hour weeks were not uncommon during crunch periods.
As with elsewhere, conditions were worse for QA staff, particularly after one tester was responsible for leaking an image of a Wii U GamePad prior to the console’s launch. After this, QA staff required permission to visit other areas of the building.
TT Games’ pay gap for women was also highlighted, along with the small number of women in top roles.
As for Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which has now been in development for almost five years, staff say the game’s production has been hampered by bosses’ insistance it was made on a new and buggy internal engine at the studio, rather than the more commonly-used Unreal. The frequent addition and removal of features – such as a God of War-style combat system – meant work was thrown out, while studio bosses pushed staff harder to hit a potential 85 Metascore mark – which would the developer’s best yet.
40 staff are reported to have left TT Games in the past 12 months – around 10 percent of its 400-strong workforce.
However, the report suggests improvements have taken place more recently. After crisis meetings during Skywalker Saga’s development, staff were given more holidays and a better year-end bonus. Several senior staff have also now departed. The studio’s much-hated internal engine will finally be ditched for its next project, and Unreal used instead. Staff overtime, as of the last few months, has been better paid attention to and limited.
“TT Games is committed to creating a respectful, fair and inclusive workplace for every employee,” the developer said in a statement, responding to the report. “There have been many efforts in recent years, with new studio leadership and the support of Warner Bros. Games, to nurture a collaborative culture and work-life balance our employees can be proud of.
“Our legacy of delighting fans with the games we have created over the years is very important to us. We recognise our continued and future success relies on sustaining the momentum of the positive changes we have made to date, ensuring every employee feels supported, appreciated and experiences a true sense of belonging.”