Developers have accused NetherRealm Studios of having toxic work conditions. Hundred-hour workweeks for the production of the recently released Mortal Kombat 11 and for previous releases in the popular series were common, according to multiple sources. Following the allegations, the studio affirms that it is investigating the issues.
In the weeks leading to the release of the game, reports of low pay surfaced alongside the extreme overtime that was required from workers in order to meet their imposed deadlines. Seven workers were interviewed, with each stating that the problems are by no means recent, but rather symptomatic of the long-term toxic culture at the studio. Other issues raised were gender discrimination, and "loud, obnoxious, super toxic" co-workers.
NetherRealm Studios responded with the following statement:
“At NetherRealm Studios, we greatly appreciate and respect all of our employees and prioritize creating a positive work experience. As an equal opportunity employer, we encourage diversity and constantly take steps to reduce crunch time for our employees. We are actively looking into all allegations, as we take these matters very seriously and are always working to improve our company environment. There are confidential ways for employees to raise any concerns or issues.”
One cause for problems as reported by employees stems from poor communication and the mismanagement of time. One employee described how a January marketing event for Mortal Kombat 11 put the studio behind by a significant amount. The initial promise to developers was that there would be no impact from the event, however by that point, both the publishing team and marketing were already roughly three months behind on their goals.
NetherRealm Studios is certainly not the only developer known for its questionable treatment of its employees. In 2018, Riot Games faced allegations of harassment as a normal part of the company culture. Some employees moved to sue, while the studio responded by filing motions to force private arbitration. Relations between employees and employer became strained as a result, with threats of a walkout circulating through company email.
Other companies view the mandatory overtime as a badge of honor, as was the case with Rockstar Games. During the making of Red Dead Redemption 2, studio co-founder Dan Houser bragged that his team had worked 100-hour weeks at several points during the year to ensure that the game was primed for launch on time and that the efforts were similar to previous development cycles.
These types of stories will likely continue to arise as companies hype both their games and impose strict deadlines for their release. Eventually, there is likely to be a breaking point, and, hopefully, some monumental refusal to accept the long-reinforced toxic cultures of the workplace. Until then, there seems little chance of any real change.