Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 may have been very profitable for publisher Activision, but the people at Treyarch making the game talk of a destructive studio culture.
In Kotaku‘s report on the development of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, sources at developer Treyarch talked shared their frustrations with management, and excessive crunch at the studio.
Some at Treyarch, unsurprisingly, are similarly frustrated with Activision’s push for more ways to monetise multiplayer post-launch, more recently adding loot boxes and very expensive paid cosmetics.
No more are work conditions more brutal, however, than for the studio’s quality assurance department. As it’s often the case, members of the QA team told the site of unending crunch, and treatment that makes them feel inferior to their full-time colleague. Most QA are contractors, and though they work in Treyarch’s building, they are technically hired by a third-party company, which is where their troubles begin.
The QA team resides in the studio’s second floor, and the main development team in the first. QA testers spoke about not being allowed to talk to full-time developers, and are typically not included in office parties or roped in on company-wide communication except when it relates to their work.
Some of the excessive working hours started after the cancellation of Black Ops 4’s campaign. The team realised releasing the game with just two modes instead of the typical three would be a bad idea, so they decided to create Blackout as a way of making up for the campaign’s absence, and to offer Call of Duty’s take on the battle royale phenomenon since many were already hooked on PUBG.
Unfortunately, that decision was made late, and Kotaku reports Blackout development only started nine months before the game shipped. This meant the team had to put in extra hours every work day and most weekends to meet the deadline. Many at Treyarch worked 64-hour weeks – 12 hours Monday to Thursday, and eight hours on Friday and Saturday.
Though Activision did compensate the team for overtime, it completely destroyed their work/life balance. And, if you’re unlucky enough to be part of the QA team, overtime pay at that point would be seen as a necessity to keep with the costs of living. QA testers are generally paid less than full-time employees and developers of other disciplines.
“I was told crunch would end after we released the game. Then I was told crunch would end after winter break. Then I was told crunch would end once we got into [the summer],” one former developer told the site.
“There were weeks straight when I was not taking weekends. You feel like your boundaries are being violated. You lose all passion for what you’re doing and forget why you were doing it in the first place. It’s a nightmare,” they added.
For the QA team, their mistreatment extends to things like not being allowed into the cafeteria during lunch until the development team is done eating, parking in a different, farther parking lot that requires them to walk ten minutes every day, and even fighting for the office to keep the air conditioning on at night (QA has a night shift) during the summer.
It’s a depressing state of affairs that the report says was worse than ever during Black Ops 4’s development. You can read it in full at the link above, and it’s well worth your time.