5 Screwed-Up Stories Behind The Scenes Of Major Video Games
Although deep down in our heart of hearts, we like to think that making video games is still a cottage industry comprised solely of nerds and garages, it's actually one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world right now. And that leaves a ton of room for our favorite games to be embroiled in what we'd kindly call "business shenanigans" ... and less kindly call "corporate fuckery." Just look at how ...
The Developer Of The Walking Dead Fired Basically All Of Its Staff With No Severance
On September 21, 2018, staffers at Telltale Games were ushered into a conference room and financially decapitated. The company was closing down operations, and therefore, they were told, they'd be receiving no severance, their only bonus being their health insurance ... which was due to expire in nine days. Oh, and they didn't have time to mourn, because they needed to get their asses off company property within 30 minutes or risk being sold to the liquidators.
In all, 250 employees were laid off, many of whom were living paycheck-to-paycheck because of local rental prices, while some were only in the country on now-defunct work visas. Some employees, according to reports, had only started working at Telltale that week, including one poor bastard who moved cross country to live out their dream.
A skeleton crew remained behind to wrap up a couple of projects, but they were soon laid off, while many ex-employees and other people with functioning empathy criticized Telltale for focusing on finding a way to complete the last season of The Walking Dead (which was in development when the layoffs happened) instead of figuring out a way to pay their goddamn ex-employees.
As a coda of sorts, it was announced in October that Telltale had reached a deal with another studio to finish development of TWD, while one former employee announced that they'd reached a deal of their own -- one with a lawyer, in order to sue Telltale for violating labor laws.
Nearly Every Game Exploits Its Actors
One of the easiest gigs in acting has to be voiceover, right? You don't need to run, jump, or even wear pants. You just turn up and ... talk. Unless you voice a character in a video game, in which case it might be more profitable (and healthy) to stay home and watch TV.
Over the last few years, the rise in video game quality has led to a similar rise in actor talent. This is much unlike the days of yore (that is, the '90s; the "yore" of gaming is the '90s), when players would be satisfied with a character being voiced at all. By anything. Even primitive chirps and squeals. But oh man do gamers care about this stuff now. Check out how badly Destiny was mocked for Peter Dinklage's lackluster narration:
Yup, that's the work of a guy with three Emmys.
The problem here is that studios don't really care about paying actors well. Unlike voice actors for movies and television shows, game voice actors don't earn residuals, just a flat one-time fee. Which is ludicrous, considering how some game actors work with scripts several times longer than that of any movie.
And then there are the health risks. Aside from the obvious vocal strain that comes with doing voice work for a game with a script the length of War And Peace, voice actors -- especially those who work on action games and shoot-em-ups -- spend a lot of time screaming and crying over and over and over and over. One actor was required to scream-shout her script for four hours straight, and reported tasting blood during those sessions. Courtenay Taylor suffered a hemorrhage in her vocal cords after exerting herself by whispering nonstop, an experience that left her unable to work for three months. (Unpaid, of course.)
If you're wondering why they don't go on strike, they already tried that in 2015. Game publishers took 11 months to arrive at the bargaining table, and only brought tiny bonuses, a system that doesn't benefit performers anywhere near as much as residuals would, and some vague promises to look into the dangers of yelling all day until your throat explodes.
Pokemon Go Is More Difficult For Players Living In Black Neighborhoods
Pokemon Go is set up in such a way that it disenfranchises players living in black neighborhoods. You know, like the real world does! But accidentally!
In the game, players have to visit Pokestops and Pokegyms in order to acquire Pokeballs, which are important, because they're the only way to catch Pokemon (without paying real money anyway), and without Pokemon, the game is just ... walking. In order to populate the world with Pokestops and Pokegyms, the makers of the game used locations and monuments identified in the Historical Marker Database (a crowdsourced collection of historical markers around the country) as a starting point, before supplementing this with locations and monuments identified in a previous augmented reality game they'd made, Ingress.
To explain it another way, the makers grafted in-game locations onto crowdsourced data, which is a fine way of doing things ... except they forgot to account for a) locations which were overlooked by the HMD, and b) the demographics of who played Ingress.
You see where we're going with this, right?
When you compare the areas that are majority white or black and the locations carried over from the HMD and Ingress, you start to see a pattern. In areas with a majority white population, there are more budding Pokestops. In areas with a majority black population, not so much.
For instance, here are Pokestop maps of Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago. Players living in more diverse neighborhoods found Pokemon Go to be much harder than players living in majority white areas. This might be crazy talk, but we get the feeling there's some sort of metaphor here ...
Every Grand Theft Auto Game Is Destined To Lose Its Soundtrack
In 2012 and 2014, the Grand Theft Auto games Vice City and San Andreas, respectively, were patched and updated to remove over a dozen songs -- a roster that included absolute bangers like "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" by Michael Jackson, "Running Down A Dream" by Tom Petty, "The Payback" by James Brown, "Express Yourself" by NWA, and "Killing In The Name" by Rage Against the Machine. Why? Well, because the licensing agreements that allowed those songs to appear in those games had expired, ergo they had to be removed. It was the same deal earlier this year with GTA IV. In April, Rockstar patched out 50+ songs by artists such as AC/DC, David Guetta, the Smashing Pumpkins, Stevie Nicks, ELO, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath.
Good news, though! Ricky Gervais' stand-up sets survived the purge!
In each of these cases, the songs were patched out after ten years. Which only leaves us with five more years to enjoy the tunes in GTA V, unless Rockstar works all its staff to death before they have time to build the patch. On that note ...
Red Dead Redemption 2 Was A Nightmare To Make
Have you heard the ruckus about RDR2's "crunch" time? It all came about after Rockstar bigwig Dan Houser bragged that his team worked "100-hour weeks" to get the game ready in time for launch. The comment kick-started a firestorm of controversy, with comparisons to similar complaints made during the development of RDR1 being met with ... a bunch of gamers shrugging and asking, "What's the big deal?"
Wait, what is the big deal? It's a lot of overtime, sure, but isn't making blockbuster video games for a living worth this amount of torture? They're probably really well-paid, right?
Spoiler alert: no.
In the weeks afterwards, a series of hard-hitting exposes unearthed details about the working conditions in several Rockstar offices, and oh boy, if Houser likes to think that games are "made by elves," he's not coming off as a kindly, benevolent Santa in this yarn. Employees interviewed said that working overtime was mandatory. This was mostly in response to Houser rather condescendingly stating, "No one, senior or junior, is ever forced to work hard." In fact, employees went on to say:
"... they felt pressured to stay at the office at night and even come in on weekends if they wanted to succeed. Despite Dan Houser's quote ... people who have worked and currently work at Rockstar say that overtime is mandatory. In conversations, several used the phrase "culture of fear," with some saying that they were worried about lawsuits or other retaliation for speaking up ... Three people who worked at Rockstar San Diego between 2011 and 2016 recall a period where they were told that overtime wasn't optional. 'It was mandatory 80 hours for basically the whole studio,' said one person who was there."
Workers who were courageous enough to ignore this informal edict were called into managers' offices and interrogated about why they were "only" working 45 hours a week. During the development of GTA V, workers who clocked less than 60 hours had "UNDER" scrawled on their files in red marker.
If the stick didn't do the job, Rockstar also had a carrot up for grabs -- albeit one shaped like a stick. If any of the development team left Rockstar before a game was completed, their name would be removed from the credits of said game, which would mean they couldn't use that credit in a resume or portfolio. This was the case with GTA IV and V, and RDR1. While Rockstar kept the full credits for RDR2, these can only be found on the website, not the game itself.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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