A dozen former employees of Bethesda Game Studios explain that the development of Starfield and Redfall slowed down because some workers had to move to the MMORPG team.
Ten former Bethesda Game Studios employees , including designers and staff from the QA team or testers , have spoken out in an extensive report published by Kotaku about the many problems in the development of Fallout 76 . They describe poor working conditions, the absence of a clear creative direction , discomfort from the team itself for making a game as a service, the departure of employees who had been with the company for years because they were burned out with the project, and the slowdown in the development of Starfield and Redfall ( recently delayed until the first half of 2023) because designers from those teams had to support a project that kept growing and adding new problems.
QA workers explain that during the last months of development until the release of the title in November 2018, they worked an average of 10 hours a day for six days a week. The testers claim to feel degraded by those who have more technical or creative positions, and even by the players themselves; a situation that directly affects compensation, especially if they are contractors, since they were paid less. Testers were also prohibited from communicating directly with designers .
They describe situations such as being forced to work weekends to solve unforeseen events with the reward of an extra $200 that week and free pizza. Rob Gray, director of the QA team, denied that crunch was done in his department . Other testers mention that their own classmates followed them when they went to the bathroom and measured how much time they spent in it, and also controlled the time they took to take breaks. After the launch, to the planned QA tasks (they were aware of all the bugs that the players would find in the premiere, and despite this, the board did not propose a delay) they had to add the tracking of reported bugs through forums and networks by users; the sameplayers who sent them death threats .
The situation, these employees explain, led to a constant loss of workers in the QA team, but also in other branches of Fallout 76 development : Bethesda lost senior developers who had been in the studio for five years and up to two decades. The absence of hands forced Bethesda to move designers from the Starfield and Redfall teams to the MMORPG. Developers who joined Bethesda for its reputation as creators of single-player worlds found themselves trapped in creating a game-as-a-service they weren’t passionate about .
In addition, some workers were not comfortable developing an online game-as-a-service, especially after criticism of Fallout 4 , which was more action-focused than previous Bethesda Game Studios games. They didn’t want to release a game without Non-Player Characters (NPCs) despite Todd Howard’s art direction betting on a world where players tell their own stories; the absence of NPCs is also due to the cutbacks they had to make to the Creation Engine to make it work in an online environment.
Employees complain of a lack of “coherent direction” during development. Todd Howard was supposed to lead the project, but he spent most of his time with Starfield and regularly dropped by the Fallout 76 team to kill off features that the developers themselves felt comfortable with. Furthermore, the lack of coordination led to situations where mission and activity designers created content without knowing how many players there were going to be on a server or how long it would take users to complete one of those activities.
The company’s most experienced online gaming arms, Bethesda Austin and ZeniMax Online, pointed out design issues during development, but main studio Bethesda Game Studios turned a deaf ear until after launch. Multiplayer designers at BGS say they felt left out, second-tier creators to their peers who worked on single-player titles .
Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media (Bethesda, Arkane, id Software, etc.) for $7.5 billion . Employees Kotaku has spoken with say the situation hasn’t changed since then, despite the fact that some were excited that they might receive the benefits that Microsoft workers do . The Xbox company, they explain, leaves Bethesda and the rest of the studios it buys to operate in the same way as before , although they do mention some minor benefits since the purchase.
One of the anonymous sources who has spoken with the aforementioned medium says: “I don’t know how [Bethesda] did [ Skyrim ]. It doesn’t make sense to me. It had to be like monkeys with a typewriter creating Shakespeare . I don’t know how everything is being so chaotic people are able to do their jobs”.