Today, Kotaku released an article detailing the work culture and environment for the video game testers, also know as quality assurance (QA), for the notoriously buggy and glitchy Bethesda flop, Fallout 76. Due to the unpolished state of the game upon launch, Fallout 76 sold a measly 1.4 million copies in the first year, one of the lowest in the Fallout series; and, has a Metacritic score of 53, the lowest critical response for the Fallout series as well. Compounded upon bad reviews and sales, Kotaku reports that some Bethesda staff, especially QA testers for Fallout 76, even received death threats over the unpolished imperfections within the game. One former employee recounts a bug report for Fallout 76 depicting a mass shooting with, “I am going to take a gun and go to the QA department and shoot all of them.”
The conditions that led to this outcome largely stemmed from alleged miscommunication and mismanagement at Bethesda. Apparently, Bethesda had a company policy where QA staff were forbidden from talking to non-QA developers, creating a time-wasting system of communication to pass through QA leads. Furthermore, one time QA workers were forced to come into the office on the weekend; however, the QA testers were instructed to perform irrelevant and redundant work on previous fixes because the new fix they were supposed to test was not finished by development team in time. One former QA employee informed Kotaku that they finished their work on time with,” In general, every major bug in [Fallout 76 that appeared at launch] was known by QA.”
One reason why the bugs encountered by the QA team were not corrected, other than the previously mentioned company policy, was the reported lack of respect between the development team in Bethesda, Maryland and the multiplayer-focused team in Austin, Texas. According to Kotaku, the team in Austin was forced to create a multi-player online system on Bethesda’s Creation Engine, an engine designed and built for single-player experiences, because that was the engine the team in Maryland were most comfortable with. Due to this disconnect, the QA testers theorized that constructing a multi-player game on an engine meant for single player was the predominant culprit for the amount of bugs and glitches in Fallout 76.
Despite not fixing the bugs and glitches the QA team reported, Bethesda allegedly still implemented a crunch culture for Fallout 76. Not only were most QA staff making around a slim $13-15 per hour, most were also required to work over 60 hours a week, including weekends. In order to get workers to come into the office, Bethesda management allegedly utilized peer pressure tactics to mandate workers to come into the office on the weekend, supposedly threatening every employee to come into work if not enough people volunteered. Additionally, Bethesda reportedly promoted some QA staff to “coordinators”, with no change in salary or position title, to monitor and oversee their peers’ efficiency, essentially managers with no benefits. Purportedly, coordinators were tasked to time employees’ breaks and sometimes following other employees into the bathroom. In large part, work environments similar to Bethesda’s QA team for Fallout 76 are why QA workers unions are forming, with Raven Studios and Keywords Studios‘ QA employees both recently winning their unionization efforts for the purpose of better working conditions and wages.