Kotaku’s Jason Schreier published a report today detailing the issues of contract employees during the development of Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4. Current and former staff members describe a “company in which contractors, and particularly testers feel like they’re perceived and treated as inferior.”
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was a very successful game, as most Call of Duty titles are. But, “it was also a turbulent production, marked by a drastic reboot, the last-minute addition of a battle royale mode, and what one developer described as “perpetual crunch” that perhaps hit the QA team hardest.” The crunch that occurred during Black Ops 4 wasn’t suppose to be as severe. Black Ops 3 went through a similar issue, also getting rebooted midway through production. Black Ops 3 was suppose to feature an open world, but it got scrapped for the typical traditional linear campaign which caused Treyarch employees to make up for all the lost work. One former employee said “For this to happen twice… the morale drop that happened in the studio can’t be understated. They’d been promised, ‘After Black Ops 3, we’re not going to do that again. We’re not going to scrap all this work that you’ve been putting in.'”
This leads to Black Ops 4 which went through changes for different reasons, including the 2v2 campaign idea not coming together and Red Dead Redemption II. “People were saying: ‘How can we do this, create an entirely new campaign that takes everything we’ve put in this other mode that was unsuccessful, and still tells our story.'” This leads to Blackout, the battle royale mode, that was created to replace the campaign. “Now we have an even shorter amount of time to put in work on a new mode,” a developer told Kotaku. “Actual development work on Blackout didn’t start until nine months before launch. That mode came together by the seat of its pants. It’s kind of a miracle that it did.” On top of that, Activision decided to shift the release of Black Ops 4 to October 12, ahead of Red Dead Redemption II, which was one month earlier than the planned original release of November. This lead to employees of Treyarch spending most of 2018 crunching to complete development of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
Some employees slept in the office, another described a culture of “drinking to cope” during this period. “There were weeks straight when I was not taking weekends; panic attacks, burnout, dissociation. 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.” Some employees felt that the QA members faced the most crunch. One former employee said “sometimes we were pushing updates twice in a week, which is absurd… As Black Ops 4 was live, it progressively got more broken and buggier, not because the developers didn’t know what the problem was, but because they didn’t have time to fix it.” One of the biggest issues that was made and has been brought up multiple times was the lack of communication. Some QA members weren’t aware that Treyarch is taking over Call of Duty 2020 until they learned it from Kotaku. Those who spoke said they did so because they hope that public pressure will lead the studio to change.