NetherRealm Studios responds to allegations of toxic environment and crunch time conditions from workers involved with Mortal Kombat and Injustice

Posted by Steven 'Dreamking23' Chavez • May 4, 2019 at 11:21 a.m. PDT

Recent reports of toxic work conditions at NetherRealm Studios — the company behind major fighting titles like the Mortal Kombat series and Injustice — surfaced online as former employees and contractors shared experiences on social media.

Inappropriate behavior, mandatory crunch periods (extreme overtime), and low pay were among the issues cited, and these are recurring problems that the gaming industry has been seeing and hearing more about through the years.

In a piece from Variety, NetherRealm Studios released a statement addressing the allegations. The company is currently investigating the reports.

"At NetherRealm Studios, we greatly appreciate and respect all of our employees and prioritize creating a positive work experience," the company told Variety. "As an equal opportunity employer, we encourage diversity and constantly take steps to reduce crunch time for our employees. We are actively looking into all allegations, as we take these matters very seriously and are always working to improve our company environment. There are confidential ways for employees to raise any concerns or issues."

While allegations such as the aforementioned stem back as far as the development of Mortal Kombat (2011) and beyond, a current NRS employee spoke to Variety about Mortal Kombat 11 and what work conditions were like this time around. The anonymous employee recalled working "60 to 70 hours per week, seven days a week since January," and noted that the Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event that took place in Los Angeles and London back in January set the game's development back significantly.

"As an equal opportunity employer, we encourage diversity and constantly take steps to reduce crunch time for our employees. We are actively looking into all allegations, as we take these matters very seriously and are always working to improve our company environment."
— NetherRealm Studios.

"Everybody said from the get-go, ‘No, this isn’t going to impact any development time at all; we should be fine. We’ll use the content we have now,’" the employee told Variety. "Little did our creative director, our publishing team and marketing know that we were already about three months behind on the entire game."

The employee goes on to say that nearly every department working on Mortal Kombat 11 was set back, causing them to play catch-up — which we're seeing the effects of now as bugs and issues with the Krypt and Towers of Time saw quick updates pushed out for fixing.

Former QA analyst Rebecca Rothschild, who worked on Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2, also told Variety about the grueling work hours at NetherRealm Studios, citing 90- to 100-hour workweeks. She goes on to detail what the work environment at NRS was like as a female staff member, recalling the minimal amount of workers that were women and the even less that held full-time positions.

"Sexist, transphobic and generally toxic behavior was rampant, likely due to the fact that people were working 80-plus hours a week for months on end and there was no accountability for such behavior," Rothschild said. She explained that she was unable to negotiate her hourly pay rate despite being on her third contract with the company, and recalls hearing from male workers that they were able to do so when her and other female staffers weren't.

Rothschild does state that her experiences at NetherRealm Studios weren't entirely negative. "Working at NetherRealm wasn’t all a nightmare," she said. "I had good-hearted supervisors, incredibly talented and innovative co-workers and was working on amazing games."

Variety's story is primarily presented from one side, as NetherRealm Studios wouldn't go on record and discuss many of the things contained in the article, beyond the statement we included here. Most of the quotes and narrative presented comes from staff members who had issues working at NRS between 2011 to 2019.

"Sexist, transphobic and generally toxic behavior was rampant, likely due to the fact that people were working 80-plus hours a week for months on end and there was no accountability for such behavior."
— Former NetherRealm QA analyst, Rebecca Rothschild.

There has been no shortage of negative crunch time environment reports from video game developers over the years. This has hit games as large as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fortnite to smaller titles such as Overkill's The Walking Dead and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).

Accusations of intense crunch time conditions at NetherRealm Studios likely aren't a gigantic shock to most people familiar with the video game industry, as this seems to be a fairly common practice at a number of development houses.

Still, many people believe this is an unhealthy and unfair situation to put workers under, and it will be interesting to see how NRS and other developers respond to these types of environments occurring in the future.

For more on this story, head over to Variety.

Contributions to this story made by Jon "Catalyst" Grey. Sent in by AngryAssassin.

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