Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, says Bethesda isn’t crunching


Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, says Bethesda isn't crunching

An Xbox logo hangs overhead at a trade event.

photo: Luke Schulze (Getty Images)

At an all-hands meeting Thursday, Xbox addressed growing employee concerns about working conditions at Bethesda Game Studios and its parent company ZeniMax. Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios, said he was “confident” the studio wasn’t crunching and that it was “unfair” to attribute crunch culture solely to Bethesda.

In a Q&A, Booty was asked to address this kotaku Report from earlier this month documenting the difficult working conditions at Bethesda and ZeniMax during the development of Fallout 76. He said Xbox takes Crunch reports about its studios “seriously,” but added, “The challenge with a lot of these articles is that they look backwards, sometimes pretty far in the past.” While kotaku‘s report mentioned that crunch on older productions such as Skyrimit mainly dealt with the crisis that took place in 2018 Fallout 76.

kotaku was able to independently verify the content of this meeting using recorded video.

“Crunch culture is…if you go back 10 years, it’s a little unfair to apply that to a studio,” Booty said. “That was just part of the industry. I’m not saying that to justify it, I’m just saying that it was part of the culture of the industry. At the beginning of my career I literally slept under my desk. And we treated that as a badge of honour.”

Booty said the working conditions described in the report were a thing of the past. “I know from talking to Bethesda leadership that we don’t have a situation where people crunch and we have this bullying vibe… I’m confident about that.”

He acknowledged that without his knowledge, bottlenecks could still occur and said employees need to trust Xbox’s internal processes. He said that Xbox’s human resources department is willing to listen to employees’ concerns and that all studios have discipline support groups. “There are ways for them to anonymously report to us what goes through human resources,” Booty said. “We have to rely on these independent control systems.”

Because Xbox Human Resources is employed by Xbox, it can hardly be considered an “independent” entity.

The Xbox boss said overtime should only be for personal excitement and passion and shouldn’t be a mandatory aspect of production scheduling. However, many ZeniMax testers who weren’t explicitly required to crunch had done so worked overtime out of social and professional peer pressure. The crunch kotaku documented took place before Xbox acquired ZeniMax and Bethesda. However, the report noted that Xbox had allegedly been a “hands-off” owner after the acquisition, typically not making sweeping changes at newly acquired studios. At this week’s all-hands, Booty didn’t mention what action Xbox would take if the studios behaved in a way inconsistent with his stated stance against crunch.

kotaku has reached out to Matt Booty, Xbox, and ZeniMax for comment but has not received a response at the time of publication.

earlier this month, kotaku published a report on the oppressive working conditions behind the development of Bethesda’s multiplayer open-world role-playing game Fallout 76. QS testers reported working 10-hour days, six days a week in precarious financial circumstances. They claimed that managers on the project forced them to work unbearable long hours, which allegedly caused many developers to leave the company. Former Bethesda employees said Xbox took a hands-off approach to managing ZeniMax after the acquisition closed, which frustrated employees who had hoped Microsoft would improve their job performance.

ZeniMax wasn’t the only Xbox-owned studio reportedly given relative publisher autonomy. Former employees of Undead Labs also claimed that Xbox took a “hands-off” approach after acquiring this game studio. While it might seem good that the publisher is giving acquired studios some operational freedom, sources at Undead Labs worry that such permissiveness “perpetuated dysfunction.”

Since early June, Microsoft has taken a more open, public stance on game development work. Last month Xbox CEO Phil Spencer promised to recognize the Raven Software union once Activision Blizzard’s Xbox acquisition is complete. On June 2nd, Microsoft announced willingness to “collaborate”. with labor organizations. While Microsoft must of course comply with local labor laws, the public statement holds the company publicly accountable for working in good faith with unions. Unlike an HR department, a workers’ union would actually be an entity independent of Xbox Game Studios.

However, Xbox decided not to speak publicly about the working conditions at ZeniMax Media since then kotakuThe report of was originally published.

“As an employee, what I take away from this is that he says to go through HR,” said an anonymous Xbox employee kotaku. “And we know it how Blizzard did it.”

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