Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty recently responded to questions about crunch and working conditions at Bethesda and ZeniMax Online, according to a report from Kotaku. This comes in the wake of another Kotaku report, from earlier this month, detailing mandatory overtime and mismanagement surrounding the launch of Fallout 76.
Matt Booty was asked to comment on the report during an all-hands meeting Q&A on Thursday, June 23. Defending Bethesda, Booty pointed to the widespread culture of crunch across the industry stating “it’s a little unfair to pin that on one studio.” He also emphasized the fact that the details of the report date from four years ago and thereby do not necessarily reflect conditions at the studio today.
It is worth noting that 2018 was not that long ago. For reference, upcoming Bethesda release Starfield was in development at the same time as Fallout 76’s launch. Microsoft has also stated, as pointed out by Kotaku’s report, that it would take a “hands-off” approach towards studio acquisition, which raises questions about what exactly has changed at the studio.
Booty elaborated that discussions with Bethesda leaders have left no sign of bad working conditions, saying “I know from talking to Bethesda leadership that we do not have a situation where people are crunching and we’ve got this bullying atmosphere…I’m confident about that.” However, Booty did not detail any explicit actions taken by Microsoft, Bethesda, or ZeniMax leadership to curb crunch. After admitting that crunch could happen without his knowledge, Booty also encouraged employees to reach out to HR, whether at Xbox itself or one of the internal game studios, and to trust Xbox’s internal processes.
This report comes in the wake of widespread labor organization across the industry. Microsoft itself promised to recognize an Activision Blizzard union, after QA employees at Raven voted to form one. TT Games, Naughty Dog, and CD Projekt Red, as well as other studios have faced public and private criticism for working conditions. Whether crunch is currently occurring at Bethesda or not, hostile working conditions and crunch culture are hardly things of the past.