If you've paid attention to the world of video games for any real length of time, you've probably noticed that the same thorny systemic issues tend to crop up again and again, almost as if we're trapped in an endless loop. Well, Arkane's new shooter Deathloop is a game that's literally about overcoming a tortuous cycle, but it's unfortunately contributed to one of the industry's worst practices: removing developer names from the game's official credits.
Several former staffers who worked on the game said on Twitter earlier this week that their names don't appear in Deathloop's credits, despite the fact that they worked on the game for months or even years. One developer said that it appears that staffers who left the company before release have been relegated to a "special thanks" section regardless of their discipline or involvement with the game. (We won't list their names here or link to their social media posts in order to respect their privacy, but they aren't exactly hard to find if you want more details.)
Fast forward — For everyday players, the staff credits are a seemingly invisible part of most games, and most of us just skip or fast-forward through them with the press of a button. For those who work in the games space, however, proper credits are extremely important, and not just for the sake of personal fulfillment or accomplishment.
Not only did many of the people listed work on the game for months or years in some capacity, video game developers use these credits to prove that they helped ship a game. It's vital to a person's career to be able to show that experience in order to get that next gig. According to developers, "shipped X number of quality games" is one of the most scrutinized parts of their CV, so these credits matter a lot to their bottom line.
No labels — As revealed by one 2020 Kotaku feature, despite this obvious relevance, game credits are inconsistent at best. For example, some studios list all staff in alphabetical order in a long scrolling list, while others (like Ubisoft) list developers by discipline. Job titles are equally haphazard, with many different terms for the same role, like "tester" and "QA."
Even worse, several major developers in the industry have an official stance of only crediting individuals who are still employed by the studio when the game comes out. The most infamous example of this policy in action in recent memory is Rockstar Games, which didn't include several names of departed developers who worked on Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the biggest games of the last console generation.
Cruel design — Rockstar's Jenninfer Kolbe told Kotaku in 2018 that this policy is designed to incentivize developers to "get to the finish line." Yikes! Given that it's well-documented that Rockstar relies on a culture of crunch to reach that "finish line," it's not exactly surprising that they need the additional carrot of proper accreditation to force people to continue to grind for those 100+-hour workweeks that one of the studio's co-founders once bragged about. Unfortunately, this practice is nothing new: a decade ago, more than 100 names were cut from the shadowy thriller L.A. Noire due to similar reasons.
Critics are already proclaiming that Deathloop is one of the standout games of the year, and perhaps Arkane's best work yet. Considering that, it's a shame that such an excellent game has fallen prey to one of the most shameful practices in the industry, and one that should be left in the past. Video games have needed better labor practices for a long time, and this is exactly the kind of back-room manipulation that a strong union could help excise.