Left Hand, Metro Right Hand: 4A On Poor Work Conditions

By Nathan Grayson on May 17th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

To hear former THQ boss Jason Rubin tell it, Metro: Last Light studio 4A Games is maybe not the best place to work. He doesn’t mean that in a whip-crack-y, everyone’s-a-jerk way, though. Quite the contrary, actually: he recently claimed it was a case of absurdly talented people working elbow-to-elbow in “appalling” conditions. Their offices? “More like a¬†packed grade school cafeteria than a development studio.” Picking up new hardware was apparently also quite the ordeal. “When 4A needed another dev kit, or high-end PC, or whatever, someone from 4A had to fly to the States and sneak it back to the Ukraine in a backpack lest it be ‘seized’ at the border by thieving customs officials,” said Rubin. But what about 4A’s side of the story? Creative director Andrew Prokhorov recently saw fit to chime in.

Taking to the comments of Rubin’s original article on GamesIndustry.biz, Prokhorov set the record straight:

“It is a fact that our work conditions are worse than those of other developers outside Ukraine. I don’t think anyone can doubt that – yes, it’s true that American and most of European developers operate in a country far more comfortable than Ukraine. And yes, the publishers pay them more. This is clear: the more ‘reasonable’ the country the less the risks. And we don’t want to be all dramatic about that – after all, better conditions are earned, and we strive to do this as soon as possible.”

In spite of the not exactly ideal situation,¬†Prokhorov expressed thankfulness to Rubin, THQ, and Deep Silver, explaining that everybody – in one way or another – simply ended up in a tight spot. No one deliberately tossed his company naked into the cold. “Just like us, [Deep Silver] ended up in a harsh situation and had to do a lot of things in two months, which was definitely a very hard task. I don’t blame them for letting the logo thing slip. They are trying hard.”

He also noted that 4A wasn’t prodded or blackmailed into “chasing” a multiplayer mode. They wanted it just as badly as THQ, but things simply didn’t work out. Maybe that molten blob of time and effort could’ve been forged into a better single-player game, but it is what it is. And so, Prokhorov concluded:

“We deserve the ratings we get. After all, the final consumer doesn’t care about our conditions. And this is RIGHT. We need no indulgence.”

I disagree entirely with the assertion that people shouldn’t care about other people’s work conditions. But 4A’s attitude is incredibly admirable. If nothing else, you certainly can’t deny them that.

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36 Comments »

  1. ghostlenin says:

    I think there’s a wide berth between Prokhorov’s “the final consumer doesn’t care” and “people shouldn’t care” about working conditions. The first point indicates that a lot of people that will buy and play this game know nothing of its development woes as they don’t read games journalism–they just want to play the game. The second point focuses on having ethical concerns about poor conditions for workers generally. Even though both statements use much of the same words, they really address two different phenomena, which leads me to say that you both are right.

    • UmmonTL says:

      I agree with you though I think the point he was trying to make was that the ratings the game gets shouldn’t be influenced by the working conditions. And in that sense he is completely right, the consumer shouldn’t be manipulated. Neither should it be a big secret so anyone who takes the time to understand theses things can deal with them however they want.

      • Deadly Habit says:

        Exactly, it’s similar to the way the average consumer aren’t concerned say their iGadgets or Nikes are coming from sweatshops.

  2. ninja117 says:

    So then Metro:LL is a documentary about the work conditions?

    • Eater Of Cheese says:

      I really hope that on… one level that it is ;)

      Making games can be bittersweet, life-transforming experiences – passionate creativity mixed with skullduggery, smoke and mirrors on an industrial scale. Hearts get broken and souls get healed… Sometimes, you end up making/remaking a game a number of times before anything ships.

      I’m honestly surprised that game making isn’t a more popular doco subject. Ignorance derived from the secretive nature of the industry, I hope, rather than disinterest.

    • Revolving Ocelot says:

      It’s method game-making.

      Want a post-apocalyptic environment for your game? Work in one for inspiration.

  3. mr.ioes says:

    You can see their offices here: http://youtu.be/sYzN78Ntt6U

    • frightlever says:

      Um. Their office does not look too dissimilar to the office I work in.

      Also also this doesn’t care/should care – we all know the clothes and electronic goods we buy aren’t made in factories with Western health and safety standards. Should we only care about this when it’s brought to our attention? The only way to improve those conditions is by paying more for everything.

      It’s not like a boycott of 4A games until they get better conditions, in their office and country in general, is either a sane or practical solution.

      • Low Life says:

        Wait, what? Why would anyone boycott them for this? If anything, this makes me want to buy their game – they likely won’t get money from that, but their game’s success helps them get new publishing deals.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Wait which parts are in-game footage?

    • CobraLad says:

      Its not about offices, its about infrastructure. Everyday life is stressful by itself, because outside of office there are broken bureocracy and soviet ruins. Althought its weird that he also blamed weather conditions, which included this year anomaly snowstorm, likes of which no one ever seen and expected.

      • nearly says:

        my understanding of the weather is that their heating system was iffy. I don’t remember if I read that it would go out periodically or if it wouldn’t work during their random blackouts or what, but I can’t imagine how fun it is to work in the cold.

        • nld says:

          I think they’re just located in a shitty buiding with low rent which probably doesn’t have central heating as it was likely not originally intended as office space (like a repurposed warehouse or something similar). Consequence is that they have to rely on electric heating which goes out during blackouts. I remember that some neighborhoods did have a blackout during the March snowpocalypse. If that’s the case, they’re indeed in one of the industrial zones.

          It’s not a common condition in Kiev (at least).

          Customs, certifications and other bureaucracy? Oh yeah.

  4. Tony M says:

    With the name Prokhorov, my brain wants to read that quote in the voice of Academician Prokhor Zakharov (Alpha Centauri). No wonder they have a drone problem.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      They can make a film of the offices, but the academician’s private residences shall remain off-limits to the genetic inspectors.

  5. illuminerdi says:

    In Soviet Russia, game makes YOU!

  6. RProxyOnly says:

    Can we buy this straight from the dev to put a little money into their pockets?

  7. Beernut says:

    Why are they mentioning ratings? I was under the impression, that Metro LL was rated quite favouribly across the board. From what I’ve seen, all there’s really missing atm would be a proper FOV-setting, which they promised to add with a patch.

    • Kein says:

      They were talking about metracritics where Metro accumulated 82%. Which is pretty much failure even despite the fact that THQ didn’t promise any royalties and such (not that they can pay them due to their death).

    • CobraLad says:

      Prokhorov mentioned about great bonus for team if they reach 90% or something on Metacritic, so they are greatly concerned with that.

      • Obc says:

        this i don’t get: why would anyone want to make a contract where some of the money is locked behind the whims of other people. if some reviewer has a bad day, not care for the story/plot for some reason or whatever, it can mean that 1% you probably need.

        and who came up with the idea to make points in a contract based around metacritic score and who was the first to sign it?

        • Low Life says:

          Because having that kind of a contract is better than having no contract.

        • Somerled says:

          Someone who pissed themselves with joy when they found an alternative to paying on units sold.

      • Don Reba says:

        AFAIK, this is their own company policy, not a contract.

  8. MichaelPalin says:

    So what was the problem exactly? When you hear about bad working conditions in the video game industry you automatically assume insane crunch times, but what I get from this is just that their workplace is not very fancy and that salaries were low. Is that it?

    If we are talking about the typical crunch times of the industry the words of Prokhorov taking importance away from it are unacceptable, but if we are talking about lower salaries, being Ukraine, the words of Rubin sound a bit exaggerated.

    • suibhne says:

      I’m not sure if you read the article before commenting – it discusses issues like unreliable utilities and bureaucratic corruption. Those are not really “First World problems”, as we joke over here in the States.

      • MichaelPalin says:

        Read it again (RPS article, not GamesBiz) and I still think Rubin is exaggerating. The anecdote with the smuggling is the more serious thing and I find it a bit hard to believe. As for the rest, Prokhorov refute the thing with multiplayer and Ukraine cost of living is really that low to justify the lower budget.

        I remember Rubin being the guy that first spoke publicly (GDC 2004) about the “celebrity developer”, I’m a bit skeptical when he tells this kind of story.

        • arccos says:

          You really find it hard to believe? Stories about getting anything done across many of the Soviet block and Eastern European countries generally involve bureaucracy that mysteriously clears up after a few well placed (and often expensive) bribes, infrastructure that makes everything more difficult and less reliable, and often times organized crime sniffing around businesses to get a taste on the side.

          There’s a reason the US Government is paying lip service and creating policies to outlaw US companies giving bribes to foreign governments and local officials. You can take from this that it currently happens and is an effective way of doing business in those countries. Of course, the laws doesn’t actually apply to either of these because the US government doesn’t really care about how business is done overseas if it makes US companies stronger.

          • lijenstina says:

            Still it is a more “humane” variant of the good ol’ Western exceptionalism. We are so concerned about citizens of other countries and poor state of their governments, yet the current wold affairs are mostly influenced by the West. Of course, they are not omnipotent and a huge blame is to give to the governments of other countries, but they set the rules and give an ideological framework, they have the upper hand in dealing with most countries and when it fails like in the case of the neoliberal economic experiment it produces a lot of potential problems in the rest of the world which had the illusion that the elites of the developed countries knew what they are doing.

            If you want to help them clean up your house first. Give the example, avoid confrontation when is not necessary. Get money out of politics, make a more equal society, control companies better, especially their actions – remember capitalism is a tool not an answer to problems – a hammer not a half naked mechanic :D (for instance close the tax loopholes and tax heavens that are used to siphon out profits into private pockets) don’t use media for depicting a black and white picture of the world, avoid using military power without the general public knowing where, why, what happened, knowing about the consequences of actions, don’t be hypocritical helping one thugs against other thugs because they are the, for some reason – usually geopolitical interest – proclaimed “good guys”, punish responsible people for fuck ups on all sides including yours first, adhere to ethics not just in words but in actions ( protect others from yourself is a great self policing rule).

            Then a criticism from that West will be listened very carefully, the words would have much more impact and people around the world would have a yardstick to compare it to the state in their countries without all the inconsistencies, exceptions, double standards, hypocrisy, bullying associated with it like it is now that hinder and make moot any move towards some goal of building a better society. Then the situation in the rest of the developing world would become better.

            As it stands now it looks like an old mafia family which most of it’s business is legal, but occasionally does take someone for a stroll with concrete shoes at the bottom of the lake, complaining how the new mafia clans are so ruthless and bloodthirsty. :)

            The second problem is the condescending attitude – nobody likes be treated as a kid, not an equal. It’s an tacitly implied ideology of inherited superiority. Ha Joon Chang gives an nice example about a bus driver somewhere in Sweden and in India.

        • kud13 says:

          low cost of living? shows how much you know.

          Ukraine’s real estate market’s ridiculously over-inflated, especially in major cities. Finding a place to live is a huge problem for out of towners.

          As for the other costs of living…. in Kyiv, life is very expensive.

  9. Monkeh says:

    Props to 4A, IMO they deserve better, but it’s nice to see them respond in this laid back way.
    To me though, it just makes me want them to get a bigger cut/better working conditions even more.

  10. studenteternal says:

    Despite a couple of issues (ranger hardcore mode) and a couple of crashes, I am really enjoying last-light. I hope that it is enough of a success to lead to more resources for the 4A team for their next game.

  11. wodin says:

    Not bad..but not that different from the first game..looks abit more lovely..some good sneak bits but nothing mind blowing..

    Also I’m sure in some early previews there was alot more animation going on during fighting and when they get shot..oh and the magic knife..you could use that all the way through..man takes endless smg bullets or two or three blasts of a shotgun..but if you throw a little knife at him..wham dead as a door nail.

    First glaring thing that stood out to me was a point where your given a knife and thats all you’ve got..except there is a dead dude (recently passed) with a pistol in his hand right near your feet..which you can’t take..

    • greg_ritter says:

      Yeah, that thing with a Nazi’s pistol was annoying. Ok, Pavel you take AK, and i’ll take… What? Oh come on Pavel, you red bastard.

  12. DanMan says:

    He’s right that in the end it doesn’t matter, since most people will never know about how the game came to be. Most people will see it standing on either a digital or physical shelf and either buy it or not – but based on their interest in the game itself. I see nothing wrong in that.

  13. psyman says:

    I feel sorry for 4A Games, that office has an awful layout. I could not stand being so close to my co-workers with no dividers in between, it would just be too uncomfortable being so exposed like that with no privacy. I agree with Jason Rubin’s comments here.

    Those chairs are completely unfit for an office, especially one where the staff work 12 hours a day as is common in games dev. If I was interviewed for a job there, and I saw those chairs, I would steadfastly refuse to accept the job until mine was replaced, or I was given permission to buy my own. They should be supplied with ergonomic chairs with back, seat, arm and height adjustments.