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Devs behind Steam wishlist hit The Day Before defend use of unpaid volunteers

They have over 100 full-time, paid "volunteers", but 40 unpaid "supporters" working on it

The Day Before is a zombie-ridden survival MMO developed by Fntastic
Image credit: Mytona

Fntastic, the studio developing Steam’s most wishlisted game The Day Before, have issued a statement to RPS explaining their policy of using paid and unpaid volunteers to make up their dev team. Metaphorical alarm bells began ringing earlier this week when it emerged that Fntastic are composed entirely of “volunteers” – although full-time volunteers, kindly dubbed "employees" in the statement, do receive salaries.

You and I might immediately question a company’s practices if they say they use voluntary work to make products people pay for. Fntastic founders Eduard and Aisen Gotovtsev, however, take a broader view:

“Volunteering at Fntastic means that a person works willingly for a common cause. We consider all team members, including employees, volunteers,” they said in the statement provided to RPS. “This idea comes from our own experience and aspiration. We, the founders of Fntastic, Eduard and Aisen, consider ourselves volunteers not only for Fntastic but in every sphere of life.”

Fntastic's founders, Eduard and Aisen Gotovtsev, explain their company's volunteer mindset.Watch on YouTube

The Gotovtsev brothers acknowledged that Fntastic is a “commercial organization” that aims to "create the best conditions" for team members, and that "as our organization grows in capacity, we intend to be more involved in improving the lives of people around the world". You'd think a good place to start might be to pay all of their staff. The statement then went on to explain the structure of Fntastic’s team, including distinguishing between their paid staff and unpaid supporters:

“Anyone who is open to life can become a volunteer with Fntastic, and there are two types of volunteers. Today we have over 100 full-time internal volunteers (employees) from Singapore, Russia, the Netherlands, Thailand, Ukraine, Finland, Kazakhstan, and Belarus who work as engineers, artists, HR professionals, etc. We also have 40 external US and worldwide volunteers (supporters) who help with testing and reviewing our products at a very early stage.”
Watch on YouTube

Crucially, the Gotovtsev brothers’ gave more information on the work that unpaid supporters contribute to The Day Before and Fntastic’s other games, such as online survival horror Propnight. “In addition to tests, external volunteers (supporters) help localize products into different languages,” they said. However, then they mentioned this:

“Last year, we ordered localization for Propnight from a well-known large studio specializing in translations. As practice has shown, the result of their work was not so perfect. Most of it had to be redone with the help of our enthusiastic volunteers (supporters). In Propnight, together with these supporters, we found bugs, dealt with cheaters, and even organized our Discord communities.”

Surely when supporters step in to replace paid work then they should also be paid too? And not in “cool rewards, participation certificates, and free codes”, as detailed on their website. I've asked Fntastic for more details on that. The statement also went on to say that Fntastic does plan to recruit their “most active external volunteers (supporters) for full-time work”, and said one supporter based in the Netherlands has recently joined as a full-time employee. That’s a good sign, but you’d also hope to see remuneration for any supporters who step in to cover for contractors.

The Day Before is scheduled for release on March 1st 2023, having been pushed back from its previous launch date of June 21st this year due to development switching over to Unreal Engine 5. It’s still the most wishlisted game on Steam.

UPDATE: Fntastic have responded with a follow-up statement in answer to my query about their supporters' work on Propnight:

When our players encountered that the translation was not proper enough, they approached us with some translations of their own that they prepared beforehand. They wanted to help willingly because they really liked the game. Besides, there were no big dialogues or texts in the game, the overall amount of text is small. It's important to note that the latter fact does not diminish what they have done for us in any way. This was a tremendous help for which they received special roles on the game Discord server. We are always open to our fans' suggestions, and never exploit people's labor, or make anyone help us.

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