Apex Legends Developers Respond To Criticism Of Pandemic Work Schedule

Illustration for article titled iApex Legends/i Developers Respond To Criticism Of Pandemic Work Schedule
Screenshot: EA

Screenshots of a post on Glassdoor criticizing Apex Legends developer Respawn Entertainment appeared on Reddit yesterday. The anonymous poster described a negative work-from-home environment that severely impacted their mental and physical health.

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“I feel extremely stressed and burnt out trying to keep our seasonal releases on the same aggressive timeline as pre-shelter in place productivity,” the anonymous Glassdoor reviewer wrote back in April. “I currently work 12-13 hours a day and there is no separation between my home and work life.”

Crunch is a much-maligned phenomena in the games industry during which developers spend an unhealthy amount of hours working to get a project done by a management-mandated deadline. With the onset of the pandemic, many video game companies were forced to delay the releases of games to accommodate employees in less-than-optimal working situations. The reviewer asserts that Respawn has not made similar accommodations.

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“Mostly every other game company (Epic, Activision, Bungie etc.) have extended project deadlines and feature/content road maps to accommodate for lower efficiencies and general stresses/anxiety during COVID 19, but not on the Apex project,” they wrote.

The reviewer further explained that Respawn has “no idea how to do a live service project, which means poor planning decisions and no sizing of work [meaning] we actually have very little idea of how much we can accomplish in a given month,” contributing to their feeling of struggling to get everything that needs to be done, done.

The Reddit thread garnered over 700 comments, mostly in support of the poster. The thread also attracted several Respawn employees who offered explanations into the company’s work-from-home policies and expectations.

“Respawn and EA put many benefits in place to make sure employees were being taken care of,” wrote Chad Grenier, Apex Legends’ game director at Respawn. “Unlimited paid time off if you were not feeling well (physically or mentally) or taking care of someone, reimbursement for any purchases to make working from home easier or more comfortable, additional pay each paycheck to cover increased energy or internet bills, flex work hours, the list goes on.”

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He explained that he understood the difficulty of keeping a game like Apex running and their players happy in the middle of a pandemic. He also stated that he did his best to communicate to his team that it’s okay if they’re lagging behind, even advocating for the delayed release of the next competitive season.

“I was very vocal to the team about their deadlines,” wrote Grenier. “Like a broken record I continuously asked that people speak up to their managers or producers if they will not be able to get their work done on time without crunching. Delays would be ok, we just need to know one is needed. Remember that odd 2 week delay when season 4 was supposed to end, and then magically an additional 2 weeks was added to the end of the season with no weekly challenges? Yeah, that was because I delayed Season 5 by two weeks.”

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Other Respawn employees expressed sympathy for the poster but also supported the company’s overall handling of the unique situation.

“I gotta say, it was really sad to read this post,” wrote user moyparra, whose Reddit badge identified them as an artist at Respawn. “I hope [whoever] this dev is reaches out for help soon before making a really tough decision. Of course my opinion will sound biased but for what it’s worth, I can honestly say that I personally feel very supported by my teammates and my leaders. Respawn is not a perfect place but damn do they put the well-being of their developers as a really high priority.”

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Comments in response to the developers noted that even if a manager expresses that it’s okay for an employee to fall behind or miss a deadline due to mental stress or other pandemic complications, nobody wants to be the person responsible for such shortfalls.

The anonymous thread poster affirmed that sentiment, stating, “We get two conflicting messages around ‘please take care of your health’ and ‘we must keep the same schedule and work even longer hours to meet our deadlines.’”

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The identity of the poster is unknown but, according to some of the Respawn employees in the comments, they suspect this person no longer works at the company, suggesting the poster followed through on the closing statement of their Glassdoor review, which read, “I am so burned out that I am considering leaving without a next job to go to just so mentally I can be in a better place.”

Notably, that comment is from the only overtly negative review on the company’s Glassdoor page, with all of the other 23 reviews showing scores of 3.0 or better.

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Kotaku has reached out to Respawn Entertainment for comment.

Kotaku Staff Writer - Fanfiction Novelist - Unapologetically Black

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DISCUSSION

It’s so easy for the people in power to forget, despite the noblest of intentions, that hierarchical power has a certain invisible, unspoken force to it. You can’t always rely on subordinates to be able to overcome that force. It sounds like Respawn meant well, but in a case like this, where it may be that only a small minority will have difficulty, sometimes good leadership means taking measures to close the gap in power from above, rather than waiting for people to leap up over it to ask for relief. That might look like relaxing deadlines without specific cause, but I’m sure that’s not the only way they could have gone about it.