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Former NetherRealm Contract Devs Say They Were 'Treated Like Second-Class Citizens'

The business of making video games can sometimes be very ugly. For proof, one only has to read the report published by USgamer earlier today, which details a culture of crunch and the mistreatment of temporary employees at Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm Studios.


Crunch most commonly refers to the act of working long hours over a very short period of time, often when a game is nearing the end of its development cycle. It's an industry-wide problem at this point in time, and one that, unfortunately, also appears to be present inside NetherRealm. According to former developers who worked on games like Mortal Kombat 10 and Injustice 2, crunch during the development of those titles was commonplace. In some instances, temp employees crunched simply because they had to, earning hourly wages as low as $12 an hour. In others, these employees felt that they were led on, crunching because they were made to believe it might land them a permanent role inside the studio.


It seems things rarely panned out for contracted employees, period. "We all had hopes of getting hired after our contracts were up," said one former developer. "Spoilers: none of us got hired immediately after our contracts were up."

But crunch isn't the only issue temporary employees have faced while working at NetherRealm Studios. Some have felt that, because of their contracted status, they were treated poorly by the studio's executives. Nowhere was this more obvious, according to former devs, than when information about Injustice 2 leaked online several months before its release. According to USgamer, NetherRealm Studios president Shaun Himmerick rounded all of the contract employees up for an emergency meeting to address the leaked info. And what happened next stuck with them.

Himmerick reportedly yelled. A lot. He blamed the contractors for the leak. He told them they should be investigating each other. He dished out legal threats and threatened to blacklist them from the games industry. He did all of this to the temporary employees of NetherRealm Studios, leading one former dev to say, "It was disturbing. People were upset and crying and I was really shocked that it happened."


Full-time employees at the studio, however, got a pass.

"What upset me was that the permanent employees of NRS did not get the same talking-down to," said another former contractor. "The temporary workers were made as a scapegoat — we were treated like second-class citizens."

It's worth noting that none of the sources used in USgamer's report worked on the more recent Mortal Kombat 11. But it's hard to imagine a lot has changed since 2017's Injustice 2, as the studio hasn't come under a lot of scrutiny until now. It's said that NetherRealm prides itself on the fact that it doesn't lay off its full-time staff; that a permanent gig there is as safe as one can be in the industry. We're starting to see, however, that contract workers at the studio are the ones paying the price for that luxury.