TT Games exposed for toxic work environment
On January 20th, 2022, over 30 current and former employees at UK-based developer TT Games have told multiple news articles that the studio's last decade of works on games under the Lego license has allegedly been been marked with crunch, mismanagement, and sexism, all of which have culminated in a burned out workforce struggling to release Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
Several former employees spoke about the crunch culture that has reportedly become increasingly worse in recent years. With the decision to release a new Lego game every year, employees began working ridiculous hours under ridiculous circumstances. In fact, those who tried to leave work on time were allegedly yelled at by co-founder Jon Burton. Leads would also follow employees out of the studio to ask why they were leaving on time and to question their loyalty to the company. As one employee puts it, the crunch was "a tool in the box for production; projects were planned with crunch periods in the schedule".
Overtime became an expected part of an employee’s job. Several employees remember how those who weren’t working overtime were often berated for “letting others down” and that 80-100 hours over six days a week was a common work schedule. Add to this the introduction of a new game engine called NTT, supposedly favored by management as its use would avoid paying Epic licensing costs for Unreal Engine, which was overwhelmingly the preferred choice among employees, multiple projects overlapping, and the most ambitious title ever undertaken by the studio putting a ton of pressure on the team, and morale continued to decline.
Even outside of the long hours, other issues are said to be present at TT Games. Sources spoke of it being a hostile work environment for women, citing comments about their appearance and a lack of promotion opportunities. The women at the company suffer from a major wage gap, ranking as one of the worst companies in the United Kingdom for gender pay equity. To make matters worse, female employees were also "subjected to bullying, comments about their appearance, and withheld promotions and contracts." Quality Assurance is no better as they were reported to have been treated poorly — an unfortunately common occurrence in game studios where QA is often seen as a "lesser" role — and refused access to large parts of the building without supervision, which meant that they were unable to visit HR without accompaniment. (This action was apparently taken after a Wii U GamePad-related leak that came from TT's QA department in 2012). According to one former employee: "People were worn out, worked down, mentally and physically ill because of the pressure. TT always said, ‘We’re going to change,’ but we all knew it was never gonna happen. It was always a case of, just one more game and then we do it differently."
These reported conditions apparently didn't begin with this project. According to a former employee, even in the early days of the studio, crunch was "premeditated because of the type of games we made: movie tie-ins, and kids’ stocking fillers. They all had deadlines dictated by a holiday event or the release of some film".